May 16 2013 3:30pm

More Than a Wolfman: Our Ever-Changing Shapeshifters

Circus of the Damned by Laurell K. HamiltonOnce upon a time, there was a Big Bad Wolf. He ate grandma, remember? Terrorized poor old Red right out of her hood?

Then he got all smexied up, became either a were or a shapeshifter (because they’re different, you know—it’s that whole moon thing), and turned into a romantic hero. Big alpha males who change into a beast to defeat the bad guys and a cuddly puppy when confronted with the right woman. What’s not to love?

The first non-horror shifter I remember reading was Laurell K. Hamilton’s Richard in the Anita Blake series. Richard Zeeman was handsome, tortured, and total hotness on two legs or four…well, until he got whiny and annoying. But he had a good run of books before that happened.

Since then, werewolves have remained at the head of the were-critter/shapeshifter pack as the alphas of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, but they’ve gradually had to learn to share the spotlight with some other shifters. Some are equally sexy. (I mean, who doesn’t love a big old were-tiger? Was I the only one shouting for Sookie to stick with Quinn? I think not.) Others are, well, downright bizarre.

So without casting judgment as to which beastly character I might or might not indulge a few smexy fantasies about, a brief overview of some of our ever-changing shifters:

Moon Called by Patricia BriggsWOLVES: The werewolves and wolf shifters are still dominant, but authors are twisting the mythology in interesting ways. Patricia Briggs and Terry Spear use real wolf pack behavior to keep their big dogs interesting, and Briggs’s Mercy Thompson is herself a coyote skinwalker. Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville is a werewolf with a late-night advice show for paranormals. Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series features the SnowDancer wolf pack. Jim Butcher’s Dresden series also has featured skinwalker wolves, and the French incarnation of the werewolf, the loup garou. My Sentinels series features a further twist on the loup garou, making him a rogue among wolves. The long-extinct North American Dire Wolf has figured into Stephanie Tyler’s Eternal Wolf Clan series and Susannah Sandlin’s upcoming Storm Force.

BIG CATS: The big cats are a close second to the big dogs. Nalini Singh introduces the Dark Leopards in her Psy-Changeling universe. Christine Feehan has some leopard-shifting Carpathians. Anita Blake has gotten it on with some were-lions…and tigers…and leopards, oh my. Lora Leigh has her Breed series and Shelly Laurenston (who also does wolves) has her Pride series. In the Southern Vampires series, Charlaine Harris does werepanthers, and gives them an interesting spin by having them very inbred and unstable. Susannah Sandlin’s Storm Force features jaguarundi shifters. Each of the first five of Pamela Palmer’s Feral Warriors books features a different cat shifter: lion, tiger, panther, jaguar, and cougar. And Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock urban fantasy series has a Native American skinwalker who’s a big cat instead of a wolf.

DRAGONS: Long a mainstay of epic fantasy, dragons have become possibly the third most-popular incarnation of shifter in paranormal romance. A good dragon-romance primer? Thea Harrison’s Elder Races, GA Aiken’s Dragon Kin, and Deborah Cook’s Dragonfire are good places to start. Jennifer Ashley and Allyson James also have popular dragon series.

Storm Force by Susannah SandlinBIRDS. Anita got it on with the Swan King, who had creep-inducing feathery down in all the wrong places. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes has a race of avian shifters in her Kiesha’ra series. Susannah Sandlin has an eagle shifter in the upcoming novel Storm Force.

RODENTS. Continuing with the Anita Blake sexual shapeshifter escapades, we find Rafael, king of the were-rats, who could’ve been totally hot except for that rat thing. Is it just me, or is it hard to make a rat sexy?

SNAKES. Yes, Anita did snakes too, although I think all the snake-shifters were bad guys. S.A Price also has a snake-shifter series. Snakes kind of have that rodent stigma about them.

SEA-CREATURES: Both Patricia Briggs and Nicole Peeler have selkies and kelpies (and yes, Anita did a selkie once upon a time…I sense a theme here). I have Cajun mermen in my Sentinels series. Merfolk and selkies show up in Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series, and Yasmine Galenorn has selkies in her Otherworld series.

BUNNIES. Eve Langlais goes the rabbit route in Bunny and the Bear (and there might be a crocodile shifter, bear, and fox in her repertoire), albeit with laughs in mind, in her Furry United Coalition series.

HONEY BADGERS: Illona Andrews brings a honey-badger doctor into the mix in her Kate Daniels series (which has a lot of shifters in its multiverse). And we say, why not?

Eternal Pleasure by Nina BangsDINOSAURS. James R. Tuck, in his Deacon Chalk series, introduces a were T-Rex, while the hero in Nina BangsEternal Pleasure can shift into dino form.

THE DEMOCRATIC SHIFTERS. These are shifters who can take whatever shape they want. The best known is probably Sam Merlotte from Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire series (aka Sookie Stackhouse series). Sam looks at a photo, concentrates, and turns into whatever he needs to be—usually a domestic dog, but also an occasional bird. Another is Jean Johnson’s shifters in her Sons of Destiny series, which includes a hero who can change into a horse.

What’s your favorite odd shifter? Or are you a forever fan of the wolves and the big cats?


Urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson writes the Sentinels of New Orleans series, which kicked off in 2012 with Royal Street and River Road.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Carmen Pinzon
1. bungluna
C.E. Murphy had a Dire Wolf as a bad guy in one of her Urban Shaman books. She also has a gargoyle in her other series (which I haven't read).

I think LKH had the selkie in the Merry Gentry series, though I wouldn't put it past Anita to do him! :D

For me, the best shifters are the big cats, though. I loved the hillbilly tigers from Laurenston's "Here Kitty Kitty" and reserve the right to let them wander at will in my dreams!
2. Lizzie Dee
I'm definitely a big cat fan, though I don't mind the regular wolves. Most of the other animals are a bit strange to read about when they're just there for one book vs. a series.
And I too would have preferred Sookie stay with Quinn! When I saw Quinn's tiger on the inside cover of the book I had high hopes for them. Alas, I wasn't entirely pleased with the ending. (I avoided all blog talk about the last book because I just finished it this morning!)
Suzanne Johnson
3. suzannej3523
@bungluna--I'll have to check out the hillbilly tigers--that sounds great :-) I'd forgotten about selkies in Merry Gentry, but there are some in the Anita Blake books--at least I think they were selkies. It was a family with two sons, and they wanted one of their sons to mate with Anita (imagine that)...someone correct me if they were something else!

@Lizzie Dee...I like the big cats too, and LOVED Quinn. I wasn't thrilled witht he ending to the series either, but some of the reactions were WAY over the top and I do understand why it ended the way it did.
Stephanie Walters-Rowe
4. StephanieWR
Katie MacAlister's Light Dragon's Series and the so hot Baltic. I have a thing for dragon's.

Shelly Laurenston's Pride Series has a plethora of shifters, including wild dogs and polar bears. The dominant shifters are lions and wolves, but the others get some print as well. Funny and sexy. Currently immersed in the series. The women are given equal footing which is refreshing.
Carmen Pinzon
5. bungluna
@suzannej3523- Those were merefolk. The father was a vamp, the mom was a mermaid(siren?) and the kids were hybreed, needing to sex it up with a woman of power to bring their powers on board. Mom was willing to do it, but eew. Dad was totally opposed and viewed AB as lesser of two evils.

Shelley Laurenston has a series about dragons under her alter ego GA Aiken which is a hoot. Every thing she writes is bawdy good fun,
Suzanne Johnson
6. suzannej3523
@bungluna--riiiight. Thanks! See, goes to show I shouldn't try to work from (aging, faulty) memory! And agree about the GA Aiken books--totallly fun!

@Stephanie...The Pride series has been on my TBR Mountain forever. Polar Bears? I so want to meet a shapeshifting polar bear!
Dr. Opossum
7. Dr. Opossum
I saw a book last year that featured a great white shark shifter. That was cool.

I have a preference for cat shifters myself, especially ones like Ilona Andrews' Curran. My idea for a romance would be to combine the shifter romance with cute pet romance and have a story where the heroine's pet cat turns out to be her love interest.
Carmen Pinzon
8. bungluna
@suzannej3523- You're welcome. It's frightening that I remember so many details of favorite series considering that most days I can't even remember my own name! :-)
Suzanne Johnson
9. suzannej3523
@Dr. Opossum--a great white shark shifter IS cool! The pet cat/love interest idea would be funny...or incestuous. LOL. I can't quite decide which!
Dr. Opossum
10. pamelia
Virginia Kantra has a great series (Children of the Seas) with selkies and other ocean-based shifters.
Julia Broadbooks
11. juliabroadbooks
I really like Briggs wolves. They are dark and more than a bit scary.

I didn't see anyone mention JC Daniels' Colbana files. Lots of shifters - wolves and rats and big cats, although the heroine is not a shifer (but not human either).
Patricia Wilkerson
12. Proofreaderpat
I love Shelly Laurenston's wild dog shifters-who love karaoke and chocolate!
Suzanne Johnson
13. suzannej3523
Those are some great additions. And karaoke and chocolate? I'm so going to find those books!
Dr. Opossum
14. Liz S
Great blog. The one polar bear is also part lion, so he always blames his problem on his lion half. You have to read this series! It is hilarious. The hill billy tigers are some of the funniest characters you'll read and sexy hot too!
15. wsl0612
@Liz S - and who can forget the scene once the heroine finds out what the brown bear can do with his lips?... my favorite!
Suzanne Johnson
16. suzannej3523
OMG. After those last two comments, I am so heading off to find these. Because I really NEED to know what a brown bear can do with his lips!
Dr. Opossum
17. Tammye
I love Shelly Laurenston's books and her G.A. Aiken Dragon books! I also really enjoyed the F.U.C books by Eve Langlais.
Donna Berry
18. donna8971
I love Shelly. Right there with her, Cynthia Eden! She's had a dragon, tiger, and few real hot wolves!
19. Kareni
I read a novella recently that mentioned a were-mink.
Suzanne Johnson
20. suzannej3523
I love the were-mink! I don't know if it counts, but in the first Hollows book, Rachel Morgan turns herself into a mink and ends up in the city rat fights (not by choice). I think that's when I fell in love with Trent Kalamack!
21. RBattle67
New to the site but I couldn't help but chime in. Has anyone tried the Lora Leigh Breed series? Her characters don't shift but they are human/animal hybrids. Another favorite of mine are the Chanku werewolves by Kate Douglas. I'm also a G.A Aiken fan. Love those dragons, but I've been missing Rafael and the wererats from the Anita Blake books lately.
Suzanne Johnson
22. suzannej3523
I've heard good things about the Breed series, but haven't read any of them. Ah, Rafael. So sexy...for a rat!
Dr. Opossum
23. haplodeathgate
Keri Arthur's Riley Jenson can shapeshift into a seagul
Dr. Opossum
24. Lizzie18
I recognize all those scenes from the Shelly Laurenston's books, even when some of you guys didn't mention her name in your comments. Just love those bears ! They're my favorite in her series; three books in her series are about bears and they're hilarious. Her books are all on my 'keeper shelf' and I grab one when I need a little morale booster.

Anyone tried Jennifer Ashley's Shifter Unbound series yet ? Darker but also a lot of fun. She's got big cats, wolves, and (yum!) a few bears. And a tiger story is coming out in the next few days; I can't wait.
Dr. Opossum
25. eyvonner
Don't forget the shifters in the Dark Hunters world - bears and wolves and dragons and more!
Post a comment