Author: L. A. Witt
Genre: Science-Fiction, Romance, LGBTQ
Date Published: Jan 2014 (revised second edition)
Source: ARC from publisher
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Blurb (taken from Goodreads): After two years together, Alex has been dreading the inevitable moment when Damon learns the truth: that Alex is a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will. Thanks to a forced implant, though, Alex is suddenly static—unable to shift—and male. Overnight, he’s out to a world that neither understands nor tolerates shifters . . . and to his heterosexual boyfriend.
Damon is stunned to discover his girlfriend is a shifter, and scared to death of the dangers the implant poses to Alex’s health. He refuses to abandon Alex, but what about their relationship? Damon is straight, and with the implant both costly and dangerous to remove, Alex is stuck as a man.
Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how they can get through this.
Especially if he’s static forever.
Why I read it:This looked like a cool concept, plus I’ve been meaning to read more specifically queer novels. Seemed like a good pick.
My thoughts:The world Witt creates here is an interesting one. It’s our Earth, with the single addition of shapeshifters who change gender rather species. It’s a cool idea, right? Witt’s shifters aren’t transgender, because they switch genders repeatedly rather than just once, and can tweak their body to match their mind. Instead, they have an identity of their own and a raft of other shifter-specific and queer issues to match, although these were a bit of a mixed bag. Some felt very realistic - for example, American shifters have documentation for both of their bodies, but can’t get married unless they show up as the opposite gender to their chosen partner on the big day. However, some of the set-up seemed bizarre – I mean, why would shifting exasperate some medical problems and solve others?
I also really liked the characters in this one, especially at the start. It was hard not to feel absolute pity for Alex. A closeted shifter who was illegally operated upon at her family’s behest, she ends up trapped in a male body – and suddenly out to a straight boyfriend and conservative workplace. Sounds like hell. It would be bad enough to have a family that wouldn’t accept you… but to have one that would drug & violate you in such a way? Urg. However, I though the book did a great job at balancing the pain Alex feels at being a shifter with the conflicting desire to live however he pleases, which was certainly not as a single gender.
The aforementioned straight partner in this book was Damon, who I think wins the award for best book boyfriend ever. Sure, he was bewildered and angry when he discovered that Alex was a shifter - but they’d been dating for two years and Alex had been lying the entire time about his identity; a little anger is natural. In fact, Damon’s initial reactions rang very true to me. However I didn’t buy how their friendship/romance progressed, but won’t say too much more on that front (because spoilers). I do wish we found out what Damon’s job was though – learning that Alex worked in technical support as a woman and moonlighted in a gay bar added a nice dimension to her character.
The only one thing I had trouble believing was in how Alex performed gender. Damon frequently notices that male Alex has the same mannerisms as his girlfriend. Makes sense, as they’re the same person. But the book never comments on how Alex walks or sits, which can be intensely gendered actions. It would have been nice to get at least a throwaway comment acknowledging this, even it was just to lampshade it and then let it go.
So I’m a bit torn about this book overall. I loved the central idea, but I thought the execution was lacking. There was average writing, a romance that veered between adorable and unbelievable, and a couple of heart-rending scenes.(Hesitantly) recommended, especially for those who like their fiction queer.