Shiver takes a new twist on werewolf mythology, and it works. Really well. Much better than sparkly vampires.
In Stiefvater’s world, humans become wolves in the Wisconsin winter, in response to the cooler temperatures. The transformed wolves aren’t slathering monsters with ripped-shirt biceps–they’re simply, literally wolves. The one distinguishing characteristic of these wolves is their eyes, which remain exactly the same as their human eyes once were.
Sam, the wolf guy in the story, has pure yellow eyes. Grace, a pragmatic girl who mysteriously survived a wolf bite unscathed, notices these eyes on “her” wolf, the one who saved her from becoming wolf-chow in a childhood attack. She spends years mooning over “her” wolf from the window of her house.
When Sam is unexpectedly shot, he morphs into human form right before the start of the winter, meets Grace, and promptly falls in love. Unfortunately, Sam realizes this will be his last year to take human form at all. As wolves age, they turn human later and later in the summer, eventually living out their (shortened) lives as wolves, with wolf intellect and no real knowledge of their humanity.
The plot revolves around keeping Sam warm and human, while also determining the whereabouts of dangerous new wolf. Each chapter begins with the temperature noted, which helps to build tension. Grace and Sam narrate alternate, first-person chapters, and Stiefvater pulls off this unconventional narrative device perfectly. As a reader, I often find that books with split narrators have a “good” narrator and a boring one. I’m usually tempted to skim right over the boring narrator sections in such books, but Shiver captivated me the whole way through.
The characters of Shiver held my interest too. Sam and Grace are well-developed and likeable. The chemistry between them absolutely sizzles, and the book succeeds at wringing an emotional response from the reader. Grace kicks butt and proves that strong female narrators can still carry swoon-worthy stories. The secondary characters are fleshed-out too, with no real cardboard sidekick types in this book.
Another plus to Shiver :the writing, the prose that Stiefvater composes, is a lyrical treat. I found myself reading passages again just because they’re enjoyable and vivid.
I think Stiefvater’s twist on werewolves is even more chilling, perhaps, than the original conception of half-human monsters tied to the moon’s cycles. At least a conventional werewolf only remains a wolf for a brief, predictable period, spending most of his time as human. I suppose the horror comes from the savagery the wolf unleashes, the loss of humanity in an angry rage.
Stiefvater’s wolves cut out most of the savagery part, other than the normal danger of normal wolves. But I think Shiver better captures the unnerving, and scary sense, of gradually losing one’s humanity. These wolves spend half the year as wolves, and they can’t pinpoint the moment they’ll change as precisely as the moon’s patterns. And, to up the tension, they lose time as humans every year until they eventually their humanity slips away forever.
Regular werewolves evoke the visceral fear of losing control in anger, but Stiefvater’s wolves touch a much deeper horror. I liken the process to someone getting Alzheimers, losing a little of oneself at a time, until only the eyes are recognizable and humanity is lost forever. It’s not as bloody an end, but I think the chill is universal.
At any rate, I highly recommend Shiver to anyone who likes a good love story with an original werewolf twist, fully realized characters, and kick-ass writing.