Someone You Can Build a Nest In by John Wiswell fantasy book reviewsSomeone You Can Build a Nest In by John Wiswell fantasy book reviewsSomeone You Can Build a Nest In by John Wiswell

Relationships are hard. They may be even harder when one person’s definition of love is implanting their eggs in the beloved, so that the hatchlings eat their way out of their parent. For Shesheshen, the protagonist of John Wiswell’s Someone You Can Build a Nest In (2024), this is how her species defines it. Now that she’s fallen in love with Homily, a human woman, the egg-implantation issue isn’t the only obstacle on their road to happiness.

Shesheshen is a protoplasmic creature, a monster, at least in the early, fourteenth-century definition of the term: something extraordinary or unnatural, or an imaginary creature. After she consumes prey, which can include humans, she can use their body parts to shape her own—and can assume a form that is close to human. When she is injured escaping angry villagers, Homily Wulfyre finds her in her human form and nurses her back to health. Homily loves science and books, and her kindness is new to Shesheshen, who has never experienced it from humans before.

As I said, though, Shesheshen’s nature isn’t the only obstacle to their love. Homily’s family are monster hunters, who believe that a shapeshifting monster (Shesheshen) has cursed them. And every other member of Homily’s family is a horrible person. Shesheshen has to escape destruction and protect Homily, and she can’t even figure out how to tell Homily what she really is.

The plot overflows with twists and escalations, as each attempt Shesheshen makes to deflect the Wulfyre family goes wrong and places her—and Homily—in more danger. Shesheshen is a plausible main character, something of an innocent narrator as she tries to make sense of humans when she is up close and personal with them. Wiswell excels at creating scenes that would, through a human gaze, be horrifying or gross. Seen from Shesheshen’s point of view, they are everyday and logical. Of course Shesheshen would insert the jawbone of her prey into her newly formed face, because she needs a mouth. Of course she would store a couple of livers in her form, because if she takes human shape she might need a spare.

John Wiswell

John Wiswell

For a book overflowing with goo, gore, dismemberments, torture, death and the occasional tentacle, the best word I can conjure up for it is “tender.” The issues between Homily and Shesheshen aren’t minor and, mostly, aren’t handwaved away. Homily’s ultimate choice leads her to a violent act that leaves her emotionally devastated, while Shesheshen must decide if her love for Homily is worth a huge sacrifice.

The most intense character in the book is Homily’s mother, the Baroness. To say the Baroness’s quest has warped everyone of her children is to understate things. Homily is the designated scapegoat in the family—subjected to verbal and physical abuse and ridicule. Shesheshen wonders at one point if Homily’s kindness, which first drew her to the human, is nothing more than a survival mechanism Homily has developed. The Baroness is a true adversary, merciless, driven and highly competent.

From the first chapter, when Shesheshen, just awakened from hibernation, struggles to defend her lair against invasive monster hunters, I rooted for her and wanted her, and Homily, to find happiness if it were possible. The story is often funny, but Wiswell is uncovering serious issues with that humor. Can a monster and a monster-hunter find happiness together? I encourage you to read Someone You Can Build a Nest In to find out.

Published in April 2024. Shesheshen has made a mistake fatal to all monsters: she’s fallen in love. Shesheshen is a shapeshifter, who happily resides as an amorphous lump at the bottom of a ruined manor. When her rest is interrupted by hunters intent on murdering her, she constructs a body from the remains of past meals: a metal chain for a backbone, borrowed bones for limbs, and a bear trap as an extra mouth. However, the hunters chase Shesheshen out of her home and off a cliff. Badly hurt, she’s found and nursed back to health by Homily, a warm-hearted human, who has mistaken Shesheshen as a fellow human. Homily is kind and nurturing and would make an excellent co-parent: an ideal place to lay Shesheshen’s eggs so their young could devour Homily from the inside out. But as they grow close, she realizes humans don’t think about love that way. Shesheshen hates keeping her identity secret from Homily, but just as she’s about to confess, Homily reveals why she’s in the area: she’s hunting a shapeshifting monster that supposedly cursed her family. Has Shesheshen seen it anywhere? Eating her girlfriend isn’t an option. Shesheshen didn’t curse anyone, but to give herself and Homily a chance at happiness, she has to figure out why Homily’s twisted family thinks she did. As the hunt for the monster becomes increasingly deadly, Shesheshen must unearth the truth quickly, or soon both of their lives will be at risk. And the bigger challenge remains: surviving her toxic in-laws long enough to learn to build a life with, rather than in, the love of her life.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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