Review: Someone You Can Build a Nest In by John WiswellSomeone You Can Build a Nest In by John Wiswell
Published by Astra Publishing House on April 2, 2024
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fantasy Romance, Horror, Queer
Pages: 320
Format: ARC
Source: Received from publisher

A Most-Anticipated Book of 2024: LitHub, Polygon, Apple, Goodreads

⭐ "Wiswell raises the bar on the outcast as protagonist . . . the ultimate monster slayer story, if the monster is just a misunderstood creature searching for love.” — Kristi Chadwick, Library Journal (starred review)

Discover this creepy, charming monster-slaying fantasy romance—from the perspective of the monster—by Nebula Award-winning debut author John Wiswell

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.

Equal parts disarming, charming, and disgusting, Someone You Can Build a Nest In is one of the most original works of speculative fiction I’ve read in a long time.

Shesheshen is a monster, the wyrm of the Isthmus, a formless blob-like creature whose infamy has helped her craft a life of blessed solitude. Feasting on flesh and absorbing the bones of her victims to take any physical form she desires, Shesheshen’s got a pretty sweet gig. If only those pesky humans would stop trying to hunt and kill her! When Shesheshen infiltrates a monster-hunting family, she finds herself falling for Homily, the black sheep of the family…and a human!

A delightfully strange blend of horror and romance, Someone You Can Build a Nest In is about revenge, void creatures, and what it really means to love someone. Some heavy topics are discussed, including child abuse and self-harm, but Wiswell handles these with care and respect. Tonally, this story has quite a cozy vibe – impressive given how objectively horrific the subject matter is. The protagonist is a blob monster who eats people, her love interest is in an abusive relationship with her family, and the world’s socio-economic system is deeply exploitative. Wiswell doesn’t shy away from the violence, desperation, and psychological impacts of these circumstances, but the matter-of-fact presentation ensures they don’t feel gratuitous or voyeuristic.

Strange, sweet, and a little bit gross, this is a story about what it means to be a human...and how to love one.

Shesheshen’s is a fantastic narrator, with a dry wit and a rather unique perspective on humanity. Her observations about everything from the “big issues” like the hypocrisy of human violence to the challenges of small-talk were poignant and clever. I understand why Homily found Shesheshen so funny – I found myself laughing out loud several times myself! She’s also surprisingly earnest and sweet, at least when it comes to her beloved pet bear (yeah, you read that right) Blueberry and her girlfriend. Don’t let that fool you though: Shesheshen is also angry, prone to violence, and starving. Some people just need to be eaten, you know?

While most of the plot was pretty predictable and well-telegraphed, there was one major twist that took me by complete surprise. I appreciate that Wiswell puts some juice into the plot, because the predictability of my previous forays into “cozy” books made them…well, kind of boring. Someone You Can Build a Nest In is most certainly not boring! Som setting and world building elements were a little lacking, especially the non-existent “magic system,”  but it makes sense given how isolated Shesheshen is from other beasties. I can accept that she knows nothing (sometimes less than nothing), although, as always, I wanted a bit more lore and magic.

I have much more to say about this strange and special novel, but I want you to discover it for yourselves! Suffice it to say that I would happily read another story from this universe, but even if Wiswell never revists the Isthmus, he’s made me a fan! Add Someone You Can Build a Nest In to your TBRs and keep an eye out for whatever he’s working on next. I, for one, can’t wait.

Highly recommended.