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Novel by Crowqueen
, part of The Nine Lives of Michal Piech
and the second of three books detailing Michal's life at the Lowe Road workhouse - and now elsewhere. Named after a Russian fairy tale, Sister Fox and Brother Wolf
(warning - poor English rendering), and incorporating plot based on the Marie de France lay of Bisclavret
and several of Aesop's Fables
. The later novel Giedre
is subtitled Sister Fox
Leading directly on from the events of Ludlin
, the book continues the adventures of Michal Piech and Simon Seymour, who has broken the young lawyer's spirit, but not yet his mind.
Three years ago Sergei Medvedev almost killed his children when he spontaneously changed into a bear while disciplining them. The man was incarcerated as a criminal lunatic, but his legacy remains in people's minds.
When Yuri Shargunov bullies Michal Piech into going out one very cold winter's night to find some extra coal, Piech discovers a secret belonging to David Woolf, the surly and ill-mannered caretaker. When Simon Seymour comes to learn of this same secret from an acquaintance, he hatches another scheme to extort the estates of two more young city gentlemen, both of whom are suspected to be shapechangers, and both of whom are easily blackmailed by their servants, with Frinton and Seymour manipulating them behind the scenes.
With all the elements in place for another spectacular heist, there's just one thing missing - the consent of the victim. Meanwhile, a surprise development puts an end to Seymour's own plans for Michal at Lowe Road - and saves Alexei Dobrovolsky from Medvedev's fate.First draft finished 07/10/2011
A ten-panel cartoon version appeared in the magazine of the Basingstoke sci-fi club Genesis
. It is a summary of a distorted version of the novel where Alexei dies
. The tropes specific to this cartoon are in a section on their own.
- And Your Little Dog Too - Harry Frinton's literal but ham-fisted attempt to blackmail Woolf, a virtual pauper also threatens Seymour, who has a lot more to lose.
- Arbitrarily Large Bank Account - averted. Alexei downsizes when he fears his condition might stop him from working with his business partners, gives up his carriage and valet and wonders how much he can afford to contribute towards Perkins' upkeep at Bessbank (which is actually part of how Seymour swindles him). Seymour has deeper pockets and the exact value of his estate is not directly mentioned; however, he squirms rather at what happened to the money that proceeded from the sale of his house in Hytherton, a lie which extends right back to the night in Ludlin where Carrie meets him in front of Michal's old house. Even Andrew Russell, the son of an aristocrat, is revealed to be relying on his brother to pay for his cook and his carriage.
- Badass Grandpa - there's no actual violence involved but Russell manages to outwit the much younger Seymour simply by virtue of finally learning how and when to assert his authority. In passing, we learn that he uses every legal trick in the book to keep Michal out of Ozzie, and although physically weak, seemingly hopelessly out of touch, and no match for the military veteran Seymour, he has learned the time and place for leaping to the defence of his more vulnerable charges.
- Bears Are Bad News - Medvedev has scared the Empire out of its collective reason. After the Shackleton affair, even a man named Hase - hare - commits suicide after people realize what is going on with people with animal names.
- Beast Fable - in-universe allusions are made to a number of stories, not all about shapeshifters - sometimes to myths and legends involving animals incidental to the story, such as Voronov's interest in raven mythology - because the in-universe version of the Aesop fable about the fox and the crow is the fox and the ''raven'', he realises what Silnov is doing to him before he can swallow the vodka containing a high dose of valeriate.
- Bedlam House - the book opens with a glimpse into Osbourne House, introduced in the previous novel. It's not as bad as it seems - there's a rational explanation for everything and to its inmates it's probably better than being in the workhouse. We slowly see more and more of it and its inmates as the first part plays out. However...there's always a however, isn't there? Dembomiersk, part of the same public asylum system, is also shown.
- Berserk Button - Medvedev. The poor man was trying to stop his boys fighting with neighbours' children but fatally lost his temper.
- Beware the Nice Ones - Michal's girlfriend left him, his best friend and protector has left the workhouse to get a job, his other best friend dies of heatstroke and lack of water - and then Yuri makes that kind of proposition he can't refuse. No wonder Shargunov ended up with a broken nose.
- Bishōnen - from the way he's described, at least, Silnov. In his thirties, he's more biseinen as per the article, but hey...cool it, ladies, he's gay.
- Bonding Over Missing Children - Grazina and Halina. Grazina "lost" Ladislas when he was left handicapped by meningitis at the age of 6, while Michal escaped with just damaged eyesight. When Michal disappeared, Halina, who Grazina had always resented because her son survived relatively unscathed, was able to look Grazina in the eye and the Ladislas Piechas subplot ends with the two women joining forces to find him a new and more comfortable home than Dembomiersk Asylum.
- Brain Fever - in the two boys, Michal and Ladziukas Piech - subverted in the pure sense of the trope because it's openly stated to be meningitis - a "sickness of the brain" - but a real one. The worried Grazina thinks playing by a polluted river brought it on, but Halina knows better.
- Break the Cutie - in trying to break Michal, and in apparently succeeding, Seymour unwittingly sows the seeds of his own downfall. At the point the book opens, in fact, Michal is pretty much already broken. Woolf is increasingly frustrated by his unwillingness to fight back, even when it's Woolf who is the antagonist.
- Break the Haughty - Alexei. By the time he admits himself to Osbourne, he is even feeling sorry for Michal and intends to liberate him directly after he is cleared himself. However, when he sinks even lower, he gets so self-absorbed that he forgets Michal again.
- Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp" - quite a few neologisms, as usual.
- Flakey-soup - flaki, a Polish dish made out of tripe.
- Lambskin - condom. Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Longbeard - the etymological meaning of lombard, a mediaeval word for a pawnbroker which survives in other European languages.
- Dementia praecox - an historical name for schizophrenia.
- Papiros - cigarette. From Russian and Polish; here it is used to mean a coarse, unfiltered cigarette or one made of the dark Russian makhorka tobacco.
- Wound-rot - gangrene.
- The snips - a haircut. Not that kind of snip.
- City of Weirdos - you can find anything in Lockley; even stray wolves don't raise an eyebrow...
- Cloud Cuckoo Lander - Szpak. He thinks he's a bird who becomes human, not a human who can become a bird. Along with Shackleton, he is a reminder of what shapechanging too much can do to a person's mind.
- Corrupt the Cutie - Seymour towards Silnov and, it is implied, towards Belkov, Voronov's servant.
- Country Matters - Seymour talks about Tanya having the "cleanest quinny in the district". No prizes for guessing what he means.
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass - Russell when Seymour oversteps the mark. He is described as growing a spine, and does so throughout the book, so he can take on Seymour at the end. Well, he is a valkyrie.
- Crusty Caretaker - Woolf. A hanger-on for so long his job is undefined, he serves Seymour and although he considers Piech, like most of the workhouse inmates, beneath his contempt, at least he shows him a bit of decency on occasion, particularly when Piech knows what he really is. He is also a werewolf, or what passes for werewolf in this setting, a shapechanging human with an animal nature he acknowledges and embraces.
- "Dear John" Letter - Hilda to Michal.
- Depraved Homosexual - Ellis. Some of the things Yuri talks about in the first scene are pretty lurid, and he's no shrinking violet either. It's not altogether certain that it happened quite like that, but Ellis, bisexual to the last, doesn't deny it either. The climax happens because Michal turns down Yuri's offensive advances. Averted with Silnov; it is an incidental part of his character, but it's implied when Mlynarczyk is talking to Michal who admits to feelings for Tyne after his death that this element has been used by the press to question the liberal attitudes toward it as evidenced by the supposedly heinous crimes committed by "homosexual" Boris Silnov.
- Derailing Love Interests - Hilda and Michal. There had to be some sort of contrivance here; perhaps it was orchestrated by Seymour, but perhaps it really was only a flash in the pan. Or perhaps she really didn't love him as much as he loved her.
- Dreaming The Truth - Carrie has a dream about a wolf, leading Greta to subtly spin it towards identifying Alexei's secret.
- Ending Memorial Service - Michal gives Wojtek one alone at the beginning of the book, because no-one else has.
- Foreshadowing -
- One of Michal's courtroom dreams is a prophecy of the events of Going Home.
- The illustrated magazine Zywe Obrazki (Living Pictures) shows a detailed engraving of Michal's sister. A more lifelike picture of Michal than appeared in the Breston illustrateds appears in the Allemund paper Neue Welt in Achava which does give some clue to his identity to the clergy in the eponymous city - about two years too late to be of much help to him.
- Gambit Roulette - in-universe example. Seymour knows he is leaving a lot of elements in his plan to get rid of Alyosha to chance. But the way his mind works, and his success with Michal out of sheer opportunism, is making him greedy enough to at least try.
- Good Is Not Dumb - Russell. As he understands what's required of him to protect Woolf and Michal, he increasingly finds himself looking his colleagues in the eye - and more. It's possible Halina awoke in him his inner nature, but his misogyny apart, he has hard and very Lawful Good depths within in him, and is about the only character who is compassionate to a fault, including Michal.
- Humanity Ensues - shapechangers who have lost their mind (particularly Szpak and Shackleton) believe they are animals who have taken human form. It's not known whether they have gone mad because of the nature of their ability, spending too long in animal form, or for other reasons (Shackleton is mentioned to have been an opium addict before coming to Osbourne); it's just the way the madness seems to manifest itself.
- Human Interest Story - knowing how concerned the workhouses are for good publicity, on receiving the letter from Botham and Kumarin, Gustave Peterson threatens to write one of these in a negative light if Kumarin and Botham are not both found jobs and given references for them within five months. Sadly Peterson buys into Seymour's portrayal of Michal as a lunatic and he never pursues this angle - it's as much out of contempt for the aristocratic Piechowie as out of his readers' unwillingness to sympathise with a ex-drunk lunatic who thinks he's a lord. He does wonder, but discards any notion of following the story up.
- Insane Equals Violent - what most people think is the case, and one of the reasons for the asylums being scary in popular imagination if not so bad in reality. In Michal's case, Seymour is constantly trying to push him over the edge so the courts will lock him up as a dangerous lunatic; but Michal's insanity, and that of some of the actual patients at Osbourne House is of the quiet, depressed and ditzy kind - all the better for slow rehabilitation or care, but not so great for having an excuse to lock someone up permanently.
- Insanity Defense - Medvedev is not transported for life for beating his children almost to death, because his defence proceeds, essentially, on grounds of diminished responsibility. Of course, his punishment is not only incarceration in Syevirlantovo fortress, where he dies of gaol-fever from flea-bites, but also to become so notorious that he changes the entire attitude of Imperial society towards shapechanging and magic in general. This is echoed with Silnov's case, where it is debated but not officially imposed whether he is fit to stand trial and whether his sentence should be commuted to imprisonment in a lunatic asylum. In the end he is driven mad by the exorcism and is last seen trying to break out of a padded cell at Osbourne House while the doctors there try to treat him.
- Instant Sedation - invoked twice to the same character. Once - Alexei in the nip when Frinton tries to rob him and Voronov. Second time - in Ozzie, where the court has ruled that he should be transferred to the lunatic ward and they have to get him there without him transforming out of fear.
- Intrepid Reporter - Peterson. Somewhat subverted as he has (a) no interest in finding Michal, (b) is as much taken in by the "animal psychosis" furore as everyone else, and (c) the story about the workhouse and Seymour withholding references from many of his inmates comes to him, and there is a plausible legal reason why testimonials might be denied to the paupers. However, he is a "radical", he is a friend to the oppressed and marginalised, and he holds the workhouse to promises which he can get Seymour to keep by the threat of bad publicity when the workhouse system is already under considerable pressure due to the Vainyte scandal.
- It's for a Book - Botham asks to see the scars on Michal's backside after he's been beaten by Seymour. It's supposedly for his book on the workhouse experience (which did actually exist in Real Life), but Michal tells him to get in trouble and be beaten himself, as he doesn't want a large man with an excuse to look at his bottom.
- Kiss of Life - Michal's desperation at Tyne's death leads him to try to do this when there's already little hope of his best friend being revived.
- Locked In The Dungeon -
- Michal, twice, at the beginning and end of the book. Scarily enough, this was a Real Life punishment in similar institutions.
- The lunatic ward at Osbourne House is a very good approximation of this, particularly for Alexei, who is completely sane at the time he goes in there and used to an active life of quite considerable stimulation, both at work and at leisure.
- Meaningful Name -
- Woolf and Dobrovolsky. Dobrovolsky is from the Russian/Krovot dobriy volk, good wolf, elucidated in the epilogue of the previous book.
- Sparrowhawk - obviously, though his family has intentionally ignored and suppressed the gift through understanding the social taboos involved. He thinks of changing his name after the press hysteria starts in earnest, and decides on Fletcher.
- Medvedev, after medved`, bear; Voronov, after voron`, raven; Szpak, starling.
- Shackleton. Yes, the clue is in the name, mentioned in the conversation Falls has with his nurse about Piech's own name which is a little too close for the Salvat word for dog, pies, for comfort. And no, it doesn't refer to his imprisonment in Ozzie.
- A Minor Kidroduction - Ladziukas' plot thread begins by showing him actually contract Brain Fever; then there is a twenty-year Time Skip to the present day and his present and unpleasant situation in Dembomiersk asylum as a ward of the courts.
- The Mourning After - The story opens with Sergei Medvedev mourning his wife. Carrie is finding it difficult to get over Michal's "death" and Alyosha, due to marry her in the spring, is getting frustrated with it. Also Michal after Tyne's death - he realises he was attracted to him and admits he is bisexual.
- Names to Run Away From Really Fast - by the end of the book, virtually anyone with an animal name is suspect - and that goes double for anyone named after a predator.
- Norse Mythology - Aside from the deities being based on Norse gods, the character in the second of the two folk stories is renamed Garm, after the hound which guards the gates of Hel. Garm is destroyed during Ragnorok which parallels Alyosha's death during the civil war of later books.
- Nurse Ratched - a male variant on this psychiatric orderly trope. Grainger, notorious for his treatment of Shackleton and threatened periodically with disciplinary action by Keaton, eventually gets his hands on Alexei...
- The Ophelia - Ingrid - we even meet her picking flowers in the grounds of Ozzie. Carrie, to a certain level, is regarded as such by her male friends and relatives, but Alexei's own confinement propels her back to reality and finds her the occupation she needs to regain control over her grief for Michal.
- One Steve Limit - obliterated to prove a political point. Ladislas is known by the name "Wladyslaw Piech Junior" because, ten years after the war with Lenkija - and not more than a month after the execution of a Lenkish criminal - it's still rather impolitic to have a Lenkish name.
- Our Angels Are Different - the valkyrie, the avenging/guardian angels nominally of Odin, but common folklore - and reality - in all religions. Incarnated as human beings Russell is one - and one of Woolf's fellow patients thinks she is. One comes to take Michal home during his time unconscious, but tells him during his fever that it is not his time yet.
- Our Werewolves Are Different / Shapeshifter - Anyone with an animal name has it because they embody the spirit of that animal, and most of the time they can shapechange, though as it has become marked out as a criminal pathology and a public hazard, particularly in the cases of large predators such as bears and wolves, few people know they have the ability and fewer still dare to try it. Spontaneous transformation happens during rage or passion, which for large predatory animals, or even grumpy and vicious carnivores like owls and sparrowhawks, can have near-tragic consequences.
- Papa Wolf - although Woolf buys into the general assumption about Michal being schizophrenic and doesn't believe Michal could convince anyone about anything strange happening at Lowe Road, the rumours he could start could be enough to have himself sectioned. Through the mistreatment Seymour inflicts on his charge, Woolf acts to counter it in some ways in order to protect himself - and also out of loyalty and compassion to his "puppy". Even when Michal accidently lets slip to Stevenson about Woolf's secret he stands up for him and helps Andrew Russell to rescue him at the climax of the story. This contrasts significantly with the brutal bear-man Medvedev, who bullies his nine-year-old daughter after the death of his wife, has a bit of a cavalier attitude towards his sons' upbringing and a misanthropic contempt of his better-paid neighbours and their children.
- Porn Stash / A Date with Rosie Palms - Lil Newton is allowed to read banned and indexed pornographic books held by a lending library because she is a midwife. Yuri trades in it with Alyosha, who has become a connoisseur of pornographic literature because he invariably contracts VD when he goes with prostitutes; his Tirsk witch, Old Olga, recommended he do this. It is not held to be in Alexei's favour once he is facing sequestration.
- Poster-Gallery Bedroom - Woolf and his pictures from the illustrated papers. They are mostly pin-ups.
- Psycho Psychologist - the edifices established in Ludlin are somewhat demolished. Despite being played straight in the first book, this trope is averted with Herbert Keaton. Unlike Falls, he knows what he's doing not to be so rabid about his investigations. Seymour thinks he's soft on his patients, which isn't saying that much, but it's true that because of the small capacity of Osbourne House, he works hard to keep the workhouses from committing all but the most insane of patients. He cares, in his pseudo-Victorian way, about the welfare of his patients and their ability not just to enter Ozzie's care but also leave it. In the case of Alice Gander, though, he - or possibly another Osbourne House doctor - showed little mercy. He has the good grace to feel sorry for Shackleton, who compounded his condition with depression and drug abuse until he had to be committed permanently.
- Clarke and Wiseman use treatments on Carrie that seem barbaric but were both prescribed for patients in this position and also are still recommended for mental and spiritual health today (one website even advocates standing barefoot in snow). The trick in the story is that the assumptions they are working from are wrong, not that their treatments are cruel or unusual. On the other hand, the machinations of the servants and Simon Seymour undo much of the therapeutic value and contribute towards a serious case of Gaslighting that is only undone when Seymour loses his position at Lowe Road, Frinton loses his liberty - and Seymour has to accept defeat and a senior clerical position...with Alyosha's firm.
- Savage Wolves- Woolf and Dobrovolsky both have trouble controlling their tempers. Woolf, living in a rougher, dirtier world openly fights with the paupers. Dobrovolsky has to learn - with the help of Trowes and Keaton, and the sensory deprivation "tranquilising" techniques used at Osbourne - to master his own fits of rage. Both nearly lose their positions in society because of their openness about their conditions.
- The So-Called Coward - Michal for most of the book, and in fact most of the preceding book. Botham even calls him out on it for not standing up to the authorities' bullying, and, more legitimately, for letting Kumarin take the flak. Woolf gets frustrated even when beating him up for revealing his condition to the others. When he does snap, however, he wins the game. He does it because he doesn't want to be considered insane. Arguably also the Badass Pacifist, though through depression rather than idealism.
- Strongly Worded Letter - is it a subversion if it actually works? Kumarin and Botham write a letter about conditions at Lowe Road to journalist Gustave Peterson. Michal drafts it, but declines to add his name because of a ban on him writing anything without the supervision of Seymour and Falls. Peterson jokes about it appearing to be a letter from a lawyer trying to extract money out of someone. But he does deliver an ultimatum to Russell and Saunders to try and fix the main problem - or he will write his own hatchet job on them in the main Breston newspaper. Take That!
- Talkative Loon - Woolf in hospital. He's upset about what he has been exposed to in the mental hygiene ward and can't help rambling on about it even when Russell is trying to get him to focus on getting his keys back from stores.
- Xanatos Gambit - Although Seymour's original plan for Alexei fails, he still gains a loyal supporter and patron, and the respect and friendship of two powerful trade families.
- Xanatos Speed Chess - some of Seymour's plans depend on him spotting an opportunity and taking it, and moving on to the next avenue once one is closed off.