"And in the days of the crown emperors the Persuaders kept order in the galaxy. They had the power to make anyone want to obey them. This is not just legend but fact. I have felt it. It comes from deep inside, as if the mind were suddenly clearer, more intelligent than ever. In a flash, one is convinced of the rightness of the Persuader's orders."Molt Brother is an 1982 Science Fiction novel by Jacqueline Lichtenberg.Humans are only one of the races inhabiting the Hundred Planets, an extensive galactic civilization. Another significant race is the Kren, snake-like humanoids with a unique physiology. Among other snake-like features, they shed their skins. The process leaves them vulnerable and helpless for a while. Someone needs to help them through the traumatic event. So the Kren choose a "bhirhir" (molt brother), a non-sexual life partner. Arshel Holtethor Lakely, a young female Kren with the power of Psychometry, has chosen poorly. Her human partner turns out to be a ruthless individual, whose limitless ambition make him capable for any act of betrayal.The ambition of said partner, Dennis Lakely, is to locate the Mazeheart Object, an artifact sought by archaeologists and political factions throughout the galaxy. It is the last remnant of a previous civilization, and is rumored to be the key to absolute power over the current one. The endless quest has its price. Something which Zref Ortenau MorZdersh'n, a young human boy, has just begun to understand. His parents were experts on ancient languages. He and his molt sister Sudeen were going to follow the same path. But an attack organized by an unknown party resulted in the deaths of his parents, and Sudeen. He is now alone.The paths of the Arshel and Zref are eventually going to cross, the search for the Mazeheart being only part of the plots and mysteries lying ahead of them.The novel has a sequel, City of a Million Legends (1985).
—Ortenau's translation of literary fragment from asteroid warehouse, preface of Skanqwin and the Emperor of Crowns
This work contains the following tropes:
- Acquired Poison Immunity: Invoked: deliberately inoculating one's bhirhir with pre-venom so that they become immune to one's venom is one of the first steps of a molt brother/ sister relationship.
- Adventurer Archaeologist: Arshel and Dennis end up becoming adventurers — it comes with the territory of searching for an artifact sought by every other archaeologist and political faction in the galaxy.
- Ambition Is Evil: Although Dennis is cruel, callous, vindictive, and willing to cheat to get ahead, his ambition is ultimately the root of all his bad behavior.
- Humanoid Aliens: Although they're described as snake-like, the Kren have two arms, two legs, and two eyes arranged identically to humans.
- Interspecies Romance: Choosing a bhirhir from a non-Kren species is uncommon but not unheard of. Not that the relationship is always romantic — bhirhir are platonic life partners.
- No Biochemical Barriers: Kren's venom works the same way on humans as it does on other Kren. Additionally, they breathe the same atmosphere and have no issues being in close contact with each other.
- Orphan's Plot Trinket: Inverted - Arshel gets one after giving another Kren family a child.
- Show Within a Show: Skanqwin and the Emperor of Crowns, a "lantern novel" that Arshel enjoys. Considered drivel by Dennis.