Literature / Tales of the Fox

Tales of the Fox is a Heroic Fantasy series by Harry Turtledove.

Gerin the Fox, scholar turned reluctant baron, must deal with barbarians, monsters and petulant gods on his own after The Empire cuts off all access to the Northlands. Based in an original fantasy world, but with strong aspects of Roman history. Also Arthurian, in a sense: a leader in a province abandoned by the Empire fights to preserve civilization against barbarian invaders. Gerin's relationship with Fand and Van in much of the second book could, if distorted by future retellings in that world, come to be portrayed as similar to the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle.

In its current form, the series consists of:

  1. Werenight (1994)
  2. Prince of the North (1994)
  3. King of the North (1996)
  4. Fox and Empire (1998)

It has also been published in omnibus form, with the first half as Wisdom of the Fox and the second half as Tale of the Fox.

The 1994 edition of Werenight is a combined and substantially revised version of two novels, Were Blood and Were Night, that Turtledove wrote in the 1970s, at the beginning of his career. (They were published under the name "Eric Iverson", at the insistence of the editor, who felt that "Harry Turtledove" didn't have the right ring to it for a Heroic Fantasy author.)

This series provides examples of:

  • Alien Sky: The series is set in a world with four moons, leading to were complications when all four go full at the same time.
  • Bad Moon Rising: Werenight has a disastrous event occur during a rare time when all the moons are in the sky and full at once—it triggers massive Involuntary Shapeshifting in a chunk of the population, crippling an empire and leaving the heroes' land cut off from them.
  • Big Boo's Haunt: The night is the time when ghosts come out, and only fire and fresh blood can keep them from driving you mad. In some parts of that world they're vampire ghosts.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Gerin's companion Van is a loud, lusty giant of a man who loves a good fight and sings joyful war songs in battle, has endless tall tales of his traveling days (some of them true, maybe), wears gilded armor that often gets him mistaken for a visiting war god, and of course he's also a player.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: In Prince of the North, Gerin the Fox rescues the oracle Selatre from monsters. Trouble is, she was unconscious so he had to carry her—and she has an extreme form of Virgin Power: merely being touched by a man is enough to strip her of her prophetic ability. When she wakes up, she's as horrified as if he'd literally raped her. In her defense, what distresses her isn't losing the power to prophesy, but losing the constant psychic connection to her god.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Gerin the Fox.
  • Deus ex Machina: Gerin, when things are sufficiently screwed up, will try and convince the Gods to solve the problem. Results vary. Also, divine spite is extremely helpful in motivating the deities.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Empire of Elabon (Rome), Trokmoi (Celtic) Barbarian Tribe, and... well, everyone in the series, really.
  • Flaming Sword: Deconstructed in one of the books, wherin Gerin comes up with a charm that claims to be able to light a sword on fire. It works, but after holding it for perhaps five seconds his hands start to blister. (Fortunately, he had a bucket of water on hand.)
  • Immortal Immaturity: The gods are Spoiled Brats because, being nearly all-powerful, no one can discipline them. The only exception is the All-Seeing Biton, and even he can be manipulated by his pride.
  • Inept Mage: Gerin the Fox had less than a year of wizard's training before being called home, yet desperation sometimes drives him to attempt magic anyway. But only when he's really desperate, as he knows full well just how dangerous an unskilled mage can be.
  • The Lost Woods: The forest around Ikos, where strange things live, which has a mind (or minds) of its own, which doesn't necessarily care for people, and roads only exist at the forest's sufferance. It can also make unwanted travelers vanish in unexplained but silently ominous ways. It's implied that the forest exists to protect the Oracle of Ikos, placed by the all-seeing god Biton.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Shows up mostly in Werenight. Lots of different varieties of werebeast, including at least one who's hideously impaired by his transformation, and one enormous Trokem.
  • Prophetic Fallacy: One story has a prophecy about "bronze and wood" that fools even the clever and well-educated Fox into thinking it just refers to chariots, but that's okay; it wasn't meant for him anyway, but for his son and his demigod houseguest, who puzzle out the true meaning just in time to save the Fox's army.
  • Royal Brat: Most of the Gods are this way, since no one is powerful enough to discipline them. Ferdulf, the demimortal son of an extremely impulsive wine god, grows up with nearly-godlike power among ordinary mortals and is even brattier than his father.
  • Shapeshifter Baggage: Werecreatures remain the same mass when they transform. This is illustrated in Werenight by a couple of werehawks too heavy to fly—and a barbarian chief who turns into quite a large sabre tooth because he's an immensely large man.
  • Southpaw: Fox is left-handed, and he remarks that it makes it easier to get around enemy shields for a couple of reasons.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Van's daughter becomes a Sweet Polly Oliver—Van is horrified at her "unwomanly" desire to fight, while the normally tricky Fox is dismayed at how easily he was fooled by a false beard and deepened voice.
  • Tsundere: Fand.
  • Virgin Power: The oracle Selatre has an extreme version, where merely being touched by a man, even for entirely unsexy reasons, is enough to strip her of her power.

Alternative Title(s): Werenight, Prince Of The North, King Of The North, Fox And Empire