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Literature / Sister Pelagia

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Sister Pelagia is the second (after Erast Fandorin) book series by Boris Akunin to be published in English. Described by Adam Woog as "Father Brown, Russian-style", it follows the adventures of the eponymous Russian Orthodox nun who has excellent deductive skills and is often employed by her superior Bishop Mitrofanii to solve crimes.

The series consist of three books:

  • Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog
  • Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk
  • Sister Pelagia and the Red Rooster (published in US as Sister Pelagia and the Red Cockerel)


The series provides examples of:

  • Character Tics: The eccentric prophet Emmanuel aka Manuila probably has a habit of scratching his leg (it is mentioned twice: once he "scratched his calf", and at another time he "was standing on one leg, scratching his ankle with the other foot").
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Emmanuel; Naina also has elements of this, mixed with Femme Fatale.
  • Color Animal Codename: White Bulldog and Red Rooster.
  • Cuckoosnarker: Emmanuel appears to be childishly naive and a Wide-Eyed Idealist, but sometimes demonstrates irony and comes up with sharp witticisms.
  • Delighting in Riddles: Naina almost always speaks in riddles, mainly for the purpose of intriguing everyone around her (especially the opposite sex):
    She read somewhere that modern young ladies always speak in riddles, and she's practising on us.
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  • Eccentric Mentor: Emmanuel.
  • Gainax Ending: The third book. It is never made clear what actually happened to Pelagia, and whether or not the cave was a Time Machine.
  • Genre Roulette: The first book is a classical detective story; the second one introduces aspects of "Scooby-Doo" Hoax and science fiction, and the final one involves mystic elements (in Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane fashion).
  • Karma Houdini: Lentochkin, in the second book; subverted, since it is implied that the radiation from the meteorite pieces he stole will eventually kill him.
  • Loon with a Heart of Gold: Emmanuel is a saintly mad prophet who possibly has supernatural powers and makes people whom he meets understand their flaws and change for the better.
  • Love Freak: Emmanuel/Manuila firmly believes in The Power of Love.
  • Magical Jew: Emmanuel is an Ambiguously Jewish Eccentric Mentor with supernatural powers who makes people realise their flaws and change for the better.
  • Naked Nutter: In Sister Pelagia and the Black Monk, when Lentochkin pretends to have been drive mad from the revelation of the eponymous Black Monk, he strips himself naked and violently fights off any attempt to clothe him again — which is very convincing in the ultra-conservative 19th century provincial Russian society of the book. Later on, Pelagia unwittingly supports his crazy act by discovering that the Black Monk traps his victims in coffins, inducing extreme Claustrophobia, which, in Lentochkin's case, is made to appear to be triggered by merely wearing clothes.
  • Obfuscating Insanity: Lentochkin.
  • Ominous Hair Loss: The monks inhabiting a holy island hermitage see hair loss as a mark of God's approval and, indeed, often pass away quickly after it sets in. This is because the island hosts a highly radioactive meteorite, and the monks are actually dying of radiation poisoning — in the end, even the Big Bad (who has been hiding out on the island for half the book) starts losing hair, indicating that he may not live long, even if he escapes from justice.
  • Only Sane by Comparison: In Sister Pelagia and the Red Rooster, Emmanuel (aka Manuila) is a a quirky religious prophet with peculiar speech mannerisms. However, compared to the others who are either religious extremists of various sorts (such as the fanatical Russian Orthodox Pobedin) or just plain weirdos (such as a bunch of Camp Gays who rebuilt and inhabited the biblical Sodom, and are planning to rebuild Gomorrah for lesbian women), Emmanuel appears one of the most sane, not to mention kind-hearted.
  • The Redeemer: In Sister Pelagia and the Red Rooster, the eccentric rabbi Emmanuel has the uncanny ability to bring out the best nature of everyone he meets. Combined with his extraordinary perception bordering on mind-reading, it leads to situations like when he completely reforms a hardened killer with a few gentle words while the latter is taking aim to assassinate him. Of course, none of this is surprising, as the novel all but spells out that Emmanuel is actually the time-traveling real-world prototype of Jesus.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The Black Monk is actually a disguise worn by two different people for different purposes (one of them is trying to scare people away from a meteorite in order to save them from radiation's dangerous effects, while the other wants the meteorite for himself).
  • Sexier Alter Ego: For the needs of her investigations, Pelagia often has to disguise herself as her own sister, wearing alluring female clothing and even flirting with men.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: The hermit monks on the Canaan Island in Pelagia and the Black Monk are not allowed to speak at all, but their prior may utter five words a day, four of which must be a quote from the Bible.
  • Speech Impediment: Emmanuel, while being an Omniglot, seems to have this in virtually every language he speaks: in Russian, he has pwofound twouble with his w's, and his Hebrew is described as similar to "the clucking of a bird".
  • The Ophelia: Naina loves to present herself as one, though it's largely a show-off; lampshaded by her brother.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Lentochkin pretends that he was a victim of the Black Monk and was driven to insanity due to being Buried Alive by him; in reality, he is the Black Monk.