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Literature / Summer in Orcus

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Summer in Orcus is a portal fantasy novel by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon).

Summer is an eleven-year-old girl who lives with her overprotective mother. An encounter with the witch Baba Yaga results in her being sent on an adventure to the world of Orcus, which is threatened by the warlord Zultan and the mysterious Queen-In-Chains.

It has been published as an online serial, and is now complete.

This novel contains examples of:

  • Baba Yaga: Summer's chance encounter with her is what sets her on her adventure. Luckily for Summer, Baba Yaga happens to be in a good mood. Luckier, Summer is very polite and well behaved. Baba Yaga, for her part, is visibly struggling to contain her more vicious instincts but seems to want to be the good guy this time.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Summer is told a tale about a woman who wished to be a dragon, only to find that her dragon body's instincts were stronger than her human willpower and she was unable to stop herself going on a rampage that destroyed her home city and everyone in it.
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  • Carnivore Confusion: Summer meets a talking weasel and a talking bird, and the latter politely but firmly declines to help the weasel find an egg to eat, and Summer finds herself wondering if there are any animals in Orcus that don't talk, "and whether that made it awkward at mealtimes."
  • Cheesy Moon: One of the exotic cheeses at the Wheystation is a green cheese labeled "Fresh from the slopes of Mare Imbrium".
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The lock from Summer's back gate, which she puts in her pocket when she sneaks out, ends up playing a significant role in the climax.
    • The cautionary tale of the woman who wished to be a dragon isn't just a colorful background detail.
  • Cool Mask: Zultan Houndbreaker wears a helm shaped like the head of a snarling hound, which commemorates his genocide of the Dogs and hides the fact that he is himself a Dog.
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  • Eyes Are Mental: Summer meets a dragon trapped in a human body, who has reptilian eyes. Later, Summer meets the human trapped in the dragon's body and realizes who she is because she has human eyes.
  • Feather Fingers: Averted. The narration makes a point of mentioning that Reginald Hoopoe's wings aren't manipulatory appendages; his feet double as hands instead.
  • Funny Animal: The population of Orcus includes a nation of anthropomorphic birds. There was also a nation of anthropomorphic dogs, but they were wiped out by Zultan in the backstory.
  • Genre Savvy: Summer has read a lot of Trapped in Another World novels, so she has some idea what to expect. The extent to which her foreknowledge is actually helpful varies.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: The birds' society bears a considerable resemblance to Regency England, but with details that reflect the fact that they're birds.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Discussed. Summer knows that Trapped in Another World stories often end with the protagonist being made to forget the whole thing, and is determined that she doesn't want it to happen to her, even after Baba Yaga points out that it means having memories she will never be able to discuss with anyone else for the rest of her life.
  • Last of His Kind: Zultan Houndbreaker is notorious for his genocide of an entire peaceful and enlightened race of anthropomorphic Dogs. Summer eventually learns that there is one Dog left alive, when she sees Zultan without the face-concealing helmet that he always wears in public.
  • Literal Metaphor: In Orcus, "house hunting" is the profession of tracking and trapping wild houses, and breaking them in to be sold on the domestic market.
  • My Beloved Smother: Let's just say there's a reason Summer's heart's desire takes the form of an extremely dangerous quest in another world.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: In Orcus, werewolves are wolves who turn into other creatures, and not always at full moons; mention is made of one who turns into a skylark on solstices. The one Summer meets turns into a cottage, and is in peril from house hunters.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: In universe. Zultan actually only controls a small gang of bandits, but is able to control a wide area and have a major impact on the world simply because there's no real force to oppose them. It's compared to small gangs like in the wild west who could control wide territories with only a few men.
  • Species Surname: Reginald Hoopoe and the other inhabitants of the nation of birds.
  • Talking Animal: Baba Yaga gives Summer a talking weasel as a traveling companion. It tells her not to expect magic or great wisdom from it, because it's a completely ordinary weasel; all weasels can talk, it says, it's just that humans aren't very good at listening.
  • Trapped in Another World
  • The Trickster: Antelope women are not to be trusted. They're tricksters, and they have a grudge against the world so all their tricks have some unpleasant end.
  • The Wonderland: Orcus
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Discussed. Summer doesn't know whether this will apply to her sojourn in Orcus, and worries about it a bit before deciding that there's nothing she can do about it and she'll just have to deal with it as it comes. In the end, it turns out that Baba Yaga has arranged for her to get back immediately after she left.


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