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Literature / The Footfalls of Chess Horses

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The Footfalls of Chess Horses (Russian: Топот шахматных лошадок) is a 2005 children's Urban Fantasy novel by Vladislav Krapivin. When a square in a small town opens to the public again after long restoration, it's revealed it accidentally crosses over into another dimension, leading to all sorts of slightly and not-so-slightly magical happenings. The square becomes a favorite meeting place for all sorts of kids, teenagers and young adults. That particular crossover with the fourth dimension also enhances friendly feelings and brings out the best in people, enabling them to gradually deal with their sometimes very deep and serious problems.


The main characters are as follows:

  • Belka, a willful and curious girl and point-of-view character in the first chapters
  • Vashek, Boy Next Door and Belka's first close friend from Triangle Square
  • Syoga, Vashek's adopted brother, a bookish boy with health problems
  • Kostya, Lonely Rich Kid, the son of the town's oligarch and Belka's classmate
  • Tyupa, a Child Prodigy who actively researches Triangle Square's nature
  • Brawler, a Bruiser with a Soft Center who slowly opens up as he befriends the rest of the group
  • Dashutka, the youngest one of them and Morality Pet to Brawler

They make friends quickly enough and always stick together, so everything ought to be perfect. However, Syoga has a mental illness of unknown nature which nobody can cure. Kostya's father attempts to turn a hospital into a hotel, shut down the region's best burn center and drive the doctors, Vashek and Syoga's father among then, into district clinics. And Kostya, apart from having to deal with his dysfunctional family, has noticed a man who previously tried to kidnap him walking around free.


The novel provides examples of:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Professor Valery Rekordarsky, a physicist, and his wife Georgina, a linguist, both fit the trope, being way too absent-minded to keep their house in order (Professor Rekordarsky, unlike his wife, can at least cook, but he can't keep his cat from stealing the results). Each of them occasionally gently teases the other one about that.
  • Bully Turned Buddy: Vashek, along with the rest of his class, initially plagues the life of Tyupa. But then, as he bonds with Syoga and goes through serious Character Development, he also begins to protect Tyupa and slowly ends up one of his best friends.
  • Cats Are Magic: Luisa, Professor Rekordarsky's black cat, can casually walk between different worlds.
  • Culture Clash: Belka has an uncle and aunt in Canada who adore her, but their cultures and lifestyles are too different, and, after visiting them once, she refuses to go to Toronto for the entire summer holidays.
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  • Dead Guy Junior: Vashek is named after his Czech great-grandfather Waclaw. Technically, he is called Vyacheslav, the Russian version of the name, but his pet name Vashek is Czech.
  • Dramatic Irony: Andrey Rytvin, Kostya's father, gets badly shot, and his life is saved in the very hospital he planned to shut up. Bonus point: the operation is performed by Vashek and Syoga's father.
  • Dying Declaration of Love: A platonic version, a farewell letter to Kostya from his mother.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Belka's full first name is Elizabetta, thought up by her grandmother. Belka really hates it and plans on changing it to Elena as soon as she hits fourteen.
  • Good Stepmother: Though Kostya is emotionally distant from his family, he admits that his stepmother Emma treats him wonderfully.
  • Happily Adopted: Syoga is extremely happy when the Gorvatov family takes him in. He has never had a proper family and is amazed that they consider him one of their own, despite his physical and mental health issues.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: When Belka quarrels with Vashek, Kostya urges her to make up with him, even though he has a crush on Belka himself and she turns to him after the quarrel.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: As usual in Krapivin's books.
    • The students from the University of Alternative Physics and Mathematics get along marvelously with children. Professor Rekordarsky is friendly with both the former and the latter.
    • Kostya's only friend before he comes to Triangle Square is his former bodyguard Vadim.
  • Missing Mom: Kostya's mother divorced his father and left Kostya with him, going to Indonesia with her new lover. Kostya goes through terrible trauma, feeling himself abandoned and unwanted. It turns out she was injured in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and succumbed to her injuries, but had enough time to write a letter, telling Kostya she regretted her decision, wanted to come back to him and would watch over him from the next world.
  • Present Day: It is set in 2005 (the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is referred to as having occurred "this winter"), and was published in the same year.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: A downplayed, Puppy Love variation. Both Kostya and Vashek have crushes on Belka; Kostya is the richest boy in town and Vashek's parents can’t afford even the cheapest holiday trip. Belka likes both of them and has Ship Tease moments with each, but there is no resolution for either side of the triangle, and it doesn't affect the friendship between the children.
  • Shipper on Deck: Syoga strongly ships his brother and Belka and never ceases to remind them of that, to Vashek's embarrassment.


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