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Literature / White Crow

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Rats and Gargoyles, The Architecture of Desire and Left to His Own Devices are a trilogy of novels by Mary Gentle, published individually in the early 1990s then collected in a 2003 omnibus edition under the title White Crow. The omnibus also includes three linked short stories, "Beggars in Satin", "The Knot Garden", and "Black Motley".

The novels and stories feature a woman named Valentine who is associated with the epithet or phrase "White Crow," and a man named Baltazar Casaubon...and pretty much everything else varies from tale to tale, including the rest of Valentine's name. They're not even set in a consistent world; Rats and Gargoyles is set in a gothic otherworld ruled by sapient rat people, The Architecture of Desire in a magical Alternate History of the 17th century, and Left to His Own Devices has a near-future Cyberpunk setting.

(Note: The individual edition of Left to His Own Devices included several short stories as additional material. With the exception of "Black Motley" they were unrelated to this series and are not covered on this page.)

This series contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Valentine.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Whenever Valentine and her perennial love interest Baltazar Casaubon don't have this going on, they're married. (Which isn't to say that the two scenarios are mutually exclusive.)
  • Big Eater: Baltazar Casaubon seems to always have a snack at hand. And yes, he's fat... but, to paraphrase Gentle herself, it's more accurate to say that he's a huge guy who happens to be fat.
  • Genius Bruiser: Baltazar Casaubon is very tall, very fat but very strong, somewhat spacy, and always an absolute prodigy in his field (which changes from book to book).
  • Genius Ditz: Baltazar is decidedly eccentric, a bit of a slob, and more than a bit of a flake; however, he's definitely a sharp cookie.
  • Genius Slob: Baltazar Casaubon is a brilliant architect and/or hacker (depending on the exact story) who's almost invariably either freshly bathed, or absolutely covered in dirt, grease, and food stains.
  • Hermetic Magic: Used quite widely in Rats and Gargoyles, and has been one of Valentine's shticks a couple of times.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: While Valentine seems to be average-sized, Baltazar is 6'5" and well over 300 pounds.
  • I Have Many Names: Valentine White Crow/Roseveare/Branwen/Whatever-Her-Surname-Is-This-Time.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: Rats are...well, seven-foot-tall rat people.
  • Lady of War: Valentine.
  • Likes Older Women: Zar-bettu-Zekigal, from Rats and Gargoyles, explicitly prefers older women (shortly after she's first introduced, she starts rhapsodizing over her fortyish landlady Evelian's laugh lines). When she later becomes infatuated with the Hyena (who's only got about ten years on Zari), it mystifies her that she's crushing on someone so young.
  • Little Bit Beastly: Katayans look basically human, but have long furry tails.
  • Practical Currency: In Rats and Gargoyles, humans are not allowed cash, with a few exceptions. On one occasion, Mayor Tannakin Spatchet tries to pay the White Crow with a wheelbarrow full of brass pans, cheese, candles, paper, and so on.
  • Prematurely Gray Haired: Valentine, regardless of her age in a given work (which can vary from nineteen to forty), invariably has quite a bit of gray in her otherwise auburn hair, typically in distinct white skunk-stripes. In Rats and Gargoyles, it's implied to be a Mark of the Supernatural; she sprouts feathers in the stripes after having spent time polymorphed into her iconic white crow.)
  • Stout Strength: Baltazar is always described as fat, with a huge gut and a round fleshy face. He's also 6'5", large-framed, and possessed of impressive strength and endurance.

Alternative Title(s): Rats And Gargoyles