The Tower and the Fox, by Tim Susman – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Tower and the Fox, by Tim Susman. Illustrated by Laura Garabedian.
Dallas, TX, Argyll Productions, June 2017, trade paperback $17.95 (265 pages, ebook $9.95.

Grump! This begins in media res, with 19-year-old fox-Calatian Kip Penfold grasping the locked gate of Prince George’s College of Sorcery in New Cambridge, Massachusetts in the early 1800s. Anything further that I say about it would be a spoiler.

Well, if the book’s blurb can give away several spoilers, so can I. The setting is a world like ours, but with magic. Think Harry Potter. Magic has apparently always existed. There were Sumerian and Akkadian sorcerers. The first Calatians (anthropomorphic animals) were created by magic in 1402. Magic helped win the War of the Roses in 1480. There has not yet been an American Revolution, and the British North American Colonies are still loyal to the Crown, although some people are restive about that. Others are unhappy with the social order of the times: Europeans › Colonists › Irish › slaves/Negroes › women › Calatians. The social order of the last four is uncertain; maybe females rank slightly higher than male Irish or Negroes, or Calatians are higher than them. But all four are definitely inferior to human Caucasian menfolk, Continental or Colonial. (Where the American Indians stand in this is uncertain.)

“He turned on his heel. Emily shouted after him, ‘Why do we have to prove ourselves?’ but he did not respond, nor turn, and this time she did not pursue him.

Kip felt a sinking feeling in his chest, watching the sorcerer walk away. ‘Because we always have to prove ourselves,’ he said. ‘Because of how we look.’

‘Rubbish,’ Emily said. ‘We’re living in the age of enlightenment, for God’s sake. There’s no reason a woman can’t be a sorcerer. Nor a Calatian, for that matter.’

‘I hope not.’ Kip rubbed his paws together. ‘But none has, not ever.’

Because of people like him.’ She didn’t have to specify whom she meant. ‘Because of people who think men are the only capable creatures God made. Only men can own property or have a voice in government. Can you own property?’” (p. 11)

In a sense, this is a typical British schoolboy novel in a fantasy setting. The main characters are the four “unnatural” applicants to the College: Philip “Kip” Penfold, a fox-Calatian; his friend Copper “Coppey” Lutris, an otter-Calatian; Emily Carswell, a human woman; and Malcolm O’Brien, an Irishman*. There have never been any but White (Caucasian) male sorcerers before, but an emergency situation has forced the College to open itself to a wider call for applicants – “any Colonist of magical inclination and ability may apply” – and the four take advantage of it.

Despite the official call for applicants, there are those among both the college faculty and the other students who consider it disgraceful that non-Whites (including Irish), animals/Calatians, and women are allowed to become students. They are determined to make them fail.

“The rest of the exam proceeded much like that; when Kip gave the correct answer, Patris said nothing. When he gave a correct answer that could be better worded, or was slightly incomplete, Patris corrected him with a slight sneer of condescension.

Forty-five minutes into the examination, Patris said curtly, ‘You are done.’ He made two more marks on Kip’s paper and then shuffled it aside.   He didn’t even look up to meet Kip’s eyes.

Kip walked out the back without a word, but had to walk back and forth to work off his anger before he could sit down with the others. Coppy had been treated much the same, but it didn’t bother him. ‘Least he listened to me,’ he said.

Emily, though, was still furious. ‘Whenever I didn’t know something, he would say, ‘as I expected,’ or he would just smile, and once I was so angry that I said. ‘If people would take the time to teach mathematics to women, they would find many willing to learn,’ and he said, ‘women do not have the proper parts of their brains to learn mathematics.’ Aren’t they supposed to be intelligent here? I expected him to start measuring my skull with calipers to see how in balance my humors were! It’s completely laughable.’” (pgs. 65-66)

The Tower and the Fox covers the first semester of the College of Sorcery’s new class. In addition to internal dissention, Kip has to face disapproval among his own Calatians in New Cambridge– some feel that he is putting himself above the place of Calatians by trying to learn magic at the College, and that social retribution will fall on all Calatians – and some in the government oppose letting any Calatians learn magic for fear they will join the growing revolutionary movement seeking independence for the Colonies from the British Empire. Kip just wants to learn magic for his own sake, but each of his friends and enemies have their own motives – and magic ensures that the College’s Masters do not know as much as they believe they do.

Tim Susman wrote or edited his first three books (Breaking the Ice, Shadows in Snow, and Common and Precious) under his own name from 2002 to 2007. In 2005 he began using the pseudonym of Kyell Gold, and has written two dozen books under that name, including many award-winners. Now he is returning to his own name with The Calatians, of which this is Book One. The Tower and the Fox has a cover and nineteen chapter-heading drawings by Laura Garabedian. It comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but the adventures of Kip Penfold and his human and Calatian friends and enemies – not to mention demons and elementals – are just beginning.

*If you think the Irish were considered White men by the British upper classes before World War I, I have some old British racist jokes for you. One stuffy British colonel to another: “I say, who do you consider the most reliable Colonial troops to be? The Gurkhas? The West Africans?” “Oh, the Irish, definitely. When led by White officers.”

Fred Patten

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