The Demon 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 Demon and the Fox, by Tim Susman. Illustrated by Laura Garabedian.
Dallas, TX, Argyll Productions, July 2018, trade paperback, $17.95 (277 pages), ebook $9.95.
The Demon and the Fox is subtitled “Book Two of The Calatians”. Book One, The Tower and the Fox, was published last year, and The War and the Fox, the concluding book of the trilogy, will be published next year.
Kip Penfold is a teenage fox-Calatian in a world analogous to New England in the early 1800s where the American Revolution failed in 1775. The Calatians are magically uplifted anthro animals, legally considered full humans but prejudiced against as inferior by most humans; at the bottom of society. (Along with women. And the Irish. Don’t ask about the Negroes or the Native Americans.)
There have never been any but White Caucasian (which doesn’t include the Irish) male sorcerers before, but an unexpected, almost fatal attack from an unknown enemy has forced Prince George’s College of Sorcery in New Cambridge, Massachusetts to open itself to a wider call for applicants to replace its murdered students – “any Colonist of magical inclination and ability may apply” – and Kip, along with an otter-Calatian, a woman, and an Irishman take advantage of it.
In my review of The Tower and the Fox, I said that “In a sense, this is a typical British schoolboy novel in a fantasy setting. […] 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 Tower and the Fox covers the first semester of the College of Sorcery’s new class.”
The Demon and the Fox begins with the start of the second semester. All four have survived, and Kip is now the apprentice of Master Odden, one of the College’s full sorcerers and teachers. Their work, both for Kip’s learning and for the College’s defense, is to discover who was behind the magical attack on the College about six months ago that almost destroyed it.
The first sorcery Kip learns horrifies him, and almost breaks up the quartet:
“Kip’s indecision over whether to tell his friends about the calyx ritual lasted all of four minutes once they were again all together in the basement. ‘They drink the blood of Calatians!’ he said, pacing back and forth through the old papers and dusty stone floor.
Coppy, the otter-Calatian who’d also become an apprentice, didn’t react with the horror Kip had hoped. ‘I thought it might be something like that,’ he said.
‘You never said. We talked about it for months!’
‘I know.’ Coppy rested a paw on Kip’s arm. ‘Didn’t want to upset you. People do horrible things to Calatians in London and I heard summat about blood when I was a cub there.’
Kip’s tail lashed back and forth. ‘I wish you’d told me.’
‘I couldn’t.’ Coppy squeezed his forearm. ‘It was your dad. If he wouldn’t tell you, ‘twasn’t my place.’
‘You don’t have to protect me all the time,’ Kip said.
The otter lifted his paw and rubbed at his whiskers. ‘But I really didn’t know for sure. Why start trouble with rumours?’” (p. 13)
As the semester advances, the quartet begin to drift apart, not only because of their different attitudes to what magic really entails. (Do they have to engage in blood magic? What if they can discover an alternate to blood magic?) It is immediately after 1815 and Britain’s New World colonies are still seething with political tensions about Loyalism and revolution. Should the Colonies fight London for better rights? Should they fight for complete independence? Would an independent nation accept Calatians as full citizens? Should the quartet stay neutral or become involved?
“Later that week, as Kip was poring over the instructions of Jaeger’s spell and sounding out the pronunciation, Emily came to him. ‘Kip,’ she said with excited urgency, waving a sheet of paper at him, ‘Master Hobstone’s written me again. He says he and Mr. Adams [John Quincy Adams] would like to meet with you at the Founders’ Rest Inn on Friday next!’
Kip had sat down cross-legged on his bedroll with the spell in front of him, while Neddy snoozed on the stone nearby. Next to him, Coppy practiced levitating a group of five small marbles; Malcolm was either studying with Master Vendis or off on his own somewhere. The fox finished reading through Jaeger’s words one more time and then lifted his head. ‘Thank him for me. I really don’t wish to.’
‘Kip.’ She put her hands on her hips. ‘I don’t think you understand what this movement stands for. They simply want to explain their goals.’
‘I’m not interested in their goals.’’ Kip folded his arms. ‘Mr. Adams simply asking about me last time made Patris furious.’
‘He knows. That’s why he asked to meet at the Inn. Patris need never know.’ She waved the letter again. ‘They want you to be part of the movement. This is bigger than learning fire spells.’
‘It’s my future!’
Coppy’s marbles fell to the bedroll. The otter looked up, but Emily’s focus remained on Kip. ‘This,’ she thrust the paper at him, ‘could be the future of our country!’
‘That’s all very well for those who have the freedom to be concerned about it.’ He didn’t like the edge his voice got, so he breathed in and pushed fingers through his tail fur to calm himself.
Coppy reached over to touch his arm. ‘Back in London,’ he said, ‘often we had to worry foremost about our survival, but we also knew we had to think about our Isle. For who else would?’
‘New Cambridge is doing fine,’ Kip said. ‘Better if I remain a student here.’” (p. 60)
Instead, Kip decides to ask his teachers to send him to King’s College in London to learn fire magic from the only other sorcerer who can teach it. That will remove him from the politics in the Colonies; it will make it harder for his detractors to accuse him of being a secret independence supporter; and it will make it harder for the College to expel him. It will separate him from his friends, but that may be for the best if they are going to get involved in the independence movement.
That is up through Chapter 7. In Chapter 8, page 82, Kip goes to London. The next hundred pages describe Kip’s experiences in London; what happens to him and what he learns there. He meets the sorcerers of King’s College and many of London’s Calatians. Kip’s sharp fox sense of smell reveals more than he can see.
Kip assumes that he is far removed and free of the actions of the Colonial revolutionary movement, but then the mysterious deaths among his acquaintances start:
“The light was plenty for him to make out Albright’s troubled expression. The sorcerer put his hands behind his back and drew in a breath. ‘Please leave the window shut, Penfold. In addition to keeping out the chill, I have taken measures to ensure that we cannot be heard here, which will be slightly less effective with an open window.’
‘I was just checking the latch.’
‘Indeed.’ Albright paced over to the table, looked down at it, then paced back to the door. ‘I must confess, Penfold, that I have not been entirely truthful with you. The sensitive nature of my work means that I cannot place my trust without a good deal of investigation, and even then only to a select few.’
Kip’s ears perked. ‘I understand,’ he said, though he didn’t quite, yet.
‘You are investigating the attacks on your school. So am I. I am working under the direct order of Lord Castlereagh – the Foreign Secretary. We had been working under the assumption that it was the work of a foreign power, but recently have uncovered some evidence that the attack may have been planned in part in the colony of Massachusetts Bay itself. You are aware, I believe, that there are factions there promoting revolution?’” (pgs. 184-185)
Kip experiences agony, betrayal, and tragedy. The Demon and the Fox (cover by Laura Garabedian) comes to a definite conclusion, but The War and the Fox is waiting.
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