For Kip, growing up in shadow of the human men-only Prince George's College of Sorcery has been nineteen years of frustration. Magic comes naturally to him, yet he's not allowed to study sorcery because he's a Calatian—one of a magically created race of people who walk on two legs but have fur, tails, and the heads of animals (in Kip's case, a fox). But when a mysterious attack leaves the masters desperate for apprentices, they throw their doors open, giving Kip his chance, along with another Calatian and the College's first female student. As they fight to prove their worth to the human sorcerers, Kip encounters other oddities: a voice that speaks only to him, a book that makes people forget he's there, and one of the masters who will only speak to him through a raven. Greater than any of those mysteries or even whether the College will be attacked again is the mystery of how Kip and his friends can prove that this place is where they belong...
I met Tim Susman at a Worldcon many years ago because of a common friend. I've followed his work in both short story and novel form for years and was delighted that he had a magic school story for the bundle. He's an award winning writer with oodles of talent and you'll soon find out why. – Thomas K. Carpenter
The Tower and the Fox is the […] novel I've been waiting for him to write for years, and it has been worth the wait."– Dogpatch Press
"Susman is an experienced author, and it shows in his characters. While they might appear two- or even one-dimensional at first, as you get to know them further, they reveal hidden depths."– Furry Book Review
"Now," the sorcerer said, "here is an unusual group of applicants."
"We're as good as any man who might apply." Emily stepped to the front.
"We shall see about that, I suppose." Argent smiled. "All four of you wish to apply?"
"I am Master Vendis's calyx," Max said. "This is my son, who wishes to apply, and our friend Coppy, who will not."
"Highly unusual," Master Argent said, but he rubbed his hands together as though relishing the prospect. "Come inside and we will discuss whether the College can accommodate you." He turned and walked along a stone-lined path to the nearest of the two large tents.
"Discuss?" Emily followed at his side as the three Calatians walked behind. "We are here to apply to the College. What needs to be discussed?"
"Come now." The sorcerer turned so that Kip could see his smile. "A woman intelligent enough to apply to Prince George's is certainly intelligent enough to know the difficulties involved."
"Women can learn sorcery if given a chance. There is no reason a woman should be treated differently." Emily put her shoes down on the stone, wiped her feet on the grass, and stepped into them.
"Nor a Calatian," Kip added as he lifted his cloth suitcase. He glanced up as a raven flew over their heads, and then another. The first returned to the tower, while the other circled above them.
After the terrible noise and thunder of the attack back in May, the ravens had been the first signal that there were survivors on the hill. Kip had not seen more than one since that night; his father's sorcerer, Vendis, now sent his raven down when Max was needed, rather than coming in person as he had previously.
When they arrived at the entrance of the tent, Master Argent held the tent flap aside. Before any of them could step through, a black shape flew past, skimming the edges of the cloth. Master Argent ignored it. "The problems are not insurmountable," he said, "but they must nonetheless be addressed. How fortunate I am to be the first sorcerer presented with a Calatian candidate and a female candidate."
His smile was fixed enough that Kip could not tell whether he was being sarcastic. Before he could decide, the fox's attention was caught by a bit of glistening white in the debris around the edge of the canvas. For a moment, he was convinced it was a bone, and the chill of that suspicion followed him into the spacious tent.
Inside, the grey light of morning and the smell of damp remained, but the air that brushed Kip's whiskers held unexpected warmth. A stately desk stood in the center of the tent, burnished mahogany or cherry—Kip was not very clear on his woods—with loose sheets of rough paper atop it. To the left, a high perch stood that allowed the raven upon it to look down at all of them, and to the right of the desk, a large copper brazier on foot-tall legs and a thick stone base radiated soft light and heat in rippling waves. Inside the open bowl of the brazier, Kip saw a familiar pattern, like blackened pieces of wood bark lying atop a fire, so that bright orange shone through in jagged lines. As they entered, the pattern shifted, and a triangular reptilian head, eyes glowing, opened its mouth to reveal a steaming pink tongue.
"First of the new lot, is it?" it said in a thickly English accent. "Ooh, they're an unlikely looking bunch."
"This is Geoffrey," Argent said, gesturing to the steaming lizard. "He's a phosphorus elemental."
Geoffrey sat up straighter, opened his mouth, and hissed. Kip, who had seen phosphorus elementals, bowed. "Pleasure to make your acquaintance," he said.
"Can you breathe fire?" Emily asked, staring.
The lizard's smile grew. "Course I can! Set me down in the biggest fire an' I'll breathe happily away. Prefer it to this cold dead air, anyway."
"No, I mean—can you breathe fire out?"
It tilted its head. "What'choo mean? Out where?"
Master Argent cleared his throat. "If you are admitted to the College," he said, "you will have ample time to debate philosophy and semantics with our elementals. Geoffrey here is by no means the only one."
"But I'm the hottest, eh? You said so."
"Quite right." The young sorcerer smiled tolerantly and seated himself behind his desk. Kip and Emily set down their bags and came forward; Coppy stared at the lizard a moment. Max remained behind them with Coppy, a bulwark against which Kip could set his back.
Master Argent had brought out two sheets of paper and taken down their names, his words somehow appearing on the paper without any visible pen or motion on his part, when a loud, angry voice called his name at the opening of the tent, and the ruffle of chilly air from the flap opening and closing turned everyone's head.
A sorcerer with a short white beard, fiery brown eyes, and a mane of white hair that remained thick and full despite the rain strode around to the side of the tent, storming towards the desk from the raven's side. The raven edged toward Argent on its perch, eyes on the new arrival as he bellowed, "What is the meaning of this?"
Argent remained seated, a small smile meeting the fury of the other. "These are our first applicants to the College."
The furious master flung his hand out toward the four, and for Kip, the room went silent. The fox tried to turn his ears and then his head through the thick, syrupy air. His breathing was unaffected, but no sound reached him. To his right, Emily appeared to be trying to shout. The silence unnerved him; to his large fox's ears, the world was an unending bustle of chatter: people talking and walking, birds singing, mice in the walls of buildings. To have all the sound taken away made his fur crawl. He looked back at his father and saw the older fox's ears flattened against his head, but he remained calm, so Kip tried his best to do the same.
In front of them, the two sorcerers engaged in a heated dialogue, to judge from the expressions on the older one. Master Argent remained placid and smiling throughout. After about thirty seconds, the older man pointed a finger at the younger, gestured toward Kip and Emily, and then turned on his heel and stomped out of the tent.
The air returned to normal around Kip's ears in time for him to hear the older sorcerer say, "I will be happy to conduct matriculation interviews with legitimate candidates."
"Excuse me!" Emily said loudly, but the man had already disappeared through the tent flap.
She turned to Master Argent. "Who was that?"
He had been staring past the four of them, toward the outside of the tent, and now turned to her with an attentive smile. "Master Patris, the Head of the College, has some objections to my liberal standards, it seems. But the responsibility for reviewing candidates has been placed in my hands, so—Miss Carswell!"
Argent stood, both hands on the desk, as Emily rose from her chair and whirled. She paid him no mind, but hurried out to the front of the tent, and after a glance at his father, Kip followed.
"Master Patris," she called as she and Kip emerged into the misty rain. The older sorcerer was halfway back to the Tower, and did not turn as she called his name.
"Perhaps we'd best let him go," Kip said.
Emily paid him no more mind than she had Argent. "If you allow someone to treat you the way they think they can, they're going to keep doing it. We have to show him that we will not stand for it."
"But he's the Head." Kip hurried alongside her. He glanced behind, but neither Coppy nor his father had followed. "If you antagonize him, we might not be allowed in at all. Wouldn't it be better to get in first, and then establish the rules by which you want to be treated?"
"Well," she said. "You're a good one with words. Better educated than most men I know our age."
"And don't you think that education deserves respect?" They had closed the distance between themselves and the retreating sorcerer, near the point in the path where it curved around the corner of the tower. "Master Patris!"
A raven wheeled over them, and the older sorcerer turned, finally. "Candidates are not allowed in the Tower until they have been accepted," he said, and began to turn again, as though that were the end of the discussion.
"We will not be treated the way you have just treated us." Emily folded her arms and glared.
He stopped, and straightened. His voice chilled Kip more than the rain. "And how have I treated you?"
"Silencing us without asking. Talking about us behind our backs right in front of us. It's disrespectful and condescending and we deserve better."
His eyes narrowed. "Your feet are rather bare to be a bluestocking."
"I would be proud to be called such. Education and outspokenness are no shame for any person, man or woman." She did not look over at Kip, but added, "Nor Calatian," after a second's pause.
"Education is quite worthy," Patris said tightly, "and here is a small measure to add to your store. I am the Head of this College, and if I have matters to discuss out of your hearing, then I will remove your hearing. Should you by some fantastical chance meet the requirements to matriculate as a student of this College, you will accept that my authority over you is supreme. If I wish to render you blind, deaf, and dumb—and believe me when I say that the latter is growing more appealing by the minute—then you will trust that I have excellent reason for doing so and you will submit to my authority."
"And let me assure you," Emily said, "that if you treated any student the way you have treated us—"
Kip put a paw on her arm. "It was inconsiderate, surely, not to warn us," he said, and then looked at Master Patris. "But all we ask is the same treatment you would extend to any other student seeking education at your College."
"When you have proven yourselves worthy of equal treatment," Patris said with a sneer, "then you may expect to receive it."
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.