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A Fox Called Sorrow: Little Fur    by Isobelle Carmody order for
Fox Called Sorrow
by Isobelle Carmody
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2007 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

In the eye of a destructive autumn storm, humans and creatures within city boundaries sense 'warnings that churned in the air'. A half-starved fox slowly finds his way to the 'outskirts of the sprawling gray city', as a pixie living in a hidden wilderness tends to healing and planting seeds. 'A boil of trolls at the mouth of a pipe that leaks poisonous filth ... hiss and cackle in delight', while a crippled owl waits in a church, referred to by the animals as a 'beaked house'. The church is a place where 'humans had brought hope for hundreds of years', leaving a 'potent magic' of powerful longings.

The gentle healer, Little Fur, was born half pixy, half troll, inheriting a knowledge of herbal healing - she tends to the injured and ill in a magical grove in the city's hidden heart, amongst seven ancient trees called the Old Ones. Advice-giver Sett Owl (Herness) perches in the ages-old church, dispensing answers to the questions and troubles of many. Advice-seekers are escorted by the great owl's assistant, a rat called Gazrak, who owes the owl a 'black debt'. Little Fur consults with Sett on the welfare of an owl fledgling, fallen from its nest. The healer worries about keeping a part of her body on 'earth magic', as Sett assures her: 'Have no fear that the earth magic will fail under you ... Still magic and earth magic are not inimical to one another. It is only that both are very strong and are content to be apart.'

It is here that Little Fur meets the angry fox named Sorrow, sensing that the fox's body scars are nothing compared to the 'scarring of his spirit'. Sorrow tells Herness, 'I wish to die, but my instinct to live chains me to life. I want to know how I can overcome my instinct.' The owl assigns Sorrow the role of protector on a quest to discover what evil plot the Troll King has conceived 'to destroy the earth magic running through the natural world'. His companions are two volunteer ferrets and the reluctant Gazrak, who was born beneath the earth, while Little Fur will tend to the fox's infected wounds. The owl tells Sorrow that one of the companions will betray him.

The troll city of Underth is built on a slab of natural rock, 'swathed in a luminous yellow-green mist'. The Troll King's palace contains many tunnels, chambers, and narrow streets. Crooked buildings are constructed from masses of stone, and tall rock pinnacles seem 'lost in general blackness that concealed the cavern roof'. Little Fur finds wonder in Underth, awed by its similarity to an earth city, and confronts her troll-elf heritage. Little Fur muses, 'I believed at one time that humans were as ill-intentioned as trolls, loving nothing better than hurting and killing things. But ... many of them do not smell of hatred and cruelty. Some smell of wonder and kindness, and when they sing, it is so beautiful that they drive away the darkness in themselves.'

Qualities of caring, heroism, and friendship are portrayed by Isobelle Carmody in a lyrical lilt that invokes heartfelt emotions. Her simplistic pen-and-ink drawings complement the delicacy of the story's sensitivities. Left hanging in A Fox Called Sorrow, the matter of a green pendant is sure to become the subject of a future Little Fur episode.

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