The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick
Published by Gollancz UK
Published February 2008
539 pages (ARC); 384 pages (Hardback) (ARC copy received for review.)
ISBN: 978- 0575081765 (Hardback) 9780575081772 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
Or should that be ‘Arrrgh’?
For The Red Wolf Conspiracy is an enthusiastic novel that combines tales of pirates with legends of imprisoned Lovecraftian gods, hidden treasure and general skulduggery. Part Master and Commander, part On Stranger Tides, this fantasy debut from a relatively new author has much to be admired.
From the start, there is quite a lot going on in this book. Most of the book takes place on or around the good ship I.M.S. Chathrand, a supertanker of a sailing ship. Seven decks deep, with a crew of hundreds, it is sent by the Emperor of Arqual on a diplomatic mission from her home port of Etherhorde to the recently-defeated Mzithrin race.
Aboard the ship are many characters whom you may recognise from the genre. This is not the cynical hard-bitten weariness of Scott Lynch’s pirate tales, but characters a little closer to the traditional view. The hero is Pazel Pathkindle, a young boy apprentice of apparently lowly status (though later found to be a captured refugee from the recent war) with a secret ability, who with his faithful friend Neeps, and Thasha, a feisty young heroine and the daughter of the Emperor’s diplomat, form the core of the account. To add to this, there is a Yoda-like father figure, Ramachni, and his faithful trainee.
The bad guys also stray little from the traditional. Spymasters and villains are hidden amongst the crew and are subverting events to their will. The ship’s captain, Nilus Rose, is for want of a better word, insane. Political intrigue also permeates the book as the diplomatic mission the Chathrand sails on is not what it first appears to be.
Much of this may be familiar. Some characters may be a little too predictable for some. However, I found that
although the elements may not be new, the world building and characterisation is pleasantly imaginative. There are lots of characters here that resonate. The evil yet melancholic slave-trader Flikkermen, who strangely glow, releasing energy they can no longer contain, the mermaid-like sea-murths who drag divers to their deaths, the whole idea of a sailing (or pirate) society works here.
Of particular likeability to me were the ixchel, the little people
, who often stow away on the ships of this world. Reminiscent to me of The Borrowers or the Nomes from Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad series, their efforts on board the Chathrand are filled with danger and peril. Diadrelu, their leader, is a ruler with compassion and vision, on a mission to save her tribe, and a difficult one which has consequences for all involved.
There are some interesting concepts too. The idea that animals can be ‘woken’ to a higher state of consciousness and exist as sacred beings (or as some would have it, souls cursed by the Gods) is an intriguing one. Particularly engaging here is the woken rat, Felthrup Stargraven, whose efforts, despite all the odds, make him a key protagonist in the tale and one which no doubt can/will be developed later.
If I had to pick fault, I think that such a broad range of characters and such an energetic set of actions at times dilutes the cumulative impact of the events in the novel. There is a lot of plot plate-spinning going on as these characters intertwine and disperse from each other during the length of the book.
This is ambitious. And at the conclusion, this juggling of disparate elements is almost managed. However for me, the ending did not quite manage to live up to my expectations. There are a few too many convenient coincidences in places, particularly towards the end of the book. The resolution of the novel – bad guys defeated, scene set for Book Two (The Rats and the Ruling Sea) – is however rather inelegant with (after a lengthy build-up) plot resolutions coming quick and fast in a matter of about twenty pages. One plot-solution falls on top of another, at times seemingly too easily and too quickly for it to be realistically logical. The last thirty or so pages that occur after this, in a lengthy coda, seem a little deflating after the book’s earlier energy.
Nevertheless, this ambitious book shows a great deal of promise from a fairly new Fantasy author whose reputation I think will develop further as this series continues. Though at the end its ambitions are curtailed a little by its limitations, its clear narrative style and engaging characterisation and narrative should appeal to fans of Robin Hobb’s Liveship Series. This one did not quite hold the page-turning potential I anticipated at the end, though it is very enjoyable and thus recommended. In summary, this one deserves to do well.
Extract (Chapter One): http://redwolfconspiracy.com/PDFs/RedWolfConspiracy_ch1.pdf
Mark Yon / Hobbit
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