I’ve noticed that more than a few reviewers, especially those who write jacket blurbs, have compared Robert V. S. Redick’s The Red Wolf Conspiracy to George R. R. Martin’s magnificent Song of Ice and Fire series. Honestly, I think that’s a little unfair. Sure, both are fine achievements in world building and character creation, and both authors sport an extra initial. And, uh, both write fantasy, I guess. To me, that’s where the superficial resemblance ends. Redick doesn’t match Martin’s depth, complexity, or stark, brutal beauty. Nor does he try.
What Redick has accomplished in The Red Wolf Conspiracy is something that seems all too rare in the fantasy genre these days. He’s written a book that’s flat out fun.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy is in many ways a throw back to old-school romantic adventure. Since comparisons are inevitable, Redick’s storytelling reminds me less of Martin and more of the seagoing adventure of Rafael Sabatini or Robert Lewis Stevenson with the intrigue, clever plotting, wit, and, well, panache of Alexandre Dumas—with a liberal dose of the late, great Lloyd Alexander’s ability to create lovable, complex characters that manage to do heroic things not just despite their flaws, but often because of them. Yet despite the abundance of familiar ingredients, Redick has crafted a story that feels altogether fresh.
In a world of great sea-going empires, The Red Wolf Conspiracy tells of a voyage of a massive sailing ship, Chathrand. The last of her kind, the secrets of her construction were lost ages ago. Aboard we meet Pazel, the young tarboy cursed with a strange gift, spirited Thasha, destined to be a treaty bride whose arranged marriage is meant to bring peace to warring empires, and a host of engaging characters that includes an intelligent rat, a hidden clan of doll-size warriors, a mink-wizard from another world, a sinister captain, a conspiring magician, a deadly spy, a heroic warrior, a mysterious doctor, a mad god-king, and more—all fascinating, all bound in webs of conspiracy.
Once the great ship’s voyage begins, the pace is relentless. In fact, some critical events happen “off screen,” and we only hear about them as the the characters upon whom our attention is focused at that moment learn of them—Redick never wastes a chapter, or even a page, going back. The story is always moving forward. It’s a complex structure, and it works, leaving us breathless, even though at times I wished we could have found some magical, impossible way to follow more than one set of characters at once.
My only “complaint” is that when I reached the last pages, I discovered that The Red Wolf Conspiracy is the first of a series. While the novel ends in a satisfying place, it leaves the reader aching to know what happens next. I am happy to report, however, that the sequel, The Ruling Sea (in the UK, it has the much more interesting title of The Rats and the Ruling Sea) has just been released. The third book is coming to the UK in September (thank you, http://www.amazon.co.uk/) and here in the USA in February, 2011. But there are worse things an author can do than to leave readers wanting more.
More than a few rather obvious events never occur—the massive cannons on the deck are never fired; swords are seldom crossed. What does happen is just as good, though, and after all … Redick has to save something for his sequels. I can’t wait. As always, please let me know what you think.