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Monday, January 28, 2008

"The Red Wolf Conspiracy" by Robert V.S. Redick

Official Robert V.S. Redick Website
Official The Red Wolf Conspiracy Website
Order “The Red Wolf Conspiracy
HERE (UK Release Only)
Read An Excerpt
Read Reviews of “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” via
The Wertzone + Sandstorm Reviews
Read The Book Swede’s INTERVIEW with Robert V.S. Redick

Looking back, 2007 was a pretty good year for speculative fiction debuts. I mean you had Patrick Rothfuss’The Name of the Wind”, Mark J. Ferrari’sThe Book of Joby”, Wayne Barlowe’sGod’s Demon”, Jeffrey Overstreet’sAuralia’s Colors”, Alex Bledsoe’sThe Sword-Edged Blonde”, Matthew Jarpe’sRadio Freefall”, the American release of Joe Abercrombie’sThe Blade Itself”, and—even though they’re not technically debuts—you could also throw in David Anthony Durham’sAcacia” and Stephen Hunt’sThe Court of the Air”. Like I said, pretty good and I didn’t even list all of the titles that impressed me, which makes you wonder just how in the world 2008 is going to be able to surpass or even duplicate last year’s success. Obviously it’s way too early to be talking about such comparisons, but at least the New Year is off to a strong start with a number of striking debuts already including Felix Gilman’sThunderer” (was actually published at the end of 2007, but I’m counting it as a 2008 release ;), Philip Palmer’sDebatable Space” and Robert V.S. Redick’sThe Red Wolf Conspiracy”. Of the three, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” has received the most advance publicity and for good reason—the book is a potential bestseller.

So what defines a bestseller? Well, the number of copies sold is definitely one measuring stick, as is a book’s level of popularity, but for a debut novel to achieve any plateau of success hype, visibility and advertising are all important factors. Of the latter, Mr. Redick has already benefited from a strong marketing push by the publisher with his novel named as
Waterstone Books’ Science Fiction & Fantasy Book of the Month for February 2008 and chosen as one of the UK Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club’sCosmic Five” debut titles for 2008. “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” is also being promoted for “fans of Philip Pullman and Scott Lynch” which is impressive company to be in, but also a little misleading. For instance, while “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” may feature a nautical setting, an elaborate plot at the center of the story, and cover art by Edward Miller—who also did the paintings for the Subterranean Press editions of “The Lies of Locke Lamora” and “Red Seas Under Red Skies”—the book is not nearly as flamboyant, witty or vulgar as Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard novels. Additionally, Mr. Redick’s debut doesn’t offer the theological or thematic analyses that you can find in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, although they have a lot more in common such as youthful protagonists, sentient animals, connected worlds, and the fact that young readers will be able to enjoy the book as much as adults.

One thing that “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” does share with
Scott Lynch’s novels though, is a fully realized world that is brought to life with amazing clarity and imagination. In fact, the worldbuilding was probably my favorite part of the book. Between meeting the different peoples (Flikkermen, Noonfirth) and creatures (Slevran, sea-murths, augrongs) of Alifros; to learning of the conflict between Arqual & Mzithrin, the conquering of Ormael, and the history of the Great Ship Chathrand; and marveling at the legends of Erithusmé, the Black Casket, and the Nilstone; not to mention all of the seemingly insignificant details that add depth and texture to Alifros; the backdrop for “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” is a wondrous creation that I enjoyed exploring as much as I did recently the worlds of Scott Lynch, Steven Erikson, and Brandon Sanderson. Of course, the problem with the worldbuilding in this case is that the actual story takes a backseat for about the first hundred pages or so when the author is concentrating on establishing the setting and introducing the lineup. It’s not until the Chathrand is launched that the plot starts to move forward because that’s where a large part of the novel takes place, which concerned me at first. You see, I’m not really a fan of nautical stories. Never have been. Fortunately, the Great Ship is not your normal sea vessel—Chathrand is the last of its kind, six hundred years old, constructed by both shipwrights & mages from materials that no longer exist, and so huge that you have to use a telescope to inspect the masts and giant creatures to handle the anchor—and even though Mr. Redick seems to intimately understand how a ship runs, he doesn’t bore us with all of the little details. Instead, the author rewards readers with an entertaining, fast-paced saga of high-seas adventure that is part fantasy quest, part political intrigue, and part coming-of-age tale.

More specifically, the story centers on the Chathrand which has been enlisted as part of a peacekeeping mission between Arqual & Mzithrin, but is actually a front for a much more sinister agenda that involves war, prophecy, the resurrection of a Mad King, and a mythical Red Wolf that harbors an ancient evil… Drawn into this web of lies and deceit is an eclectic cast of characters including young protagonists Pazel Pathkendle, an aspiring scholar-turned-orphan-turned-tarboy who is blessed—or cursed—with a magical Gift for languages, and Thasha Isiq, a boyish Ambassador’s daughter and the chosen treaty-bride between the two countries which is the key to the success or failure of the mission. Unfortunately, aside from Pazel’s ability to instantly read & speak any foreign tongue—which I have to admit is a pretty intriguing power to be saving the world with—and the prejudice that Pathkendle faces as an Ormaeli native, the hero & heroine of “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” are fairly stereotypical right down to their inevitable attraction of one another. Clichés also extend to the veteran spymaster Sander Ott, Dr. Ignus Chadfallow who seems to be everywhere, the noble Hercól—an ex-spy masquerading as Thasha’s dance tutor, Lady Syrarys, Pazel’s friend Neeps, an evil sorcerer, and various others from the supporting cast. Thankfully, Mr. Redick does a good job of canceling out the conventional with the not so conventional, particularly the use of self-aware or ‘woken’ animals that are integral to the story like the moon falcon Niriviel, a maimed black rat named Felthrup (one of my favorites!) who holds all the answers to the conspiracy, another rat in Master Mugstur who is a religious fanatic and wants to murder Captain Rose, and Sniraga the red cat. There’s also a race of inches-tall people called Ixchel or ‘crawlies’ that have their own agenda, the quite mad Captain Nilus Rotheby Rose, and let’s not forget about Ramachni the shape-shifting mage from another world.

As far as the novel’s structure, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” opens with a ‘Special Notice’ from The Etherhorde Mariner which speculates on the disappearance of the Chathrand. From here, the story is told in a standard third-person narrative through the multiple viewpoints of humans, woken animals and ixchel alike, while interjected with occasional excerpts from the Quartermaster’s secret journal, letters addressed from Captain Rose to his father, and an intercepted correspondence from Dr. Chadfallow to Thasha’s father Eberzam. Personally, I really liked these breaks from the normal narrative; they added variety and some interesting insights. However, I was a bit puzzled by the ‘Editors’ Footnotes’ that appear at times throughout the novel, which seemed out of place…

Let me be straightforward here. I really liked “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”.
Robert V.S. Redick’s debut was fun to read, intelligently crafted, highly imaginative, and undeniably charming and I can’t wait to see what happens on The Chathrand Voyage in the rest of the trilogy—“The Rats and the Ruling Sea” (Volume II) and “The Night of the Swarm” (Volume III). In short, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” should do very well for its UK publisher Gollancz, and will probably sell even better whenever it’s released here in North America. That said, the novel didn’t quite ‘wow’ me as much as some of the more recent debuts that I’ve read by Scott Lynch, Mark J. Ferrari, Stephen Hunt, Joe Abercrombie, or Felix Gilman. There were two things actually that bothered me and in my mind prevented Mr. Redick’s novel from attaining greatness. One, the beginning and middle part of the novel is much, much stronger than the last third, particularly the final 80-100 pages. I’m not sure what happened, but once the action picked up and the characters started converging with one another, the novel just seemed to regress—the story became more juvenile especially the confrontations between the heroes and the villains; the dialogue seemed significantly worse; and it just felt like I was reading a different book from the one that I started with. The other thing that irritated me was the author’s decision to reveal early on the plot’s major secrets to the reader, but not the actual characters. Personally, if I had been left in the dark regarding all of the various double-crosses, shared histories and other twists that the story had to offer, I think I would have enjoyed the book even better. Regardless, I believe that Robert V.S. Redick’s novel will be one of the better fantasy debuts of 2008, and a lot of readers are going to want to discover for them selves the truth behind “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”…


Anonymous said...

Hey Robert,

Nice review!
I can't wait for this one. It sounds like a real winner.

Hope the family is well. Getting that new house worked in?


Robert said...

Reanimated, hey, it's been a while :) Things are going pretty good with the family and the house, thanks for asking! Hope all is well on your end...

Glad you liked the review. I think you'll enjoy it :)

doc said...

hi, this is doc from the itunes podcast: Heroes of Science Fiction and Fantasy-- I read your excellent book review of "The Red Wolf Conspiracy" -- I will keep an eye out for it at the book store. Thanks again for covering all the bases on your review-- i appreciate the time you took. Each of the episodes of the podcast has a book review and always looking to further my knowledge. I found your blog from a google search. - also will be at Wondercon San Francisco in the small press area table #39 February 22-24 2008

Anonymous said...

reading now and having hard time getting really into it i have read many other better written books...It is not a winner just good marketing behind it.


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