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Thursday, October 15, 2009

“The Rats and the Ruling Sea” by Robert V.S. Redick (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Robert V.S. Redick Website
Official Robert V.S. Redick Blog
Official The Red Wolf Conspiracy Website
Order “The Rats and the Ruling SeaHERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The Red Wolf Conspiracy

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert V.S. Redick is a writer of fantasy, mainstream fiction, creative nonfiction and criticism. Works include the unpublished “Conquistadors”, a finalist for the 2002 AWP/Thomas Dunne Novel Award; the memoir “Uncrossed River,” winner of the 2005 New Millennium Writings Award for nonfiction; “Palpable,” a finalist for the 2003 Glimmer Train Short Story Award; and The Chathrand Voyage epic fantasy trilogy.

PLOT SUMMARY: The great ship Chathrand, supposedly launched to bring an end to centuries of war, has all along been a tool of evil men. And behind them all stands Arunis, a 3000-year-old sorcerer bent on scouring life from the world of Alifros.

Now this enchanted, 600-year-old vessel has reached the island of Simja, where the tarboy Pazel Pathkendle will see the young woman he loves, Thasha Isiq, face death to thwart Arunis—and Pazel himself will be forced to confront his shattered past.

But the journey is only beginning. After Simja, Pazel and his friends must face the terrors of the Ruling Sea, an ocean so vast and violent that no ship but the Chathrand can even attempt the crossing. And all the while, deep in the ship, a cursed artifact is unleashing powers more terrible than the sea itself. Powers Arunis means to control...

CLASSIFICATION: The Chathrand Voyage Trilogy is a mix of modern and classic PG-13 rated epic fantasy that is being marketed for “fans of Philip Pullman and Scott Lynch”, and has also drawn comparisons to C.S. Lewis and Charles Dickens. Personally, the books remind me of Pirates of the Caribbean crossed with Tad Williams and Robert Jordan. Recommended to readers who like their fantasy epic-scale, charming and full of magic, intrigue and adventure...

FORMAT/INFO: ARC stands at 634 pages divided over a Prologue and forty-three titled chapters. Also includes a note from the ‘Editor’. Narration is in the third-person, mainly via the protagonists Pazel Pathkendle and Thasha Isiq. Other viewpoints include the wokened rat Felthrup, Thasha’s father Admiral Eberzam Isiq, the former ixchel queen Diadrelu, the Arquali spymaster Sander Ott, and the Mzithrini warrior-priest Neda Ygraël. Like “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”, the book also features breaks from the standard narrative in the form of Editor’s notes/footnotes, an excerpt from the The Merchant’s Polylex, Captain Rose’s letters to his father, and journal entries by the quartermaster Fiffengurt. “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” is the second volume in The Chathrand Voyage after “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”, and ends at a point that is both a lull in the saga and a cliffhanger. “The Night of the Swarm” will conclude the trilogy.

October 29, 2009 marks the UK Hardcover & Trade Paperback publication of “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” via Gollancz. UK cover art provided by the award-winning Edward Miller. The North American edition will be published by Del Rey on February 16, 2010.

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: Robert V.S. Redick’s debut novel, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”, was a very good book that never lived up to its full potential due to various issues including questionable plot decisions and problems with the last 80-100 pages. Despite these issues, I was impressed by “The Red Wolf Conspiracy’s” extensive and imaginative world-building, the entertaining story, an eclectic cast of characters, and the book’s overall appeal, and still harbored high expectations for the sequel. Fortunately, “The Rats and the Ruling Sea”, the second volume in The Chathrand Voyage Trilogy, met those expectations and then some...

Everything I loved about “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” is back in the sequel in full force starting with world-building that continues to impress for both its scope and its creativeness. In this case, readers will get to learn more about Erithusmé, the Nilstone, ixchel customs, and the wakings as well as the Arquali Empress Maisa, the father of the Mzithrin Empire Sathek, sfvantskor, and yet another fascinating non-human race called the dlömu—the other non-human races, one of the book’s highlights, include the ixchel, nunekkam, flikkermen, augrongs, stoors, and murths. There’s actually less world-building in “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” than there was in its predecessor, but this isn’t an issue because the author is able to strike a better balance between the world-building and the book’s other components.

The cast of characters meanwhile, is once again very large and diverse with the protagonists suitably charming and the villains easy to detest. Stereotypes still abound, but Robert V.S. Redick manages to add depth to some of the characters like Hercól Stanapeth and Eberzam Isiq, while further developing relationships (some obvious and some not so), as well as introducing new faces (Neda Ygraël, the Father), evolving characters, and occasionally surprising the reader with a major death or allies who are actually villains and vice versa. The problem with such a large cast however, is that there’s just not enough characterization to go around and some of the characters, both major and minor, inevitably get the short end of the stick. The characters that suffer from this in “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” include Sander Ott, Felthrup, Dr. Ignus Chadfallow, Mugstur, Ramachni, and Neda Ygraël who is related to one of the main protagonists.

Story-wise, “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” is definitely epic clocking in at over 600 pages, but the plot is not very complex. Basically, the book revolves around finalizing the Great Peace between Arqual & Mzithrin so Arunis and Sander Ott can continue their scheming which includes the Chathrand sailing across the Ruling Sea, landing at Gurishal, awakening Shaggat Ness, and using the power of the Nilstone, while Pazel, Thasha and the badly outnumbered good guys try to find a way to stop them. There are numerous subplots like Pazel and company finding new allies including the other two individuals who were marked by the spirit in the Red Wolf (one of them is a major surprise), stopping Arunis from using a forbidden thirteenth edition of The Merchant’s Polylex to free the Nilstone from Shaggat’s grasp, the revenge-seeking sfvantskor and the Mzithrin warship Jistrolloq, Eberzam Isiq’s fall from grace, and ixchel/rat intrigue, but for the most part the story in “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” is easy to follow punctuated by swift pacing, well-executed surprises, cunning stratagems, and engrossing action.

As far as the writing, “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” is once again incredibly charming and accessible, and a lot of that has to do with Robert V.S. Redick’s engaging prose and dialogue, and tongue-in-cheek humor that wonderfully balances the book’s darker and more dramatic moments. I was personally amused by the Editor’s Note at the start of the novel explaining the infrequent appearance of footnotes in “The Rats and the Ruling Sea” which was an issue I had with “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” ;)

Overall, Robert V.S. Redick’sThe Rats and the Ruling Sea” possesses all of the same outstanding qualities that impressed me in “The Red Wolf Conspiracy”, while fixing most of the problems that plagued the first volume of The Chathrand Voyage Trilogy. In particular, the book manages to maintain a high level of excellence from the very beginning all the way to the engrossing finish. The end result is a vast improvement over its predecessor and easily one of the best fantasy novels of the year...


ediFanoB said...

As a fan of The Chathrand Voyage I appreciated your great review. I look forward to read the book by myself.

Jeff C said...

Now I have hope for this book again. I had the same problems with the last 100 pages of Red Wolf that you had. Maybe I will order this from Book Depository after all (instead of waiting until next year for the US release).

Anonymous said...

Why did the upper part of the cover get changed?
It's nowhere as good as the one that I pre-ordered months ago, especially the font. :<

Robert said...

Thanks ediFanoB! I hope you enjoy the book when you get a chance to read it :)

Jeff, if you do order from The Book Depository, I hope you have better luck than I have recently. An order of mine was shipped out in early September. Never got it. Customer service said they shipped a replacement copy on September 24. Never got that one either. On top of that, another order that went out at the end of September has yet to come to me. Customer service has been helpful thus far, but it's really frustrating because I normally order a lot of stuff from the Book Depository...

Anonymous, not sure why the cover got changed. I guess they wanted the title to be more prominent...


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