USA - UK - Canada)
by Robert V. S. Redick
Release Date: April 28th
As I said in my review of the opening chapters, The Red Wolf Conspiracy starts out with a lot of wonder packed into just a few chapters. I was hooked from the start, and read the entire novel over a very short timeframe. Although I found most of it terrific, the ending seemed to suffer from a lack of focus and mishandled tension.
The story starts with a tarboy named Pazel Pathkendle getting lured off his ship--where his captain saw potential in him and took care of him--and drafted into serviced aboard the IMS Chathrand, where things aren't quite so rosy. Making things worse is the fact that Pazel has a strange ability to comprehend any language he hears--but must pay for this gift with periodic fits. This novel is also about a tribe of wee folk called the ixchel, who stow away the Chathrand in order to make a perilous journey across the sea. Their de facto leader is a woman named Diadrelu. And finally, this novel is about a young girl named Thasha Isiq, who is to marry a distant enemy prince.
Mr. Redick does a great job establishing these characters as likable and determined. However, he spends a surprising amount of time in backstory. I'm not one to dislike backstory, but I know for some readers, it's a turnoff.
There are lots of characters who work against and with these three protagonists. Two of them are Dr. Ingus Chadfallow and Admiral Eberzam Isiq, Thasha's father. These characters are both inscrutable, with inconsistent actions and unknowable motivations. For example, Dr. Chadfallow goes to a great deal of trouble to see to it that Pazel is drafted aboard the Chathrand, but he takes one look at the ship's captain and refuses to board, abandoning Pazel. And Admiral Isiq seems rather kind and jovial, but he uses his daughter mercilessly as a pawn and has no qualms about subjecting Pazel to a punishment that far outweighs the crime.
Captain Nilus Rotheby Rose has a sinister reputation, but since he is the only captain to have successfully sailed a ship across a certain expanse of ocean, he is chosen as the Chathrand's captain. However, even he acts a bit inconsistently. He orders Pazel to act as Isiq's food taster, but the plot thread apparently was dropped completely. Circumstances prevent Pazel from taking up this task, but Rose never does the slightest thing to reprimand him for it.
There are far too many twists and turns to get into in the space of this review. For the first three quarters of the book, the suspense and tension build until Thasha and Pazel start to get wind of a grand conspiracy. At that point, Pazel gets the punishment referred to above and is thrown off the ship at a port. Thasha decides to turn the conspiracy against the conspirators, but she turns out to be wholly unequal to the task. In the end, she runs away.
This leads to the biggest plot contortion of the novel. Pazel is taking hostage by the intriguing Flikkermen and sold to slavers. Later on down the road, he is reunited with his shipboard friend, a fellow tarboy nicknamed Neeps. And even further down the road, they encounter Thasha and Diadrelu. Why they had to be scattered in different directions only to be brought together here is beyond me.
However, it all leads to another wonder-filled section of the book, which takes place entirely underwater. Pazel encounters a sort of mer-folk and through them, finds the target of the Red Wolf conspiracy. There was a convenient character here who was able to teach them--in a significant hurry--what they needed to do to survive underwater. I think this could have been handled with much greater subtlety.
The tension in the ending felt a bit too played out. For me, tension in a novel is like either a rubber band or silly putty. When you stretch a rubber band, it will reach a point where it stops stretching and simply snaps. When you stretch a band of silly putty, it reaches a point where it loses all elasticity and cannot hold itself together. The ideal novel should be like a rubber band--should lead up to a bang. However, this novel was rather like silly putty. The tension went on a bit too long, then dropped, then unexpectedly spiked up again, only to again hang on a bit too long.
But the book is filled with wonder, from woken, intelligent animals, portals to other worlds, mer-folk, wee folk, strange magic and of course, the red wolf, itself. The ending did a nice job of resolving the current conflect, but immediately establishing another one--one with no clear resolution. Captain Rose does something unexpectedly valiant, and Dr. Chadfallow does something unexpectedly craven, making you wonder if you really know any of the characters at all. And Pazel has a new secret, one that would annoy Thasha mightily if she ever found out about it. For these reasons, I recommend The Red Wolf Conspiracy, and I look forward to reading the next volume.