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The Rats and the Ruling Sea
      The Ruling Sea
Robert V.S. Redick
      Robert V.S. Redick
Gollancz, 582 pages
      Del Rey, 640 pages

The Ruling Sea
The Ruling Sea
Robert V.S. Redick
Robert V. S. Redick's unpublished first novel, Conquistadors, was a finalist for the AWP/Thomas Dunne Novel Award, and his essay "Uncrossed River" won the New Millennium Writings Award for nonfiction. A former theater critic and international development researcher, he worked most recently for the antipoverty organization Oxfam. He lives in western Massachusetts.

Robert V.S. Redick Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Red Wolf Conspiracy
SF Site Review: The Red Wolf Conspiracy

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Soyka

OK, so where were we?

A discredited sea captain of ambiguous loyalties and ambitions is reinstated to pilot the Imperial Merchant Ship Chathrand for two purposes -- one diplomatic, one covert -- involving relations between archenemy nations, Arqual and the Mzithrin Empire. The ostensible mission of the legendary, six centuries old immense vessel is to transport the daughter of an Arquali ambassador, Thasha, to marry a Mzithrin prince as a means to seal peace between the two governments. However, the marriage will also fulfill a prophecy for religious zealots who see it as a sign that a dead sorcerer will return, potentially causing considerable political unrest within Mzithrin. Certain forces on the Chathrand are on a mission to resurrect said sorcerer, either to pave the way for the dominance of Arqual over Mzithrin, loyalty to the sorcerer or, well, just plain evil.

Things get complicated, however, as the sorcerer's resurrection is prevented by our hero, young Pazel Pathkendle, a Chathrand tarboy following in the footsteps of his lost-at-sea and allegedly turncoat father whose homeland was brutally razed by Arqual and who is also falling in love with the royally affianced Thasha. Robert V.S. Redick's first published novel, The Red Wolf Conspiracy ends on the brink of the impending marriage, and the sequel (the second of four planned to constitute The Chathrand Voyage series) opens with it.

Not surprisingly, Thasha manages to escape the arranged marriage by employing a more successful variation of the Romeo and Juliet gambit. The Chathrand sets sail in unchartered waters to fake its own shipwreck as part of a plan to stealthily implement Arquali plans for world domination. Needless to say, our hearty band of heroes stands in their way. But since this is only Volume II, they aren't quite successful. Any more than Pazel and Thasha are in figuring out, let alone fulfilling, their feelings for one another.

The pair, no doubt, are fated to change the balance of power and the course of history, helped along the way by various mentors, unexpected adherents, wizards and witches, and little people, not to mention a rat that has gained human consciousness.

But while I make fun of the heroic fantasy quest conventions that Redick delights in, I confess to a certain admiration of how he manages to pull it all off. Take, for example, this line of dialogue that is straight out of Harry Potter (which, in turn, is straight out of every fantasy/mystery convention you're likely to have encountered):
  "Do either of you have a guess as to what just occurred?"
"Yes," said Pazel.
Neeps turned to him in surprise. "You do?"
Pazel nodded. "I think Maril stumbled into a disappearing compartment. Remember the rumors, Neeps, when we first came aboard? Places that just vanish, ghosts trapped in timbers, the names of everyone who ever dies on Chathrand etched on some hidden beam? What if some of those rumors are true?"
p. 243-244

This is a "groan" moment, one of many, but presumably one Redick employs both in tribute to genre conventions and, which is why it is a genre convention in the first place, to move the plot along. Which it does at a breakneck pace. There weren't any dull moments, even if Redick frequently relies on deus ex machina interventions to transition from one exciting moment to another.

Because we're not even quite in the middle of things yet, the point here is to put characters in various dire predicaments (the descriptions of storms and sea battles, thwarted mutinies and water-deprived crews scanning the horizon for sight of land do both Herman Melville and Patrick O'Brian proud), extricate them and embark on yet another next mini-adventure, all the while raising a number of mysteries intended to unravel in subsequent iterations.

It's all in great fun. And which is why even as someone who normally disdains conventional heroic fantasy, I'm keeping my spyglass raised to lookout for the next installments, The River of Shadows and The Night of the Swarm.

Copyright © 2010 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.

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