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The Red Wolf Conspiracy
Robert V.S. Redick
Gollancz/Del Rey, 470/455 pages

The Red Wolf Conspiracy
The Red Wolf Conspiracy
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Robert V. S. Redick's unpublished first novel, Conquistadors, was a finalist for the AWP/Thomas Dunne Novel Award, and his essay "Uncrossed River" won the New Millennium Writings Award for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
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SF Site Review: The Red Wolf Conspiracy

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A review by Tammy Moore

Sometimes fate has an dark way of fulfilling wishes. The young scholar Pazel Pathkendle wanted nothing more than to follow his lost father onto the waves as a sailor; he never knew fulfillment of that desire would cost him what was left of his family, his city and his freedom. Saved from the slaver's block at the last instant by the intervention of his Arquali "uncle," the doctor Ignus Chadfellow, Pazel was sent to sea as a tarry instead, a bond servant to be traded on his master's whim like a loaf of bread.

He had no reason to love the Arqual Empire. Yet the fate of it might yet come to rest on his shoulders. For the Great Ship Chathrand -- the last of its kind, a vessel already mythical in its lifetime, built of fancy and magic as much as wood and steel -- is being readied to set sail and those who board her will find the tides of politics are far more treacherous than those of the sea.

With his magical talent of languages, and through the machinations of the increasingly untrustworthy Chadfellow, Pazel finds himself the uncertain fulcrum of an unlikely band of dissidents. Whether they are outcasts like the conquered orphan and fellow tar boy Neep and the fierce, tiny Ixchel warriors only Pazel can hear to the insane Captain Rose and Thasha Isiq, the sword-wielding ambassador's daughter, fresh from a spiritually brutal convent education, they must find a way to work together if they are to survive the Red Wolf Conspiracy.

Dark things are planned for the Chathrand and those abroad her -- an inglorious end to her feted career -- but even the architects of Empire do not know the scale of what they are about to unleash. The Chathrand is not the only object of myth in this tale, and what the Red Wolf hides could change the course of the world.

Or end it.

The Red Wolf Conspiracy is a fast-paced naval adventure set in a fantasy world that addresses the complexities of shipboard life without ever bogging the reader down in technicalities or slowing the pace of the novel itself. Partially this is to do with the very nature of the Chathrand, the details of running a ship the size of a city are necessarily exaggerated and fascinatingly quirked, and partially it is to do with the essential likeability of Pazel as a viewpoint character. He was not a particularly unusual character in the fantasy genre -- orphan with unusual skills and a role to play he does not yet understand -- but that doesn't really matter. As a character, within the confines of the story, he almost always convinced, from his raw feelings to his nascent heroism. (Besides, I've said it before and I'll say it again -- there's a reason the Hero's Quest narrative is so often used: it works. Don't break it just for the sake of breaking it.) Other characters were just as well-realized and engaging. Thasha's fury and desperation at being hemmed into a role she resents, by people she mistrusts but can't act against, is palpable. Meanwhile, Diadrelu's dilemma, the horror of what might come to pass weighed against her people's distrust of the "giants," is equally powerful and effectively handled.

It was the character arcs -- their challenges, their victories and defeats -- that held my interest in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, since, unfortunately, the plot was not handled quite so well. It was still a good plot, and I didn't think the flaws detracted significantly from my enjoyment of the book, but there were weaknesses. Occasionally the characters would be struggling to unearth answers that I had read a chapter ago, leeching some of the immediacy from their trials. Quite often things happened off-screen that were then reported back to us by characters after the fact, again leeching some of the tension from the narrative.

Still, this was a very well-written novel and I am eager to see the plot picked up in the next novel, to finding out which deep game goes deepest and which hand pulls whose strings.

Copyright © 2009 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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