Ahoy there mateys! Though the First Mate and I have very different reading tastes, occasionally we do recommend books to each other. Books the first mate introduced to me included xom-b, holes, and the perks of being a wallflower. He and I both read the following:
the red wolf conspiracy (Robert V.S. Redick)
We read and talked about the book and I enjoyed his viewpoint so I
ordered asked him to write a review. So you get one from me and a bonus additional review from me crew. Please note that I write like I talk and the first mate writes like he thinks. Hope you enjoy!
From the Captain:
This was a mess of a book. For a sea yarn that deals with an awesome ship, the Chathrand, I had a hard time finishing this. The only reason that I did was because it was on audio book and, well, I wanted more ship. The storylines were convoluted and seemed to go nowhere or be dropped randomly. Basically this book seemed to want to be parts of eight other novels. I thought the world building made no real sense. Neither did the magic system. Most of the characters were two dimensional with the exception of the crazy (but compelling) Captain Rose and the crazy (but awesome) rat Felthrup. I also didn’t mind the main character, Pazel, and his best friends Meeps. I wish that the focus was always on them. There were too many unnecessary points of view (15 total?). I utterly hated the tiny pixie people and their side plot. The book felt too long and by the end I wanted everyone but my four favorites to die and shut up. This walks the plank. Arrrr!
From the First Mate:
“Incomplete” feels like an almost inappropriate description of the first 600 page volume in a two thousand page quadrology and yet that is the word that most succinctly captures my feelings for The Red Wolf Conspiracy. An interesting world filled with intriguing history, a largely understated magic system, and many interesting characters but ultimately a novel which was very long on setup with almost no satisfying payoff.
Our main character, Pazel, could be viewed as a stock high fantasy protagonist. A good-hearted person who’s so far down the social order that he’s almost a non-person yet is also touched by magic and somehow manages to find himself swept up into world changing events against his will. Pazel also has historical connections to some war torn nations and a famous pirate. He finds himself aboard a mythical ship bound for a semi mythical land on a mission of peace. Being the good-hearted, hard-working, magically imbued person that he is, Pazel makes the friends and enemies one would expect, and suffers no consequences from being in the wrong place at the right time over and over.
To be fair, there’s nothing inherently wrong with characters that feel somewhat like stock characters. Much of genre material is built upon tropes and standards to the point that some expectation of familiarity is going to be bakedin. And Redick does introduce us to some fascinating characters, too.
For me, the most interesting characters were the completely insane Captain Rose and the pitiable Felthrup, the talking rat. Captain Rose has been given command of the mythical ship, the Chathrand, and has a series of somewhat conflicting missions that he needs to navigate. He’s also, as mentioned, completely and irrationally mad. The levels of Captain Rose’s insanity are slowly revealed through the course of the book, with each revelation being more enjoyable than the last. Felthrup, on the other hand, is not mad; he’s been magically given reason beyond his peers, and because of that he’s alone in the world. Many of the passages about Felthrup are the best written parts of the book, and I could almost imagine a version of the novel told entirely from his perspective. It certainly would’ve been a shorter book.
I enjoyed that there wasn’t a really formalized magic system in this world. Magic just kinda exists in the background of the world without most of the characters having any access to it beyond rarely experiencing the results of it. Also quite good in the novel was a very real sense of convoluted world history with entangling alliances and conflicts. When the various people discussed why something happened or why a scheme was going in a particular way, it felt like there were historical reasons pushing up against what was possible. I rather liked that.
Perhaps the least enjoyable aspect of the book for me were the Ixchel. Basically they’re the Brownies from Willow combined with some elements of the House Elves from the Harry Potter series. Just an unenjoyable element that didn’t seem to pay off in any way.
Lack of payoff, I suppose, really is my central criticism here. There were many characters, situations, ideas, and scenarios that were very interesting but didn’t lead anywhere. Some of those interesting elements seemed to be self-contained vignettes. Some were wrapped up in somewhat slapdash ways. Some may be setups for future books. It just often felt like I was only getting sixty percent of the story here. I would’ve been more satisfied with fewer ideas that were more fully explored.
Another issue that I had may have been more me than the book, but I sometimes had trouble really understanding the action that was going on. Specifically I found Redick’s descriptions of actions to be weirdly confusing. I could tell you what the results of the climactic battle of the book were, but I’d be hard pressed to give an accurate play by play of what actually happened. Most of the action of the book is like that; I understood the result but I always felt like I missed exactly what was going on. Such an issue might be more on me than on Redick, though.
I think there’s a lot of interesting ideas in The Red Wolf Conspiracy but I don’t have any confidence that they’ll come to anything in the end.
Recommended to high fantasy fans who are willing to wait multiple books for a possible pay off. Avoid if incompleteness annoys.
Goodreads has this to say about the memoir:
Six hundred years old, the Imperial Merchant Ship Chathrand is a massive floating outpost of the Empire of Arqual. And it is on its most vital mission yet: to deliver a young woman whose marriage will seal the peace between Arqual and its mortal enemy, the Mzithrin Empire. But Thasha, the young noblewoman in question, may be bringing her swords to the altar.
For the ship’s true mission is not peace but war—a war that threatens to rekindle an ancient power long thought lost. As the Chathrand navigates treacherous waters, Thasha must seek unlikely allies—including a magic-cursed deckhand, a stowaway tribe of foot-high warriors, and a singularly heroic rat—and enter a treacherous web of intrigue to uncover the secret of the legendary Red Wolf.
The Chathrand is the last of her kind. Now, having survived countless battles and centuries of typhoons, it has gone missing. This is her story.
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