Have you ever fallen into a story? It used to happen to me a lot when I was younger, when I was first reading, and there were still plots and characters awaiting discovery by a mind eager to escape from its own reality. As I grew older, my reasons for reading never changed; the desire to be carried away into worlds other than my own remained strong if for different reasons, but the more I read it seemed the harder it became for books to work their magic.
There was a time when I began to feel there might only be a finite number of stories told, for it started to feel like I was only ever reading variations on stories that I had already read. No matter the genre or the author, the patterns of the plots and the character types were all ones I was already familiar with. What made it even worse was that the more I read, the worse the stories appeared to become, as if the authors were merely writing pale imitations of the story I wanted to read.
It seemed like I was constantly finding stories that languished between covers awaiting passive readers who wanted nothing more than to be spoon fed the same tale over and over again. Thankfully something changed, whether it was me looking farther afield, writers opening up new territories, publishers willing to take the risk on something different, or a combination of all three I’m not certain, but in the last six or seven years I’ve been able to recapture the excitement of being a new reader again.
It seems like a whole new generation of writers have appeared to take up the challenge of capturing our imaginations: Erikson, Gaiman, Banker, Barclay, Kay and Kerr are just a few of the many names breathing new life into what was becoming a moribund art form. Even more exciting is the fact that hardly a month or two passes when there isn’t a new author putting his or her vision down on paper. One who I’ve just stumbled upon is Robert V. S. Redick, whose latest book, The Red Wolf Conspiracy (book one of The Chathrand Voyage Trilogy) is published by Orion Gollancz and distributed in Canada by McArthur & Company
In the Red Wolf Conspiracy it appears that Redick was inspired by the great sea faring stories of the past, when men sailed the oceans through the grace of the wind and the strength of their sails; he added dollops of magic and political intrigue to create a book that draws you in from almost its opening words. With characters drawn from all levels of society, human and otherwise, he has populated the pages with the many faces of good and evil.
Like those aboard their counterparts in our world, the lives of those who crew the sailing vessels that plough the seas of North West Alifros as either merchants, pirates, or naval ships, is never an easy one. It’s especially difficult for the lowest of the low, the tar-boys. Young boys, who’ve either been sold into indentured servitude aboard a ship by their parents or press ganged into service by a mysterious sub-human race known as the Flickermen, (for their ability to light up like glow worms and fire flies), they do all the menial tasks aboard ship. On a decent ship, with a decent Captain, their lives are merely hard, but on a ship where bullies are allowed to thrive, it can be a living hell.
Pazel Pathkendle has experienced the many sides of this life, and has invariably borne even a larger share of abuse than most as befits his status as the member of a conquered race. Still, things could have been a lot worse if not for a benefactor who occasionally manages to pull strings to get him placed in as good a posting as possible. Now, he can’t but hope that his fortunes are improving as he has secured a position aboard the grandest ship ever built, the Chathrand. Of course he’s not to know that the ship and all its passengers and crew are about to become a pawn in a plot hatched by the Arqual Empire to conquer and destroy the one power that has rivaled them for control of Alifros, the Mzithrin Empire.
On the surface, it appears that the Chathrand’s charge is to deliver a new ambassador from the Arqual Empire to the Mzithrins. Former Admiral Eberzam Isiq, a hero of the Empire, his young bride, and his daughter are on more than just your regular mission of peace. Thasha, the admiral’s daughter, is to be married to a Prince of the Mzithrin Empire in order to cement a relationship between the former foes. Although if young Thasha has anything to do with it, the wedding will never happen. Even before she steps on board ship she is plotting and scheming of ways she’ll be able to vanish before the great ship reaches its final destination.
Unknown to the Admiral and Thasha is the fact that her marriage is merely one small part of an intricate plot designed to throw the Mzithrin Empire into a horrible Civil War making them ripe for conquest. Through chance, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time, both Pazel and Thasha begin to realize there is more to the voyage than meets the eye. Unfortunately, that’s the sort of knowledge that can get a person killed if the plotters were ever to catch wind of their awareness. Together the two of them form an unlikely alliance, and alongside some even unlikelier allies, (a talking rat and a race of warlike, insect sized little people for starters), they must somehow figure out a way to keep Thasha alive and prevent a war that will result in the deaths of thousands of innocents.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy works in so many different ways to fire a reader’s imagination that it’s difficult to enumerate them. The various levels of the plot develop gradually, so that while we always suspect that there is more to the action than what meets the eye, it’s always a surprise when we discover each new layer as its revealed. Perhaps even more interesting is the ambiguity of the characters’ nature. Is it so evil what the plotters are doing in orchestrating the destruction of their Empire’s enemies? After all, they are only carrying out the wishes of their government in this matter, making them not very different from government operatives in our own world.
The Mzithrins have terrorized them and their allies in the past, so why shouldn’t they desire to see them finally defeated? Listening to them rationalize their behaviour, they don’t sound particularly evil; ruthless in the way they’ll use whatever means necessary to achieve their ends certainly, but they have hopes and dreams just as Pazel and Thasha do. That doesn’t stop them from being the villains of the piece, but it does make them far more interesting as characters, and makes those portions of the story told from their perspective that much more interesting.
In the end, what makes this story so captivating is Robert Redick’s ability to bring this world to life. From storms at sea, everyday life aboard a ship, and life ashore, every scene is so lovingly detailed that you can almost smell the salt of the ocean, or feel the planks of the ship shudder beneath your feet as it weathers a blow. The Red Wolf Conspiracy takes its readers on a wonderful voyage of adventure that they won’t regret booking passage on. Keep an eye out though for your next opportunity to sail the high seas with Robert Redick and his cast of characters, as this is only the first leg of The Chathrand Voyage Trilogy.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy is distributed in Canada by McArthur & Company and is available through regular retail outlets and on line through retailers like Amazon Canada. For now, American readers can only purchase it online through Amazon.com, but it will soon be available for sale in book stores through Del Ray books as they’ve just purchased the American rights.