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The Red Wolf Conspiracy    by Robert V. S. Redick order for
Red Wolf Conspiracy
by Robert V. S. Redick
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robert V. S. Redick makes a strong fantasy debut in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, first in a trilogy. This initial episode centers on the massive, six-hundred-year-old Imperial Merchant Ship Chathrand, pride of the Arqual Empire, captained by crazed Nilus Rose. Its young hero is Pazel Pashkendle, a member of a conquered race (of the once great fortress-city Ormael) who has become - through the machinations of the rather mysterious Dr. Ignus Chadfallow - a tarboy in the merchant navy.

Through a spell forced upon him by his mother, Pazel has been given a dangerous (mainly to himself) gift of language, whose use results in mind-fits that make him appear mad to others. After a series of adventures, Pazel ends up on Chathrand where he befriends a fellow tarboy, Neeps. He also becomes aware of the existence of ixchel aboard ship. These miniature people (to whom crabs and cats appear as monsters) are considered dangerous crawlies by the giants who run the ship, and so must keep their existence a secret. When Pazel's power allows him to hear them, most want to kill him, but their leader, Dri, speaks up for him. It's said that 'To see an ixchel clan set its heart on being somewhere is like watching a thought race quicksilver to its goal.' Dri's clan has a very definite purpose on Chathrand and will do what it takes to achieve it.

Thasha (daughter of the Arquali ambassador, Admiral Eberzam Isiq) hates the Lorg Academy of Obedient Daughters and is delighted to be recalled home. That is, until her father and hated stepmother Syrarys inform her that she's to accompany them aboard Chathrand and that her marriage to a Mzithrin prince will seal peace between her nation and their old enemy, the Mzithrin Empire. Forced to comply, at least for the moment, she boards ship. The ambassador's entourage includes Thasha's old tutor Hercól, spymaster/assassin Sandor Ott and his henchmen masquerading as Imperial guards, and a great mage, Ramachni, from another dimension who manifests mainly as a black mink. Felthrup, an awakened rat (one of the more appealing characters, along with Dri) plays a key role in the story also.

Dri warns Pazel that evil is afoot and that the Chathrand's mission is to foment a war rather than to seal a peace. After Thasha learns that she's intended to be a sacrificial pawn in the dark plot, she and Pazel become allies, intent on stopping it. To aid them, Ramachni gives Pazel three Master-Words, each of which can be used only once, when needed. There's an attempted murder. Pazel is tossed off the Chathrand, kidnapped by slavers, and loved by a murth-girl (a mermaid) - and Thasha enjoys her own exploits - before they are reunited on Chathrand, just in time for a confrontation with great evil in the form of an ancient sorceror.

Plots and counter-plots abound in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, a most promising start to a new fantasy series. Though its transitions are rough at times, the story is rich in action and intriguing characters of different races (even a different dimension). I'm looking forward to seeing where the author takes it next in The Rats and the Ruling Sea.

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