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The Ruling Sea    by Robert V. S. Redick order for
Ruling Sea
by Robert V. S. Redick
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Robert V. S. Redick's The Ruling Sea is the sequel to his fascinating Red Wolf Conspiracy. I recommend reading the latter first as it's a fairly complex dark fantasy that's hard to understand if not started at the beginning. The story so far has centered on the voyages of the massive, six-hundred-year-old Imperial Merchant Ship Chathrand, pride of the Arqual Empire, captained by crazed Nilus Rose.

The series' young hero is Pazel Pashkendle, a member of a conquered race who became - through the machinations of Dr. Ignus Chadfallow - a tarboy in the merchant navy. Pazel has a gift of language, that comes at a steep price - fits of madness. The ship sailed from Etherhorde to Simjalla carrying the Treaty Bride (militant young heroine Thasha, daughter of Admiral Eberzam Isiq), whose marriage to the Mzithrin prince would ostensibly forge longlasting peace between their Empires.

But it's not nearly that simple. There are royal plots; warring sorcerors (mad, ancient Arunis opposed by Ramachni from another dimension, who manifests mainly as a black mink); an awakened rat named Felthrup; and a colony of ixchel (miniature people initially led by Diadrelu, they hide from the giants who try to exterminate them aboard ship, and have their own factions wrestling for power). Plots and counter-plots abound, with treachery and violence around every corner, up and down every ship's ladder.

As The Ruling Sea opens, Pazel, Thasha and three others have been singled out by the spirit in the Red Wolf to defend the world from the Nilstone, and told that they will find allies in unexpected places. The Chathrand has arrived in Simjalla, where Thasha takes desperate action to avoid a marriage designed to unleash the dogs of war. But another steps in as Treaty Bride, while Thasha is taken back to the Chathrand. Unknown to her, spymaster Sandor Ott imprisons her father in a horrific dungeon, pretending that he's stayed behind to practice diplomacy.

The Mzithrin Empire has a mysterious warrior priesthood that now includes Pazel's long lost sister Neda. After their high priest is killed by a demon sent by Arunis, she and her fellow sfvantskor (who can all be transformed into other creatures) are sent in pursuit of the Chathrand, which has secretly set sail for the Ruling Sea. Oggosk threatens the ixchel if Pazel shows his feelings for Thasha, which leads to misunderstandings. And aboard ship, more and more creatures - and insects - are awakened. They grow in size and ferocity

As the Red Wolf conspirators desperately seek allies, the Chathrand comes under attack many times - from without and from within. Pazel is forced to utter a second Master Word before the ship goes through the Vortex. But what they find on the other side is not at all what was expected. The Ruling Sea ends on a shocker of a cliffhanger that will leave readers anxious for more.

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