Review: The Red Wolf Conspiracy
I came across THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY (Amazon) for the first time a few months ago at the library. It caught my eye because the cover was striking, the title intriguing, and it had some good quotes from people I actually recognized. At the time, I was in the middle of another novel and ended up forgetting about the encounter. Interestingly enough, I was given the chance by our illustrious Overlords to once again get this book in my hands, and this time to say something about it.
CONSPIRACY is the first in a planned trilogy (of course, it IS fantasy after all…) of books by Robert V. S. Redick and is his debut novel as a published author. As such, I expected going in that there would be some decent world-building, a fairly direct plot, possibly some good characters, and more than likely some horrible “new author” errors that would make the experience a less-than-shining example of perfection.
Of course, that’s exactly what I found.
Pazel Pathkendle seems to be the main character of the story. An orphan of sorts that makes his life as a tarboy on ships from the Kingdom of Arqual, Pazel has lived and worked as he made his way from one great vessel to the next. (Think old-school, pirates, cannons, bilge rats.) He hails from a small country and everyone instantly hates him for it. His father was a captain before disappearing from Pazel’s life, though it seems like just about everyone the boy talks to has heard about his father, the traitor. Another reason to hate or suspect him. Eventually, Pazel finds himself hired onto the Chathrand, the last of a fleet of massive ships made long ago, on which sails the peace-offering bride of the Arquali kingdom to their enemies from Mzithrin, Thasha Isiq.
I can’t emphasize enough just how much I liked the writing/words/language in THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY. The story...could have been better.
Emperors, rulers, mad-men, kings, Benegeserit-like nuns, Brownies (though not named as such), and yes even a sentient rat or two, take part in this fairly straight-forward story that has come together after four decades of Arquali planning and intrigue. (Why so long? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. Yes, even AFTER reading the whole thing.) The Arqualis and the Mzithrins finally want peace. Or do they? Certainly not everyone does. And thus, comes the story to us.
The first few pages easily passed my test. Redick writes fluidly and with great control. He pulls you into the world of Pazel and his friends and we’re instantly transported into his world of ship-life. Though quickly, on comes the world-building. For the most part, this is handled decently-well. There are certainly long passages of semi-pertinent information, great chunks of history passed onto the reader, and several sufficiently-long-that-they-bothered-me bits of dialogue that would have made the book much more difficult to get through if the writing hadn’t been quite so good. After forty-five pages (ten percent, my typical allowance for a new author) it hadn’t really caught my interest, and I probably would have given up on it right then if I hadn’t been reading it for a review. But I persevered. Jogging through mid-scene jumps in character perspective, slogging down significant summaries of interim story, and even past being addressed directly as a reader several times (this is almost an unforgivable sin in my book). The characters seemed pretty one-dimensional, mostly due to the fact that we spend so little time getting to know them because the dang pacing of the story is so fast, and because of this I repeatedly found myself asking, “So what?”
In the end? There were definitely parts of CONSPIRACY that I liked. There were a few “Yes, finally!” moments that came…and quickly passed. The ending left a whole lot to be desired, skewing from the Chathrand completely, wandering through lots of extra world-building touches, and then devolving into about fifty pages of confession and explanation. Though the tale was very fast-paced and had some great potential, the execution was bad enough that I don’t think I can recommend the book very heartily. Lots of good reviews have been garnered by Conspiracy , focusing mostly on Redick’s great world-building, which is good but not spectacular–being mostly a bunch of single pieces and not one interlocking puzzle-riffic whole. (You didn’t know that was a word, did you? Now you do.) If you’re looking for the “Ooh! Aah!” factor more than a story/character-oriented tale, this may just be the book for you. But it wasn’t for me.
I can’t emphasize enough though just how much I liked his writing/words/language. It really did pull me in and drag me along. If Redick’s story had just been put together better, presented better, I could easily see myself liking this book. My suggestion would be to skip this one and try picking him back up again after he’s written a few more. Maybe he’ll have learned the whole trade a bit better by then. We can only hope.
- Recommended Age: 14+
- Language: Little to none that I remember
- Violence: Very little until the end and then some but not heavy, just... surprising
- Sex: Discretely addressed in a few conversations/situations, mild
I agree with your review of this book and find your analysis spot-on. The jarring nature of the direct addressing of the reader was so out of place it did feel unforgivable. In books like the Alcatraz series it is expected and just plain silly. I think he was going for a different feel for the book judging by the random newspaper-esq article to set up the novel but for the life of me I can't really follow what point of view/writing style he was going for. Is this someone reconstructing the story from the quartermaster's journal? From first hand accounts? I feel like I am reading The House of Leaves again. Despite the short-comings I will say that his writing did draw me in and I was able to finish the book in quick order. Now the second book in the series is already starting to test my patience and there is an almost laughable bit in the beginning that defends his “editor” POV.
“I regret to say that the worth of my commentaries has eluded the team of younger scholars on whose goodwill (and laundry services) I most tragically depend. Their cheek is frankly astonishing. Some have gone so far as to suggest that my remarks did not so much illuminate the tale as put one in danger of overlooking its existence.
Of course I fought this sabotage, this so-called 'petition for readability.' But the upstarts held firm. Only a few, absolutely essential notes have I guarded from their merciless sheers. The rest has been stripped down to story. An awful deed, of which I hope never to stand accused.”
How can an author get away with such a shot at his editors? Isn't he burning some bridges with that crap?
It sure seems that way to me. If he had been more blatant in his use of this vehicle (say, having interim sections where the “editor” summarizes sections of the story and gives his opinions on what is going on, while keeping the rest of the novel true to the characters of interest) instead of using it in the way he has, his response that you've quoted from the second book wouldn't feel so much like a direct rebuttal to criticism of the first. We can probably chalk it up to “new author mistakes” though and hope that he learns from the experience rather than making a fuss about it. The shot you refer to seems to be more than likely aimed at the reading-public rather than his own editors though. This is probably the worse option of the two; in essence, biting the hand that feeds you.
In response to Dan's and Alan's remarks regarding the “editor's” addressing the “reader”: With all respect, I disagree with you both. I don't think the “editor” or “writer” is speaking to us, the readers of Redick's book; I think they are addressing the readers-to-be of the new/updated 13th Edition of the Polylex, which is being compiled as we read it happening (courtesy of Redick's making it available to us). So instead of viewing this approach as a “new author mistake”, I think Redick may be a more clever writer than you may think — possibly too clever for the reading-public, in general,and his own good, if unappreciated.
(submitted by Elisabeth)
I tend to shy away from thinking that authors do such things. Mainly because authors that think so highly of themselves usually aren’t worth reading, and I’d rather give them a fair shake for the story that they’ve written.