Or, at least, my favorite current fantasy series. A few weeks ago, I picked up The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V. S. Redick from my local library. I was looking for something decently distracting to read after being terribly disappointed by the third Thomas Covenant series, and Terry Pratchett had given Redick a very nice blurb, so I figured, “What the heck.” I read through the first one, checked out the second in the series as soon as it was available, and now anxiously await the 2011 release of the third.
What’s so good about the books? Well, the original and interesting concept certainly helps — more on that in a second — but the writing is what I really appreciate. A major part of my frustration with the new Thomas Covenant series was the overwrought writing style and the lack of distinction between a large cast of characters. Redick’s epic contains at least as many characters, maybe more, but they’re so well-imagined and visualized, there’s never a problem keeping them straight. I also never feel like I’m reading about American suburbanites in an exotic land — they truly seem like people from completely alien cultures.
As for the concept, Redick certainly echoes great fantasy and sci-fi novels, yet there’s no one fantasy world that seems to be the model. Further, most of the series (thus far) is set on board a massive ocean-going merchant ship, the Chathrand, a centuries-old vessel, the last of its kind remaining from a long-passed Golden Age. The first two novels take place in “the North,” made up a large continent, divided between two rival empires, and numerous islands and archipelagos. Humans share the world with several other intelligent species, such as the faerie-like ixchel, the glow-in-the-dark flikkermen, and a growing number of “woken” animals that have gained sentience. Once, centuries before, commerce and traffic flowed between the North and the South, but a mysterious “Worldstorm” destroyed that existence and cut the world in half.
Redick’s world is also a delight. Well-conceived, diverse, richly textured, the world feels like a unified whole with a full history. Redick doesn’t pursue languages like Tolkien — who could? — but language and culture play a central role in the story. The main character, a young sailor named Pazel Pathkendle, has been magically gifted with the ability to learn any language upon encountering it once. Divisions between nations, tribes, cultures, tongues, etc., form a central theme throughout.
I haven’t even touched on the plot yet. I won’t say more about the book, except that I’m waiting for the third book eagerly.