The Rats and the Ruling Sea: Better than The Red Wolf

Robert V.S. Redick The Chathrand Voyage 1. The Red Wolf Conspiracy, 2. The Rats and the Ruling Sea 3.fantasy book review The Red Wolf Conspiracty Robert V.S. RedickThe Rats and the Ruling Sea by Robert V.S. Redick

PLOT SUMMARY: The great ship Chathrand, supposedly launched to bring an end to centuries of war, has all along been a tool of evil men. And behind them all stands Arunis, a 3000-year-old sorcerer bent on scouring life from the world of Alifros.

Now this enchanted, 600-year-old vessel has reached the island of Simja, where the tarboy Pazel Pathkendle will see the young woman he loves, Thasha Isiq, face death to thwart Arunis — and Pazel himself will be forced to confront his shattered past.

But the journey is only beginning. After Simja, Pazel and his friends must face the terrors of the Ruling Sea, an ocean so vast and violent that no ship but the Chathrand can even attempt the crossing. And all the while, deep in the ship, a cursed artifact is unleashing powers more terrible than the sea itself. Powers Arunis means to control…

CLASSIFICATION: THE CHATHRAND VOYAGE TRILOGY is a mix of modern and classic PG-13 rated epic fantasy that is being marketed for “fans of Philip Pullman and Scott Lynch,” and has also drawn comparisons to C.S. Lewis and Charles Dickens. Personally, the books remind me of Pirates of the Caribbean crossed with Tad Williams and Robert Jordan. Recommended to readers who like their fantasy epic-scale, charming, and full of magic, intrigue, and adventure.

FORMAT/INFO: ARC stands at 634 pages divided over a Prologue and 43 titled chapters. Also includes a note from the ‘Editor.’ Narration is in the third-person, mainly via the protagonists Pazel Pathkendle and Thasha Isiq. Other viewpoints include the wokened rat Felthrup, Thasha’s father Admiral Eberzam Isiq, the former ixchel queen Diadrelu, the Arquali spymaster Sander Ott, and the Mzithrini warrior-priest Neda Ygraël. Like The Red Wolf Conspiracy, the book also features breaks from the standard narrative in the form of Editor’s notes/footnotes, an excerpt from the The Merchant’s Polylex, Captain Rose’s letters to his father, and journal entries by the quartermaster Fiffengurt. The Rats and the Ruling Sea is the second volume in THE CHATHRAND VOYAGE after The Red Wolf Conspiracy, and ends at a point that is both a lull in the saga and a cliffhanger. The Night of the Swarm will conclude the trilogy.

October 29, 2009 marks the UK Hardcover and Tradecover publication of The Rats and the Ruling Sea via Gollancz. UK cover art provided by the award-winning Edward Miller. The North American edition will be published by Del Rey on February 16, 2010.

ROBERT’S ANALYSIS: Robert V.S. Redick’s debut novel, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, was a very good book that never lived up to its full potential due to various issues including questionable plot decisions and problems with the last 80-100 pages. Despite these issues, I was impressed by The Red Wolf Conspiracy’s extensive and imaginative world-building, the entertaining story, an eclectic cast of characters, and the book’s overall appeal, and still harbored high expectations for the sequel. Fortunately, The Rats and the Ruling Sea, the second volume in THE CHATHRAND VOYAGE TRILOGY, met those expectations, and then some.

Everything I loved about The Red Wolf Conspiracy is back in the sequel in full force starting with world-building that continues to impress for both its scope and its creativeness. In this case, readers will get to learn more about Erithusmé, the Nilstone, ixchel customs, and the wakings as well as the Arquali Empress Maisa, the father of the Mzithrin Empire Sathek, sfvantskor, and yet another fascinating non-human race called the dlömu — the other non-human races, one of the book’s highlights, include the ixchel, nunekkam, flikkermen, augrongs, stoors, and murths. There’s actually less world-building in The Rats and the Ruling Sea than there was in its predecessor, but this isn’t an issue because the author is able to strike a better balance between the world-building and the book’s other components.

The cast of characters meanwhile, is once again very large and diverse with the protagonists suitably charming and the villains easy to detest. Stereotypes still abound, but Robert V.S. Redick manages to add depth to some of the characters like Hercól Stanapeth and Eberzam Isiq, while further developing relationships (some obvious and some not so), as well as introducing new faces (Neda Ygraël, the Father), evolving characters, and occasionally surprising the reader with a major death or allies who are actually villains and vice versa. The problem with such a large cast however, is that there’s just not enough characterization to go around and some of the characters, both major and minor, inevitably get the short end of the stick. The characters that suffer from this in The Rats and the Ruling Sea include Sander Ott, Felthrup, Dr. Ignus Chadfallow, Mugstur, Ramachni, and Neda Ygraël who is related to one of the main protagonists.

Story-wise, The Rats and the Ruling Sea is definitely epic — clocking in at over 600 pages — but the plot is not very complex. Basically, the book revolves around finalizing the Great Peace between Arqual and Mzithrin so Arunis and Sander Ott can continue their scheming which includes the Chathrand sailing across the Ruling Sea, landing at Gurishal, awakening Shaggat Ness, and using the power of the Nilstone, while Pazel, Thasha and the badly outnumbered good guys try to find a way to stop them. There are various subplots: Pazel and company finding new allies including the other two individuals who were marked by the spirit in the Red Wolf (one of them is a major surprise), stopping Arunis from using a forbidden thirteenth edition of The Merchant’s Polylex to free the Nilstone from Shaggat’s grasp, the revenge-seeking sfvantskor and the Mzithrin warship Jistrolloq, Eberzam Isiq’s fall from grace, and ixchel/rat intrigue. But for the most part the story in The Rats and the Ruling Sea is easy to follow — punctuated by swift pacing, well-executed surprises, cunning stratagems, and engrossing action.

As far as the writing, The Rats and the Ruling Sea is once again incredibly charming and accessible, and a lot of that has to do with Robert V.S. Redick’s engaging prose and dialogue, and tongue-in-cheek humor that wonderfully balances the book’s darker and more dramatic moments. I was amused by the Editor’s Note at the start of the novel which explained the infrequent appearance of footnotes in The Rats and the Ruling Sea which was an issue I had with The Red Wolf Conspiracy. ;)

Overall, Robert V.S. Redick’s The Rats and the Ruling Sea possesses all of the same outstanding qualities that impressed me in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, while fixing most of the problems that plagued the first volume of THE CHATHRAND VOYAGE. In particular, the book manages to maintain a high level of excellence from the very beginning all the way to the engrossing finish. In short, The Rats and the Ruling Sea is not only a vast improvement over its predecessor; it’s easily one of the best fantasy novels of the year.


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ROBERT THOMPSON is the creator and former editor of Fantasy Book Critic, a website dedicated to the promotion of speculative fiction. Before FBC, he worked in the music industry editing Kings of A&R and as an A&R scout for Warner Bros. Besides reading and music, Robert also loves video games, football, and art. He lives in the state of Washington with his wife Annie and their children Zane and Kayla. Robert retired from FanLit in October 2011 after more than 2 years of service. He doesn't do much reviewing anymore, but he still does a little work for us behind the scenes.

View all posts by Robert Thompson (retired)

One comment

  1. I’m definitely going to read this series on audio.

    Thanks for the review, Robert!

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