The Ruling Sea: Different opinions

Readers’ average rating:

Editor’s note: This book is tilted The Rats and the Ruling Sea in some markets (UK) and The Ruling Sea in others (US).

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy 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.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsFORMAT/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.

~Robert Thompson


Robert V.S. Redick The Chathrand Voyage 1. The Red Wolf Conspiracy, 2. The Rats and the Ruling SeaThe Ruling Sea is the second book of Robert Redick’s CHATHRAND VOYAGE series. I truly enjoyed the first, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, despite a few flaws and a lackluster ending, and so I was looking forward to the sequel. Unfortunately, I didn’t find this one either as enjoyable or as compelling. I picked it up and put it down quite a number of times, curious as to what would happen in the end but not grabbed by the journey.

In the first book, the great ship Chathrand is carrying young Thasha — an admiral’s daughter of the Arqual Empire — to marry a prince of their arch-enemy, the Mzithrin Empire, to bring about the Great Peace. Actually, though, the marriage is a trick by Arqual agents, meant to inflame a fanatic cult that would weaken the Mzithrins as well as provoke war. Meanwhile, the villainous millennia-old sorcerer Arunis attempted to gain control of the Nilstone, a magical artifact of great destructive power with which he could end civilization. (There are lots of other “meanwhiles,” but we don’t have time for them all.) Arunis is thwarted in the latter goal when Pazel Pathkendle — tar boy, learner of languages extraordinaire, and wannabe lover of Thasha — turns the cult’s thought-to-be-dead sorcerer leader to stone as he clutches the feared Nilstone, putting it for a time at least out of Arunis’ reach. The wedding, however, is still on, and this is where The Ruling Sea picks up: with the preparations and ceremony.

Soon, however, everything goes topsy-turvy (or according to plan, depending on which scheming character’s perspective one uses) and the Chathrand is crossing the nearly-uncrossable titular sea to eventually attack Mzithrin by surprise from an unexpected quarter. (There are other reasons as well, but again, time presses.) Along the way our heroes (a small band made up of Pazel, Thasha, a talking “woken” rat, a tormented master swordsman, a diminutive ixchel (tiny people) outcast, and a handful of other allies — some of whom come as a bit of a surprise — have to deal with possible mutiny, a magical storm, Arunis’ machinations, a team of super-fighter Mzithrin’s tailing the great ship to seek vengeance (for what we will not say), the Nilstone’s malevolent influence, an ixchel attack, and a plague of huge, woken rats, among others.

That’s a lot, and to be honest, I found it a bit much. The book felt a bit haphazard and overly episodic to me, careening from one event to the next with little sense of narrative cohesion or fluidity. There are schemes within schemes within schemes, and they begin to get a bit wearisome and even have a bit of a counterproductive effect in that as various plot points or schemes are revealed, the reader sort of sits back and just waits for the next layer to get unpeeled rather than feeling all that invested in any particular one. Some of it all feels a bit over-elaborate as well, feeling more like Rube Goldbergian constructs of an author than the schemes of real people trying to effect real results in a real world.

I also found myself caring less for the characters this time around. One of my favorites, the woken rat Felthrup, simply wasn’t given anywhere near the page time he deserved, as his is one of the most original and distinctive personalities. The spymaster Sander Ott, the not-quite-clear Dr. Chadfallow, and a new character — Pazel’s sister — are also given short shrift, which is too bad because all of them are more complex and more interesting than most of those characters who get the bulk of the page time. Captain Rose is an exception — not just complex and mysterious but out-and-out fun — though again I wished for more of him. As is the swordsman Hercol, though in less fun manner than Rose. Pazel and Thasha are likable enough, but neither stands out as particularly original or compelling; their situations are a bit familiar, as is the back-and-forth relationship (part of the reason for the back and forth aspect was also a bit implausible to me). Unfortunately, they get a lot of the focus.

There are flashes of intensity and inventiveness throughout The Ruling Sea — such as Pazel’s meeting with a fearsome magical beast, any of the scenes with Felthrup, a subplot involving Thasha’s father — but not enough. The book, however, picks up speed and intensity greatly toward the end; unlike book one, the last 100 pages or so are the strongest, not the weakest, part of the book. In the end, The Ruling Sea was a disappointment, and felt like it fell victim to bridge-book syndrome where we spend too much time getting from Point A to Point B. Sometimes the journey is the thing rather than the destination, and if any book should prove that it would be one about a great ship’s voyage, but in this case the story got a bit becalmed. Here’s hoping book three gets its wind back.

~Bill Capossere


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ROBERT THOMPSON (on FanLit's staff July 2009 — October 2011) 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.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is lately spending much of his time trying to finish a book-length collection of essays and a full-length play. His prior work has appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other journals and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of several Best American Essay anthologies. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, co-writing the Malazan Empire re-read at Tor.com, or working as an English adjunct, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course, the ultimate frisbee field, or trying to keep up with his wife's flute and his son's trumpet on the clarinet he just picked up this month.

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One comment

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

    Thanks for the review, Robert!

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