I picked up The Red Wolf Conspiracy because it has a picture of a full-rigged ship on the cover. As a passionate, but certainly not exclusive, reader of age-of-fighting-sail historic naval fiction, I am intrigued by the possibility of successful HNF/SF hybrids. There are some quite good cross-overs between HNF and mystery fiction, as well as espionage and even romance, but I'm still looking for the perfect mix of HNF with the genre I read avidly in my long-ago youth, Science Fiction. Taylor Anderson has produced an excellent SF/Naval Fiction series, but it is based on WWII destroyers - fun, but not my cup of sunshine. Tom Grundner did a creditable hybrid with the first book of his Sir Sydney Smith series, but then wrote out the SF elements when he republished. (I haven't read Naomi Novik yet, but I have high hopes there. So little time...) The action of TRWC does take place on a sailing ship but, despite the occasional "stunsails aloft," it is not really naval fiction. It is, however, a damn fine novel and I was forced to put my quirky expectations aside and enjoy it on its own merits.
The Chathrand is by far the largest ship in the world, the last survivor of a distant era, and she is being prepared for a mysterious voyage. She carries not only a variety of nationalities and classes, but a mixture of sentient species. The action centers around two young people, Pazel Pathkendle, a tarboy (the lowest of the ship's crew) and Thasha Isiq, the daughter of the ship's most exalted passenger. Everyone aboard has secrets and few people are what they seem.
Secrets are revealed as the characters pursue their competing ambitions and the reader is forced to confront questions about the nature of good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, life and death.
The world of Alifros is richly drawn and the action is compelling. As in the Philip Pullman His Dark Materials trilogy, young people struggle to be more than pawns in great schemes to which they are not privy. Like Pullman, Redick creates a sense of constant foreboding amid awareness of poorly understood menaces. Redick's readers, like Pullman's, cannot avoid that most imponderable of questions, "How can grown-ups be so stupid?" This first of four volumes, despite all the action, is really only exposition. Over the first three months of the Chathrand's voyage we achieve a better understanding of the characters and the issues that drive them, but the story doesn't come close to a resolution. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.