Look, Redick's fantasy series is intriguing. Very. Perhaps my favorite developing out there now not written by Patrick Rothfuss. About two thirds of the way through The Ruling Sea, I thought to myself, you know, I hope I don't get in a car crash or acquire fast-moving cancer or something and not live to see the end of the story (currently projected as the Night of the Swarm, two books down the line, although we know how fantasy series projections go). That's a high compliment, obviously. And that was before I read the fantastic end of The Ruling Sea, less a cliffhanger than a "well, now that we've unexpectedly fallen off a cliff and hit bottom..." The series isn't driven by moral themes or philosophical statements about how the world works or high literary ambition: just good, solid, cleverly written, richly imaginative fantasy, unfolding plot twist after plot twist, filling the same niche in my reading repertoire that Greg Keyes used to do but filling it better. I don't put it down feeling healthier for having read it, but satisfied nonetheless. Plenty of enjoyable narrative calories that don't burn off immediately.
A few seams show. There's a little plot sloppiness in TRS. For instance, the reasons given for the estrangement between Pazel and Thasha, between Thasha and the Polylex, seem rather strained and artificial. As if something's coming in book 3 that would have come much earlier had the author not forced these actors apart. TRS does substantially improves the main problem I felt in The Red Wolf Conspiracy: that we were experiencing the fantasy world widely but not deeply. TRWC flagged when the characters got off the ship. TRS stays on the ship, mostly: good. We explore this wonderful fantasy world from a familiar base, a lesson smart Tolkien taught us when his hobbits packed the Shire & its rusticity wherever they went in Middle-earth. A fantasy story needs both familiarity and wonder. At the end, too, I do begin to miss the old Pazel and Thasha, and rue the high heroes that wear their names and take their shapes. The plot demands that they become heroes, but the change is awfully swift, and carries little (so far) of the old personalities with it.
Redick's learning how to write a fantasy epic. Sometimes the fantasy world creaks under creative strain; sometimes its plot bites off more than it can chew. There are a lot of characters and worlds to juggle. Not all appear in their most advantageous richness and depth. But for fertility of invention (both imaginative and verbal), Redick's your man, and this series is off to a most attractive start.