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THIS IS A SPOILERY REVIEW FOR The Red Wolf Conspiracy, by Robert V.S. Redick. BE CAREFUL IF YOU DISLIKE SPOILERS. I don't particularly recommend you read this book (my rating: 7/10), though.

While I was in France, the apartment I lived in had things that the previous renters had left behind; one of those were books. I picked out The Red Wolf Conspiracy, because I am a sucker for high fantasy. And sea-adventures.

Right now, I would like to say that I retract any statement I ever said against Tamora Pierce's female protagonists and her portrayal of feminism in her novels. At least I know, when getting into her books, that I won't be surprised unpleasantly by stalking is love or strong female leads who aren't really strong after all. Or supposedly sexy interludes which aren't because of unpleasant dub-con implications. (Not that these scenarios happen in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, but that they're a problem in general).

So.


The plot of the book is that a young boy, called Pazel, is a tarboy on a huge ship called the Chathrand. He's a bit different, as his mother fed him some kind of magical juice, which allows him to pick up languages with extraordinary speed. There's also Thasha Isiq, daughter of an important ambassador, who is marrying his daughter off to the ruler of another "country" (empire?) to make peace. The Chathrand is on this diplomatic mission, and a lot hinges on this, because the last war was very costly and neither side wants to risk this again. There's also the ixchel, tiny humans (I think? It's been awhile) who are persecuted by humans and seen as vermin. They are also on the ship, but for a different reason: they want to return to their homeland.

It was an okay book. There were, however, too many perspectives and it got confusing and I was always waiting for a particular character's point of view. So many characters--I've only described three perspectives, but there is almost a dozen: from a rat, from the ixchel, from Pazel and Thasha and woken creatures. The ending was really bad: tacked on, an anti-climax; in fact, it didn't feel like a full book to me--more like a third of the tale. I know that this is only the first of a trilogy (I believe), but usually they're stand-alones. Or the first one should be, anyway.

What I started to really dislike, however, was the portrayal of female characters. (Mentioning Tamora Pierce earlier should have given you a clue.) Spoilery, but here is my little list of female characters:
  • Syrarys: wife of the ambassador but stepmother to Thasha; sickly-sweet, formerly a "love slave" (oh yuck yuck yuck) and also, funny enough, sleeping with another man!
  • Thasha: naive, foolish, whiny (especially at the beginning), sometimes can't think things through and doesn't realize what her actions have on Pazel, because he's not of her class and etc. etc. (Also, she's the obvious love interest. blargl)
  • Lady Oggosk: frightening, elderly, nasty, unpleasant
  • Ladies from the Arqual-equivalent of a convent: stick to the age-old view that women should be meek, try to instill "good mannerisms", etc. (The head sister, though, sounded pretty interesting. Pity there's two pages with her and no more.)
  • Klyst: mermaid (approximation), totally in love with Pazel but against her will; her people can't even be around humans
  • Lady Driadelu: leader of the ixchel and one of the female protagonists I actually liked. She's one of the voices of reason.
Moreover, it is so full of tropes. Another checklist!
-Animals that are awake/sentient: check! (I liked the rat, but the "moon falcon", no).
-Mage: check! he can turn into a mink; lives in another world; is actually not very useful in battle
-Everyone's still white: sort of--Pazel would be (as far as I can tell) in our world Mediteranean, but his land was ruthlessly, brutally conquered. The black veterinarian gets almost no mention and is briefly tortured at the end.
-Specially made names: Seriously, this trope is starting to ruin books for me. "Shaggat", "Nilstone", "Niriviel", etc etc.
-Villains: Capt Rose was plain irritable, the bosun was immediately dislikable, all of them a little flat and one-sided. The actual deeds of the Arqual kings are not very clear (although, again, it's been awhile). Sander Ott was
-Looong plot: The plot. Was. So. Drawn. Out. It started to lose me; there were so many weird names and random conspiracies and such. The last part? Did not make sense with the rest of it.
-Women are all either sidekicks, plot objects or just untrustworthy: see above. Except for Driadelu.
-Trained in fighting/warrior breed: Hercol is this. I liked that he was also a dance tutor, though.
-Boy is forced to grow up and go on adventure: I thought this was an adult book. It is, but it looks like it's also aimed at the YA market.

In the end: 7/10. There are better fantasy books out there.

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