You know that kid from school when you were 7 years old? The one who always had to be the absolute best and everything? You say “I got a lollipop!” and he says “Well I got a magical lollipop that was made from ground unicorn horn and brought across the sea by pirates and it glows in the dark and makes it so I never have to take baths!” He’s probably not a bad kid at heart, he just has to one-up everyone; he over-embellish even the most mundane situation and tacks on more and more unbelievable things trying to make himself look cool.
I kind of felt like Red Wolf Conspiracy was that kid. There was a core of a good story and some really nifty ideas about magic and history and worlds… but the author just took on too much. It’s as though he had a hundred cool ideas, and rather than dole them out in a few stories or books or worlds he decided that he had to get them all into this book right now or he might never get another chance.
The story started out pretty strongly, introducing interesting characters and setting the scene with skill. The world felt a bit like Victorian London at the start, and Redick skillfully added layers of intrigue and magic to his basic premise through the first third or half of the book. I was quite engaged, I enjoyed the characters, and tore through the first 200 pages with alacrity. I absolutely loved the idea of the Sisterhood (Sisterhood of the Lorg, maybe? Can’t recall the name now) and I desperately wanted the author to do more than just toe at the implications of it. The main character’s language-magic was also really neat and original.
Sadly, after a solid start the second half kind of fell apart. It stopped reading like a well-crafted, subtle, adult-fantasy and started feeling more like a slip-shod kids book, with magical elements thrown in to impress and awe rather than to serve any useful purpose in the story. Several of the character meetings and plot points felt extremely contrived, and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to get over it and enjoy the book. I stopped feeling an emotional connection to the characters because I was so grumpy with the downward turn in quality – it was a terribly frustrating experience.
Luckily the ending of the book managed to salvage things a bit, so I finished the story just “disappointed” instead of “actively annoyed.” I really don’t know how to resolve such a great first half with such a shoddy second half. Did the editor get sleepy half way through the book and not finish it? Or did the publisher insist on a limited page count, so rather than exploring concepts at a leisurely pace, Redick felt like he had to smoosh everything in quickly? I don’t know, but it didn’t work out.
I want to be optimistic and say that surely some of the “first writer foibles” will be remedied in later books. I guess I’ll see how accommodating I’m feeling when book 2 hits the shelves – I’d love to see a story that is as polished overall as the first half of Red Wolf Conspiracy.