The Chathrand is a queen among ships; immense, six hundred years old, carrying over a thousand people, the stage on which political conspiracies and magics are being played out. On board is young Thasha Isiq, the daughter of a general and ambassador of the Arqual, sent as a Treaty Bride to forge peace between her land and the Mzithrin Empire. But, as tarboy Pazel Pathkendle learns, the true nature of the Chathrand‘s mission is darker, bent on war and destruction. A cast of deliciously interesting characters people the story–Hercol, the valet-cum-dancing master-cum-warrior; Dr. Chadfallow who may or may not be evil; Ramachni, a mage from another world; Sandor Ott, the Emperor’s spymaster; Captain Rose, who is probably mad, and a host of others.
I’ve read a lot of fantasies, and even with the inclusion of magic and other races, many of them feel mundane. Redick presents a wondrous world with immense ships made of long-extinct wood; clans of Liliputian people treated (and dealt with) as vermin; woken animals that have gained speech and thought. The world feels huge with islands scattered like jewels across the different seas and the knowledge that there is lots of land beyond the edges of the map. The story is large in scope, with the fate of empires and the small states crushed between them hanging in the balance.
A sweeping epic may feel impersonal, but a large amount of the action and perspective rests on the shoulders of Pazel Pathkendle, lowly tarboy, son of a traitor, an outsider from a conquered city, cursed with the Gift of tongues that leaves him susceptible to mindfits. Pazel brings the best elements of a boyish hero into this book; courage, resilience, optimism. His status is such that he could’ve easily been kept to a reactive role, but he shows initiative (if not judgement!), and his bond of friendship with fellow tarboy Neeps and his first-love feelings for Thasha are endearing.
My quibbles with the novel are few. One, the author relied too much on the text of private journals and letters and hearsay (“I heard it from the rat, who heard it from the bird, and now I’m telling you”) to reveal secrets. There were places where I felt characters leapt to conclusions, which, while correct, didn’t logically flow from what they already knew. And, it was annoying (it always is!) when the teenagers were not taken seriously by the scoffing and superior adults when they said so-and-so was evil (and they were right). The Fellowship of the Ring moment at the end was a little cheesy, too. However, even though the story was not over at the end (this is book one of three), the writer brought about a satisfying resolution.