I picked up The Red Wolf Conspiracy in a used bookstore in Asheville, NC because of nothing more than guilt. My wife and I had spent so much time – almost an hour – browsing the store’s collection that I felt bad for the owner that we weren’t buying anything. The only reason I chose Red Wolf was because a few readers I knew liked it so well, but at the time, I had minimal hopes for the book. A talking rat? A young boy called a ‘tarboy’? Sounded silly and unappealing.
The reason I remember the circumstances so well is because of how wrong I turned out to be (it is known to happen on occasion 😉 ). The Red Wolf Conspiracy turned out to be the first book of a series that didn’t get nearly enough acclaim when it was first published.
I thought this entire series was terrific. Is it YA? Sure, if you want to categorize is it as such, but that doesn’t mean it lacks depth, either emotionally or in terms of the world building. It certainly isn’t grimdark, but that doesn’t mean the characters are all white hats. In fact, I found the characters to be the best part of the novel. They were vivid and real with great flaws but greater strengths. They were so interesting, and many had a fascinating weirdness about them. Some reminded of Stark from Farscape: an absolute loon, who was nevertheless strong and fearless at times and cowardly in a humorous way at others. What really struck me about the books, though, was how fun they were to read. I can’t put my finger on exactly why I felt that way. Perhaps it was because the characters were young and fearless, always running from one end of the vast ship to the other, and always on the brink of disaster Sometimes they even fell into the hot mess, but they never let their setbacks get them down, at least not for long. Their tragedies didn’t end up defining them. At least in the first book.
Here’s an excellent synopsis and review of the book at SFFWorld.