Robert V.S. Redick

Synopsis, Books I-II (100% Spoilers Ahead!)

Okay, big apologies, but this synopsis still only covers the first two novels. I'll continue this through Book III when I get the chance. But if some time's gone by since your last visit to Alifros, and even if you're ready to start Book IV, this should be of some help in refreshing your memory.

But please, please, do yourself a favor and DON'T read this if you haven't read Books I and II! The surprises are half the fun. Escape, run away, click here and look at an electron micrograph of a zebra's eye, or go get some ice cream. Just don't ruin your reading experience.
 
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The Chathrand Voyage is, as its name suggests, the story of an immense sea journey, but also of a great transformation in the world of Alifros. Book One (The Red Wolf Conspiracy) tells of the preparations of two empires, Arqual and the Mzithrin, to end the centuries-long war that has ravaged both lands. The peace treaty is to be signed on the neutral island of Simja, and is to be marked by the marriage of a Mzithrini prince and the daughter of Admiral Isiq, the highest field officer in the Arquali Navy.  The admiral’s free-spirited daughter, Thasha Isiq, suspects treachery from the start, but cannot bring herself to spurn the hope of peace or the wishes of her family.
 
Conveying Thasha and her father to the wedding is the great ship Chathrand, pride of the Arquali fleet. The Chathrand is both an enchanted, 600-year-old antique and the largest vessel in the known world. Book One follows her west from the Arquali heartland, carrying 800 passengers and crew, and follows as well the unearthing of the true intentions of those who launched her.
 
The first (albeit uneasy) friendship Thasha forms is with Pazel Pathkendle, a tarboy from a country recently invaded by Arqual. Despised by many Arqualis for his origins, Pazel carries a magical gift/curse which allows him to acquire new languages instantly, but also afflicts him with agonizing mind-fits. The two youths soon make a terrible discovery: after Thasha’s marriage and the signing of the treaty, Arqual intends to re-ignite a religious civil war within the Mzithirin Empire, thereby weakening it sufficiently for Arqual to crush its old enemy at a single blow.
 
The spark of this new war is to be the Shaggat Ness, an insane god-king. Believed dead by his worshippers, he is in fact hidden in a secret brig on the Chathrand, along with his two equally deranged sons. The Arquali conspirators’ plan is to sail completely around the Mzithrini defenses and deliver the Shaggat to Gurishal, the land of his fanatical worshippers. Such a maneuver is only possible, however, by crossing the Ruling Sea, an ocean so huge and violent that no ship save the Chathrand could even attempt it.
 
Pazel and Thasha form a highly secret resistance group aboard. Their allies include two friends of Thasha’s family: the master swordsman Hercól Stanapeth and the mage Ramachni, who inhabits the body of a mink. To this number they soon add Pazel’s best friend Neeps; the eight-inch tall ixchel noblewoman Diadrelu; the Chathrand’s quartermaster, Mr. Fiffengurt; the woken rat Felthrup; the ship’s veterinarian Belesar Bolutu, and Dr Ignus Chadfallow, Pazel’s old and peculiar benefactor. The doctor is pursuing rumors of his own concerning the Nilstone,  a cursed rock from the world of the dead. Little is known of the Nilstone, but the allies begin to suspect that the hunt for it is somehow bound up with the war conspiracy. Ramachni, meanwhile, exploits an aspect of Pazel’s language gift to bestow three immensely powerful proto-spells, in the form of Master Words, upon the tarboy (“a word to tame fire, a word to make stone of living flesh, and a word that blinds to give new sight”). Each word can be uttered only once, and even Ramachni cannot be precisely certain of their effects.
 
This small circle soon finds itself pitted against the depraved commander of the Chathrand, Captain Nilus Rose; and the deadly Imperial Spymaster, Sandor Ott. The fighting spreads to other fronts as well: Diadrelu’s brother Lord Talag intends to seize the ship and take it to the ixchel homeland beyond the Ruling Sea, and Felthrup discovers an apocalyptic religious movement among the ship’s rats. 
 
At a brief landfall in a provincial town, Pazel and Neeps are betrayed and left ashore. Captured by slave-trading Flikkermen, they are sold to Arunis, a sorcerer who once served the Shaggat Ness. Arunis compels the youths to dive into the wreck of the Shaggat’s own ship, seeking a strange artifact known as the Red Wolf. With the help of the sea-murth girl Klyst, Pazel recovers the wolf, and Arunis seizes it instantly. Then, in a great battle off the Haunted Coast, the youths are rescued by their allies and returned to the Chathrand.
 
On the eve of Thasha’s wedding, just hours from port, Arunis returns to assault the Chathrand. In a protracted battle, the advantage passes several times from crew to sorcerer. The Red Wolf is destroyed, and revealed to have been merely a disguise and container--for the Nilstone itself.
 
The fighting, and the novel, end in a standoff: Arunis bewitches the necklace Thasha wears, so that he may with a word command it to strangle her. But Pazel, using his first Master-Word, turns the Shaggat to stone. In this mutual death-grip the parties face the prospect of Treaty Day the following morning. To make matters worse, Ramachni, his magical strength exhausted by the battle with Arunis, is forced to return to his own world to recuperate.
 
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The second novel, The Rats and the Ruling Sea (U.S. title The Ruling Sea), picks up just hours after The Red Wolf Conspiracy’s close. The Bay of Simja is crammed with vessels, including warships of both empires. Her capital city is thronged with common folk, foreign dignitaries, spies; as the wedding parties come ashore their every move is watched. Among the watchers is Neda Pathkendle, Pazel’s sister. Lost to him five years before during the Arquali invasion, Neda has found a new life and identity as a Sfvantskor, or warrior-priestess of the Mzithrin, and as such is a sworn enemy of the Arqualis. Neda’s masters have long suspected an ulterior motive on the part of the Arqualis, and have come as prepared for war as for a lasting peace.
 
Knowing Thasha’s life still hangs by a thread, the allies seize on a desperate plan. Just before she is to utter her marriage vows, Thasha begins to speak of the conspiracy—and Arunis, listening at the back of the hall, immediately goads the necklace to its deadly work. Thasha collapses, and to all appearances dies, but in fact she has pricked herself with a needle laced with a death-simulating drug. Arunis slackens the necklace, and Pazel tears it quickly away; then, before anyone can interfere, they carry her back to the only safe place in Simja—her cabin on the Chathrand, where they quickly administer an antidote. The allies expect the war-conspiracy to collapse without Thasha, and the ship to return in disgrace to Etherhorde. But Sandor Ott proves too clever: just hours after returning to the vessel, wedding bells ring out across Simja: one of Thasha’s ladies-in-waiting has married the prince in her stead. Rose and Ott also permit Arunis to reboard, charging him with finding a way to return the Shaggat to life. The war-plot marches on, and the Chathrand, with the allies still trapped aboard, heads south towards the Ruling Sea.
 
Thasha’s father, however, never makes it back to the ship: trailing behind the party bearing Thasha’s body, he is kidnapped and whisked away to a secret prison by Ott’s network of spies. By the time the allies discover that he is missing, Rose has cut off all movement to and from shore.
 
Before leaving the north, however, Captain Rose and his crew fake their own wreck off a small island, the better to allay any suspicions the Mzithrinis might have about the Great Ship’s actual purpose. Their next stop is Bramian, a vast jungle island on the very edge of the Ruling Sea. Here Ott reveals that his spy guild has secretly fostered and financed a colony of the Shaggat’s fanatical worshippers, and has even aided them in building a small fleet to attack the Mzithrin. It is only one chess piece in Arqual’s larger war of attrition, but Ott intends to make it count: to spur the fanatics on, he arranges to deliver one of the Shaggat’s sons to them as a surrogate for the father. Pazel is forced to accompany the mission into the interior of Bramian, and his language-gift helps the party escape death at the hands of the native people of the island. On the return journey, however, the landing party come face-to-face with a terrifying creature, a flame-wrapped demon reptile known as an eguar. The monster devours the chief of the Chathrand’s marines and violates Pazel’s mind; it departs only when Pazel threatens it with the Master-Word that tames fire.
 
While the landing party is ashore, Diadrelu and Hercól find themselves falling in love, and Dr Bolutu discovers a disturbing, monstrous mutation among the fleas on the Chathrand. But barely has the landing party returned when disaster strikes: a huge and deadly Mzithrini warship glides out of the west. She is the Jistrolloq, deadliest of all Mzithrini vessels, and though smaller than the Chathrand she bears twice the weaponry. Rose flees, but the Jistrolloq is light and swift. The battle rages straight out into the Ruling Sea. At last, through Rose’s almost diabolical trickery, the Chathrand sinks her foe.
 
Meanwhile, back on Simja, Thasha’s father is interrogated by Ott’s spies, and abandoned at last in a forgotten prison deep beneath the capital, where he is left to go mad. As days turn to weeks, the admiral fears he is doing just that, for the rats in the prison appear to be growing, and taunting him with words.
 
But to return to the Chathrand: as the ship moves deeper into that vast and terrible ocean, Pazel and Thasha attempt to organize a mutiny. At their first meeting of this clandestine group, a strange ray of hope comes to them: Mr Bolutu, the veterinarian, reveals that he is not a human but a disguised dlömu, a humanoid being from the great southern empire of Bali Adro towards which they are sailing—a land where humans, dlömu and many other races live in peace. The kings of this wise and benevolent land, he assures them, will put an end to the schemes of Arunis and Sandor Ott, place the Nilstone under guard, and help them all return home.
 
The second meeting goes less well: the tarboy Dastu, a traitor in the service of Ott, betrays the mutineers. All are condemned to death, and one of their number, a marine, is executed on the spot.
 
They are saved only by an even more terrible development: the mutation of the rats. Fleas and other insects, having come into contact with the Nilstone, have developed a horrible magical illness, and transmitted the latter to the multitude of rats that dwell in the Chathrand’s hold. The rodents’ transformation is far more extreme: they balloon to the size of war-dogs and develop a depraved sort of intelligence. Under a mad but charismatic leader they set out to exterminate the humans.
 
Deck by deck the battle rages, and at first the humans appear to have the upper hand. But again events take a deadly turn, when the crew learns that Lord Taliktrum, Talag’s son,  has ordered the ship’s fresh water spiked with the a new strain of the death-simulating drug Thasha used to escape the cursed necklace on Simja. No human aboard is unaffected, and very soon they begin to drop into helpless sleep. With no remedy on hand, the crew are forced to retreat from the psychotic rats, even as the latter soak themselves in lamp oil and prepare to immolate themselves and burn the ship to the water line. Only when the entire ship is ablaze does Pazel, barely awake himself, recall the Master-Word that tames fire. When he speaks it the flames are instantly snuffed.
 
Bolutu’s magical disguise collapses, and for the first time the humans behold the black skin, silver hair and silver eyes of a dlömu. The ship faces several further perils, including the city-sized whirlpool known as the Nelluroq Vortex, and the mysterious Red Storm which divides the northern and southern hemispheres, and crippling thirst. Scores die, but at last, after months at sea, the survivors catch sight of land. A few days running along the coast bring them to a cape Bolutu recognizes, and a sheltered harbor. A small landing party goes ashore in a desperate search for fresh water.
 
Here, in a seaside village, they meet with dlömu like Bolutu—and with a horror beyond their darkest dreams. The villagers gape at them like circus freaks: they have never seen humans capable of rational thought. An unthinkable cataclysm has occurred: a disease has destroyed every human mind south of the Ruling Sea; the few humans left alive have no more intelligence than animals. The crew of the Chathrand is alone in a world from which their kind has disappeared.