Whenever I tell Ian it's time to fold his laundry or feed the cats or clean up his dishes or whatever, he talks wistfully about how he wishes he were a wizard (like Harry Potter) so that he could use a wand to take care of the task. And many's the time he has expressed the wish that he could fly. Me, too. Flying would be cool. Or being invisible. There are so many desirable gifts in the realm of fantasy. But I have to say that if I were given my choice, I would choose the ability to learn languages easily.
Pazel Pathkendle is my kind of guy. I mean, he speaks about 20 languages. Being multilingual has always been a goal of mine, although it's taking me a long time to achieve it. I finally decided that, even though I may not ever be able to fluently speak 12 languages (my goal ever since I read somewhere that Hugh Nibley spoke that many), I could probably learn at least to read that many.
Of course, Pazel has it easier: his mom cast a spell on him that enables him to automatically know a language as soon as he hears it. On the other hand, there is the one drawback of the 24-hour (or so) babbling madness that comes on afterwards. I don't know if I'd be willing to put up with that.
Pazel's gift with languages, as well as his other intellectual abilities and his skill as a mariner, make him a perfect hero for the adventurous mystery (or mysterious adventure) recounted in The Red Wolf Conspiracy, by Robert V S Redick.
The story takes place mostly on the great ship Chathrand, where Pazel is a tarboy and which is the scene of a deeply secret conspiracy that threatens to bring on a tumultuous war and the destruction of the known world. Almost by accident (but perhaps not quite, it seems), Pazel, Thasha (a reluctant bride-to-be sailing on the Chathrand toward a politically motivated arranged marriage), and a group of their associates (including a 12-inch tall warrior woman and a talking rat) become involved in the efforts to expose the conspiracy.
The Red Wolf Conspiracy reminds me in a way of the classic adventure stories I used to read by Robert Louis Stevenson and Jack London, etc, and even the Tintin stories. It is, quite frankly, one of the most interesting and enjoyable books I've read in the last several years. It has almost everything I look for in a book: adventure, mystery, intriguing characters, credible character development, lots of action, a complex conspiracy, philosophical quandaries, sailing, an intelligent heroine who is not merely a token female in a male-dominated story, a wonderfully imagined and detailed world, believable magic that seems a natural part of that world, and talking animals.
But wait, there's more! The book is also very well written, and I give a thousand thanks to Redick for his well-crafted writing. Through the language, Redick is able to recreate the mood of those older adventure stories, and he does so with such realism as to evoke in the reader a sense of really being there. While reading about the Chathrand, for instance, I could sense how the deck planks would feel beneath my feet, and the odor of hot tar, and the roughness of the huge ropes in my hands. The book is a joy to read on every level.
P.S. It's the first in a series, and I am really looking forward to further volumes.