The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert V.S. Redick
This is a wonderfully written fantasy novel. What sets this novel apart is that it is not just big men with swords and wizards. Everything in it from the pipe smoking woman with a red talking cat to the giant ancient magical sailing ship where most of the story resides is beautifully described. The details of the characters are very well done. For example the villains don't just fight and cast magic; they deceive, poison, bully, steal, and enslave.
The heros are quite intriguing, a tarboy (child which mends sales and ropes on ships) named Pazel with a gift for tongues, an intelligent rat, an ambassadors daughter and her bodyguard, and a wizard in the body of a mink. They face many trials from a villainous conspiracy whch is trying to start a war and disguising it as an attempt at peace.
The writing makes the escape into another world seamless. I especially like the creatures in the story, like the ixchel; tiny men who are treated like rats, and the flickermen; men who light up like fireflies and steal children into slavery.
This is a very entertaining story that is intelligently thought out. I look forward to reading the next book in the trilogy which comes out in 2010. If you want an fantasy novel that will keep you up late at night reading this is one of them.