Second Review (Read on March 4, 2015)
So Locke Lamora won the day at the end of his first book, but at a terrible price. He and Jean are the last surviving Gentlemen Bastards (unless you count the estranged Sabetha, whose existence Scott Lynch dangles beneath our noses with all the glee of a writer of a trilogy). With nothing left for them in Camorr, they wind up in Tal Verarr, pulling a heist against Requin of the Sinspire, the best and most cheat-proof casino there is. But the Archon of Tal Verarr—who would be played by Jeremy Irons in the movie, I hope—has other plans for them. Soon Locke and Jean find themselves setting out to sea, to begin a life of … piracy?
Coming off the immediate high of The Lies of Locke Lamora and all its dark and bittersweet comedy, I wondered why I only gave Red Seas Under Red Skies 3 stars. But I can see why now. I love heist plots: heists are even better than con games. So the fact that Lynch promises me a heist plot in this book gets me so unbelievably excited; you have no idea.
And then he yanks the carpet out from my metaphorical feet and announces we’re doing a pirate theme instead.
I don’t have a problem with pirates. If you like pirates, you’ll have a good time here. But don’t bait-and-switch me. Keep your pirates out of my heist plot!
Other than the above disappointment, there’s a lot to like about Red Seas Under Red Skies. With the other Gentlemen Bastards out of the picture, this is very much a “Locke and Jean against the world” scenario, so Lynch focuses on their friendship more closely than he could in the first book. Their very identity and purpose as thieves is in question here: with the ire of the Bondsmagi hanging over their heads, they wonder how they should spend the rest of their lives. They question how long they can carry on as professional con artists.
Although Locke might question his ability to carry on as a con artist for many more years, Lynch makes it clear that Locke is happiest and at the top of his game when he is cheating or swindling someone. Somehow, it seems that no matter how dire the stakes or how injured or affronted Locke is, if he is in a position to deceive someone, he comes into his own and shines. His enjoyment at playing the character of Orrin Ravelle is palpable, even when that means hauling rope and swabbing the deck and doing any number of other, unpleasant menial tasks while posing as a failed would-be pirate captain. Locke loves inhabiting a role, and his exuberance gets the better of him, even when he claims to be taking things seriously.
Another thing I loved about the book on this reading was the passionate relationship between Jean and Ezri. Lynch is not exactly subtle—but that’s part of what makes it so fun. Jean received some good characterization in the first book, with his sharp intellect and mathematical mind belying his “bruiser” appearance that earned him the role of bodyguard for Locke. Yet he definitely plays an even more prominent role as protagonist here: The Lies of Locke Lamora was unquestionably a book about Locke Lamora; Red Seas Under Red Skies is definitely Locke & Jean.
I also want to take a moment just to point out the excellent portrayal of women in Lynch’s books. It was solid in the first book and is even better here. There are plenty of women characters, both bit characters as well as more exciting minions, like Selendri and Merrain. And of course, Zamira Drakasha takes the cake: super-capable pirate badass who also happens to be a caring, responsible mother. Talk about work–life balance. I love that, in this world Lynch has created, women totally make up 50% of the cast—and they can be just as capable at fighting, thieving, and plotting as men. This is not a new or revolutionary idea in the twenty-first century, people—yet the fact I have to highlight it here suggests we have some catching up to do.
It would be a mistake to pan this book just because it doesn’t inspire the same wide-eyed adoration that I felt about The Lies of Locke Lamora. After all, that was a debut novel, the first in a new series with new characters—and I fell, hard. As a sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies had a lot to live up to, so I shouldn’t be surprised it doesn’t blow me away. If we set aside such impossible standards, then, what we have left is a solid sequel: Lynch has written yet another good fantasy novel with dynamic, flawed characters who continue to pull cons, plot capers, and cheat at cards.
It’s pretty great.
And now, finally, I get to read Republic of Thieves! About time.
First Review (Read in October 11, 2009)
(Since this book features pirates, I'm using that as flimsy excuse to present my review entirely in "piratical" dialect, courtesy of this handy translator. Apologies to those who were expecting a sobre critique of literature in grammatical, precise English. Ye scallywag.)
I read this hot on th' heels o' me second readin' o' The Lies of Locke Lamora, about which I positively gushed in ever' way possible.
Goin' into this sequel, I be excited. I anticipated another brilliant adventure o' Locke Lamora an' Jean Tannen—an' that's what I got. Exactly what I got. Therein lies th' problem: th' best parts o' th' book be similar t' th' best parts in th' first book. Once again, Locke relies on a Xanatos Roulette t' extricate hisself from a very messy situation, an' e'en by th' end o' th' book, they aren't safe yet. As other reviewers be havin' lamented, however, th' worst offence be that o' shoehornin' one plot into th' other . . . after interestin' me in a very Ocean`s Eleven-esque casino heist plot, Lynch suddenly injects a gentleman o' fortune plot into th' story, which smartly takes o'er as th' "main" course o' th' book.
Now we reach th' point 'ere yer mileage may vary. Fans o' nautical adventures will probably enjoy this here log more than swabbies like myself who, while fans o' gentleman o' fortunes, aren't fans o' havin' marine terminology bandied about while Jean an' Locke cool the'r heels on th' Sea o' Brass. Parts o' this here log bored me, which nerehappened in Th' Lies o' Locke Lamora. An' 'tis nay jus' th' fact that 't takes place at sea among gentleman o' fortunes; 'tis th' failed synthesis o' two disparate plots that irks me so much. By th' end o' th' book, Lynch attempts t' tie all th' plots together fer a grand climax . . . an' 'tis almost thar, but nay quite.
’Tis odd t' say this about a fantasy book, perhaps, but th' realism be sorely lackin'. In a sense, th' lies o' Locke Lamora be too extraordinary an' insouciant, whereas in th' first book, they be jus' th' starboard amount o' extraordinary an' insouciant. Savvy? By th' time we reached th' climax, I had trouble believin' Locke could truly get th' lad's an' Jean ou' o' this mess alive, an' triumphant—speakin' o' which, I did enjoy th' twist at th' very end regardin' the'r spoils o' victory.
Th' first wee chapters o' th' book be th' best. We get t' be seein' Locke at his nadir, resigned t' drink an' mope in a room in an inn while Jean goes ou' an' tries t' build a gang in th' wee, dumpy city t' which they's fled. Locke, whom we've grown t' love as a smartass an' badass, be reduced t' a self-pityin' shadow o' his former self. 't takes some tough love from Jean t' set th' lad's straight, after which th' two begin plottin' t' rob th' most heavily-guarded casino eremade by man: th' Sinspire.
I'd like t' continue sayin' good things starboard now, but th' subject o' th' Sinspire forces me t' criticize another unrealistic aspect o' Lynch's story: everything be hyperinflated in its status. Th' Sinspire be th' ultimate casino, 'ere nay one, nay one single swabbie ever gets away wi' cheatin'. Th' Archon's One good eye be th' elite swabbieal guard who would never betray th' lad's. An' so on. Th' superlatives begin t' get annoyin' . . . well, superlative. Once an' a while 't would be nice t' come across an average sort o' swabbie who t'ain't either a complete idiot or a Chessmaster. I reckon, however, what wi' Locke Lamora bein' so brilliant an' all, 'tis difficult t' challenge th' lad's wi' ere less than a genius.
Speakin' o' which, I miss th' Dona Vorchenza! She be an antagonist, sure, but I liked th' lass'. She be fun. Neither Requin nor th' Archon, Stragos, be particularly likable; in th' first book, while I cheered fer Locke, I sympathized wi' th' Dona's loss. Here, I couldna care less about what happened t' Requin or his position o' power afterward. Stragos, on th' other hand . . . well, as I be readin' th' book, I wondered why a troper on th' Gentleman Sons of a biscuit eater page o' TV Tropes labelled Stragos an anti-villain. I dasn't agree wi' th' label, but I agree that Stragos didna deserve his fate, an' I be nay sure Locke an' Jean would be havin' had 't in them. Then again, I didna understand how Locke an' Jean let they's self get into th' situation o' bein' poisoned anyway. Last time someone poisoned Locke coercively, he punched them in th' face an' stole th' antidote.
Without th' poison, o' course, thar's very wee impetus fer Locke an' Jean t' go nautical—or refuse t' swashbuckle o'er th' one extant keg o' antidote at th' end. (Oh, come on, dasn't tell me that's a spoiler. I won't tell ye who drank 't, 'kay?) We get a much stronger idee o' th' bond between Locke an' Jean in this here log. Again, Lynch likes his superlative expressions o' affection, so I started t' skim them scenes after these two reconciled wi' each other fer th' nth time. 't be nice t' be seein' occasional tension, tho. An' 't be good t' be seein' Jean get some action (ye know th' sort o' action I mean).
Red Seas Under Red Skies preserves th' strong, witty characterization that made Th' Lies o' Locke Lamora amazin' in th' best sense o' th' word. Unfortunately, 't lacks a strong story t' go wi' its characters. This series still has great potential; I canna wait t' be seein' who makes th' next move in th' ongoin' struggle between Locke an' Jean an' th' Karthani bondsmages. E'en tho me interest in th' series remains intact, however, Lynch's writin' an' plottin' needs t' improve t' restore me faith in th' quality o' th' series.