Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Warning: there will be significant spoilers for The Lies of Locke Lamora in this review. If you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora, first of all why not? And secondly you definitely should before reading the review, besides it’s a really great book and you won’t regret it.

In one way I was fortunate that I was a little late to The Lies of Locke Lamora party, it meant that when I finished it, the sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies was already out, so no waiting, which is always nice to a committed fantophile.

After I’d read Red Seas Under Red Skies I saw a poster advertising it which said how did you top The Lies of Locke Lamora? The answer was easy, just add pirates! Put simply that’s an excellent review of Red Seas Under Red Skies, but it really doesn’t do it justice, nor is it entirely accurate.

My expectations were high, because I’m not at all ashamed to say that The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of my favourite books ever. I didn’t think Red Seas Under Red Skies could top it, and to be totally honest it doesn’t, well not for me, anyway. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s still a great book, it’s head and shoulders above many other things out there, and it’s a good deal better than a lot of sequels as well. It’s a Scott Lynch tale of the Gentleman Bastards, so there’s action, violence, profanity and tragedy. It is at times also uproariously funny.

The story picks up a couple of years after the end of The Lies of Locke Lamora. Locke and Jean have left Camorr and are in the midst of pulling another job in the not so far away kingdom of Tal Verrar. The con involves the owner of a decadent gambling establishment with the wonderfully alliterative name of the Sinspire. The owner; a dapper chap by the name of Requin was a little too like Capa Barsavi for my liking, but I did like his bodyguard/lover; a ruthless scarred lady with a mechanical hand (shades of steampunk there) called Selendri. The intervening time is filled in by means of the interludes, which return from the first book after a fashion, I always liked the tales of ‘little Locke’ that were in the first book, but many found them a little intrusive. That’s one thing Red Seas Under Red Skies has over it’s predecessor, the interludes aren’t quite as self indulgent or as unnecessary as they were in the opening book, that was never my opinion, but it’s something I have seen others say, maybe they were used to the style by the second book.

Things are bubbling along quite nicely until the secondary storyline; the one with the pirates, comes into play. I enjoyed it, it was a great swashbuckler, the superstition about never putting to sea without a cat onboard was at times very funny, but the whole thing just seemed to be an unnecessary complication. It gave Jean a girlfriend, there were lots of swordfights and nautical talk. It brought back memories of Pirates of the Caribbean (the films, not the ride), but most of the time I had this nagging thought of what about the Sinspire and the Requin job?

The book does return to that and like in The Lies of Locke Lamora, Jean and Locke, Locke especially, are revealed to be not half as clever as they think they are, and are pretty neatly outsmarted by their mark.

Frustratingly it does end on a cliffhanger, with Locke condemned to a seemingly certain slow death by poison. There is a 3rd book; The Republic of Thieves, but your guess is as good as mine as to when it will be published, as the author has been beset by personal problems almost since the publication of Red Seas Under Red Skies.

As I said it’s a damn good book, but it could have been edited a little more tightly. I think of two particular sections which could have been cut and not caused undue suffering. They seem to exist because the author felt they were good idea at the time. The Salon Corbeau section would have made a good short story and could have even been expanded into a novella, but it felt a little out of place here, and to my way of thinking the exchange between Locke and Jean and a dim witted, but opportunistic thief served no useful purpose, and wasn’t even all that funny.  The other thing that the book lacked was Camorr. I’ve regularly said that Camorr was like this extra bonus character in The Lies of Locke Lamora, and whilst Tal Verrar is an interesting place it doesn’t have Camorr’s soul, nor does it make the same connection with the reader. With the Sinspire storyline, the occasional side excursion, the pursuit of the Bondsmages (oh yeah they’re not at all happy about what Locke and Jean did to the Falconer in The Lies of Locke Lamora) and the pirate storyline, it just seems like there’s a little too much going on.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is well worth reading, but it isn’t quite the experience The Lies of Locke Lamora was. Fingers and toes crossed that The Republic of Thieves isn’t too far away.

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