Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Published by Gollancz
ISBN 978 0 575 07695 2
Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, the eponymous Gentleman Bastards of Scott Lynch’s excellent sequence, return. This time, not only are they con men and thieves, they are pirates. As in the previous novel, the Gentleman Bastards are thrust between opposing forces, with very little wiggle room to eke out a profit, or their lives for that matter. The novel follows shortly on the heels of the previous novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora, though to his credit, Lynch makes this Red Seas Under Red Skies easily accessible to readers who have not read Lies. Still shame on them since the book was great and, as great as it was, Red Seas is an even better novel.
As with the previous novel, Lynch plays with the standard narrative storytelling style, employing a flip-flopping time frame for the story. Lynch starts of the story with quite a bang, focusing on a scene of Jean and Locke facing the point of each other’s crossbows. Right off the bat, he drags the reader into the story, keeping the reader guessing at which point, and more importantly why, these two supposed friends are about to kill each other. The most important pages of any book are the first pages and Lynch knocked it out of the park with his opening chapter.
When the novel proper begins, we find Locke and Jean engaged in a high stakes gambling house (the Sinispire), doing what they do best - charismatically stealing from the rich and giving to themselves. In their minds, a noble goal indeed. The chemistry between the two protagonists is as evident in this as it was in the previous novel; Lynch does a great job of making the reader feel a part of the Gentlemen Bastards. In this sense more than any other, I truly felt like I was along for the ride. Part of Lynch’s way of affecting this is the dialogue between Jean and Locke is in how natural it comes across; in fact, this might be Lynch’s strongest skill.
Once Lynch gets the “current-time” story going, he scales back and begins to bridge the time gap between the end of The Lies of Locke Lamora and the “current time” of Red Seas. In these scenes, Lynch manages to bring the character of Locke Lamora into the limelight in such a way that new readers will be as captured by Locke’s “rebirth.” This isn’t quite a rehash of the previous novel, since the relationships between Jean and Locke is deepened by their interactions as Locke recovers from the events of the previous novel. Their friendship becomes more of a brotherhood through the course of the story, in these scenes and more so how they resonate with the later scenes in the “current time” novel. The alternating timelines fade out by the midpoint of the novel as Lynch focuses solely on the “current time” as Locke and Jean go from con-artist gamblers to pirates-in-training.
One of the two external powers focusing on Locke and Jean is Maxilan Stragos the Archon, the ruler of the Tal Verrar, the city-state in which the Bastards have set up the gambling con. The other power is Requin, the master of the Sinispire. Essentially, Locke and Jean are pawns in a struggle between the political power and the financial power of Tal Verrar. This alone would set up quite a number of twists and turns. Lynch is ballsy enough to throw in that Stragos and Requin are aware that Locke and Jean are being played against each other; Luckily for myself and other readers, Lynch can back up his gusto.
Of course part of how Lynch makes the twists and turns work is having Locke and Jean forced out to seas as pirates, after a fast-track course on the nautical life. As is his wont, Locke plays the role of Pirate Captain Orin Ravelle to the full tilt, with a great deal of braggadocio and flair. Halfway on Locke’s voyage to the pirate islands, he encounters a character who may be as much of a larger-than-life character as is he: the pirate captain Zamira Drakasha. Along with Zamira is the enigmatic crew of her ship, The Poison Orchid.
As sequels go, Red Seas Under Red Skies is fabulous and a more accomplished, more tightly written novel than its predecessor. Considering what a top notch job Lynch did with his debut, this is impressive. As importantly, Red Seas Under Red Skies doesn’t work so bad as an introduction to the Gentleman Bastards. I found myself smiling throughout most of the book, grinning at the dialogue, and riding right along with Jean and Locke on their pirate adventure. At its heart, Red Seas Under Red Skies is pure fun. Like myself, readers should pray to the Crooked Warden that Mr. Lynch soon delivers unto his readers the next installment of the Gentleman Bastards.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford
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