What I’m reading: Scott Lynch – Red Seas Under Red Skies

This one comes a bit late – I already had finished reading the book well before Christmas, but wasn’t feeling too good at the time, and then there were the holidays, and a new Mistress keeping me busy… – Anyway now I’m back at work, and bored, so here it finally is.

Scott Lynch, Red Seas Under Red Skies

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51EdpiX%2B04L._SL500_.jpgThis is the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora that caused quite a stir when it first came out in 2006 and was hailed as one of the most exciting fantasy debuts in recent years, along with the works of Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss; and while I suppose it would stand fairly well on its own, the enjoyment will certainly be greater if one has read the previous novel in the sequence, too.

The novel starts off with a nice cliffhanger, a classical Mexican standoff that only gets resolved towards the end of the volume. The first chapter then shows us Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen two years after the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora right in the midst of a caper targeting the largest casino of the city of Tal Verrar, and after that moves to a flashback, the first in a series of reminiscences that cover the events leading up to that point from the ending of the previous volume. This narrative maneuvre is already familiar to readers of Lynch’s first novel, and for the first two hundred pages, it seems as if Red Seas Under Red Skies will content itself to just follow the tracks laid down by its predecessor.

Which wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing, seeing as Lies was a rollicking romp of a read, and I think most readers that enjoyed the first novel would not have minded one bit if Seas would just have offered more of the same. All the more respect to Scott Lynch then for not doing the predictable thing, but having this second novel suddenly swerve off in an unexpected direction – namely, towards the seas and piracy.

The plan is for Locke and Jean to pose as seasoned sailors and to take over command of a pirate vessel, and it has the minor flaw that neither of them knows the first thing about running a ship, or sailing at all of that matter, and their advisor in all things nautical dying during their first voyage does not help things much either… In short, they end up in all sorts of unpleasant and dangerous situations, and much derring-do, convoluted plotting and last-minute-rescuing ensues. None of the plot elements are really terribly original in and of themselves, but Scott Lynch’s arrangement of them, his undoubted skills in plotting and writing make this immensely fun to read, sort of like a cross between The Crimson Pirate and Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Saga.

Many readers that enjoyed Lies found Red Seas quite a disappointment; as you will have guessed by now I’m not in that camp. I’m quite impressed that while staying true to the atmosphere of the first novel and the characters of its protagonists, Lynch still manages to go new ways and explore new areas with them, all of which certainly bodes well for the rest of the Gentleman Bastard series (which is supposed to run to seven volumes in all). The only gripes I have with this novel (and I can’t help but wonder if those aren’t related in some way) is that the ending is very rushed indeed, barely taking the time to cut through the narrative knots, much less unravel them, and that the third volume of the series, Republic of Thieves, was supposed to have been released months ago – hopefully this isn’t another Song of Ice and Fire desaster in the making, as I for one am very keen on reading the next installment.

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3 comments

  1. Could this be the most delayed comment ever?! 🙂

    It’s a bit depressing to realise that this book came out all the way back in 2009 – how long will we have to wait for the fourth one? That’s the downside of discovering an author who’s still in the middle of writing his or her series – you rush to catch up in a frenzy of delight, and then find yourself sitting around for four years waiting for the next instalment.

    Anyway, as you know I entirely agree with everything you say here, and I thought the opening was extremely good – it sets the scene, leaves the reader with a WTF moment (excuse my acronyms), and plunges immediately back in time to show you how this vignette came about. I forgot to say that in my own post, but you’re absolutely right in picking it out. It was daring, clever and a very gripping way to begin. Plus, I’m so glad you picked up on the whole similarity with Lymond. I seem to be seeing Lymond everywhere at the moment and was beginning to think I might be obsessed, but evidently not in this case. As I said, that’s one of the things I most loved about the book: the characterisation of this incredibly brilliant man, who would be profoundly irritating if I wasn’t rooting for him so much.

    I’m just hoping that he’s brilliant enough to think of a way out of the pickle he finds himself in at the end of the book, that’s all…

  2. Depression – the one Lynch was apparently suffering from – seems actually to have been the reason for the long delay, rather than internal problems with the writing (like in the case of George R.R. Martin), so I’m being optimistic about him continuing with the series in a timely and consistent fashion. He’s also in a relationship with Elizabeth Bear these days, one of my favourite SFF authors, so I’m hoping all’s good for him.

    And if you’re interested in Lymond-related fantasy, I suggest gving Janny Wurts’ The War of Light and Shadow a try which I think is clearly influenced by Dunnett and has (intentional or not) a very Lymondesque protagonists. There’s several posts on that series here on the blog, the first novel (which I haven’t written about) is Curse of the Mistwraith

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