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
This 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.