& Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Bantam Spectra June 2007

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. Sci-Fi/Fantasy. Publisher: Bantam Spectra June 2007

The Book Itself: This cover is a bit more eye catching than the first installment of this series, with the reds and oranges and fire and whatnot. It definitely lets you know that there is some piracy going on as well.

My ReviewIn his highly acclaimed debut, Scott Lynch took us on an adrenaline-fueled adventure with a band of daring thieves led by con artist extraordinaire Locke Lamora. Now Lynch brings back his outrageous hero for a caper so death-defying, nothing short of a miracle will pull it off.

After a brutal battle with the underworld, Locke and his sidekick, Jean, fled to the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But they are soon back to what they do best–stealing from the rich and pocketing the proceeds. Now, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the world’s most exclusive, most heavily guarded gambling house. But there is one cardinal rule: it is death to cheat at any game.

Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way straight to the Sunspire’s teeming vault. But someone knows the duo’s secret–and has every intention of making them pay for their sins.

Ah, sequels. I waxed poetic about The Lies of Locke Lamora not too long ago. I read a book in between reading the first book and this one, but I just had to return to the world I had been so dragged into in the first one.

The thing is, this is not the same world. Fleeing Camorr at the end of the last book, I knew Locke and Jean were in for something new and different in terms of scenery, but while I found Camorr to be complex and fleshed out…Tal Verrar did not do the same for me.

Tal Verrar, a series of ringed islands, lends itself very well to a pirate tale. Which half of this is. The other half has to do with the heist our two lovable crooks are concocting. They set eyes on the Sinspire, basically Las Vegas in a skyscraper, with each floor more extravagant and lucrative than the last. They are going to rob its owner (and penthouse suite occupant), Requin (Locke’s fake name for part of this is Revelle – too many R’s, Lynch!). The first couple hundred pages focus on this job – on how Locke and Jean bamboozle and cheat their way through the various gambling games, weasel their way into Requin’s confidence, etc.

And then another big wig in Tal Verrar pulls them away from all this, poisons them, and tells them they have to go play pirates now.

It’s like two different stories, jammed up next to each other. It works…sort of? I don’t know. I like the Sinspire storyline, and I like the pirate storyline (albeit a little less), but I’m not sure I like them together. When they’re entangled like that, neither gets the attention and fleshing out it deserves.

Our buddies the Bondsmagi are back…for two seconds. They threaten Locke and Jean in a particularly eerie scene, and they throw a baddie their way…but that’s about it. Apparently they feature heavily in the third novel, but they seem tacked on here, when I think that such a powerful and power-hungry enemy should be more immediately threatening.

The piracy part, well….while I love that every pirate ship in this world needs  a woman in a command position and at least one cat onboard to basically be allowed to sail, I wasn’t in love with our at sea setting. There is a lot of shouting out sailing commands, and the seedy pirate town they pull up to just seems too rote. We’ve been there before, in Pirates of the Caribbean, in any pirate-themed novel or book you’ve read, even in The Lies of Locke Lamora, in Camorr! We get a couple of strong female leads in Zamira and Ezri, and we get some epic sea battles. But this section of the book lagged for me. Maybe I’m not a pirate reader, or maybe it got too familiar for me what with the strange beings that haunt the waters below and the mysterious isle that makes men lose their minds, but I didn’t love it. It sounds like I would, what with more worldbuilding, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.

As for how it’s tied into Locke and Jean’s Sinspire ruse…well, that’s a little flimsy. The ending is big and showy, like a magician finally monologuing and revealing his tricks, but the logistics are lost to me. I don’t know Tal Verrar like I knew Camorr because we spent hardly any time there! The Priori are a big deal, but I have to be honest with you, I am not entirely sure who they supposedly are. It’s a political position, and maybe I should have just paid more attention during the info-dumping that fantasy books have to do to get broad concepts like that across, but I struggled with attaching to that concept.

The ending of this installation packs an even bigger emotional wallop. And the winding down of the ruse also ends pretty darn bittersweet. The personal loss, paired with the lackluster outcome of the games these two men play makes for kind of a flat ending.Red Seas Under Red Skies still featured characters that I loved from the Gentleman Bastard’s first run around, but fell a little flatter for me in terms of setting and story.

My Grade: B


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