Title: Red Seas Under Red Skies
Author: Scott Lynch
Published: Paperback Generally Available
Thief and con-man Locke Lamora, aided as ever by the lethal Jean Tannen, have fled the wreckage of their former lives in Camorr and are now in the island state of Tel Verarr. They have a plan, and a new mark to fleece; they are going after the riches found in the Sinspire.
The Sinspire is the ultimate gaming house: no one has ever stolen so much as a penny from it and lived. It’s a challenge, the sort the surviving Gentlemen Bastards can’t resist.
But someone in Tel Verarr wants the Gentlemen Bastards' exceptional skills and is prepared to kill to get it. Locke and Jean have to postpone the crime of a lifetime, embark on a life on the high seas and undertake the role of pirates.
Not a bad living, unless you don’t know one end of a boat from the other.
Two years have passed since the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Locke and Jean, the surviving Gentlemen Bastards, now have a chance at the blag of a lifetime. That is they would if it wasn’t for the small matter that they’ve been kidnapped, poisoned and forced to work for the ruthless ruler of Tel Verarr in return for the antidote, and to precipitate a minor war. This is a much darker tale than the first book in the Bastards sequence: to start with Locke is not the same happy-go-lucky character, ever ready with a quick retort and cunning plan. After the fight with the Grey King at the end of the first book Locke was left broken and near death, he turned to the bottle and found comfort in his own depression. It was down to Jean to hold everything together and in this second book he is more prominent than his partner.
You will still find the carefully planned con that is central to the story. This con has been two years in the making and we enter the story as it nears its closing stages. You will still find the flashbacks at the end of the earlier chapters telling what went on in the two years since the end of Lies. What you won’t find is as much humor as there was in the first book. This time round they are literally fighting for their lives and it is a pretty desperate fight, with everyone and anyone seemingly out for their blood. You could very easily read this without having prior knowledge of the previous book; it doesn’t directly follow on and apart from Locke and Jean there are no recurring characters.
What Lynch has done in a way is start from scratch, yes there are conversations regarding what went on before, but then if you read Lies there were numerous mentions to what went on before that story, but you didn't have a previous book to go back to. In the first book he created a wonderful criminal world in a fantastical city, now he has created a wonderful pirate world set in a fantastical sea. The narrative surrounding their time with the pirates is great, you feel like you’re on deck with the wind in your face. Again there is a cast of supporting characters that could hold a story on their own, mix their tale with that of Locke and Jean and it all adds to the legend of the Gentlemen Bastards.
The only downfall with this book is its ending. The tale was rattling along at a breakneck speed and then suddenly when the story reached the “how the crap do they get out of this?” point, a totally new set of characters are introduced that prove the key to beating the bad guy and winning the day. Now for me the ending was too easy, the new characters were introduced a handful of pages before the end. It seems lazy, like Lynch got that far in and thought, “shit, how do I get out of this?” Part of the reason I so enjoyed the first book was that Lynch wasn’t afraid to be brutal with his characters, a fact that was emphasized by him wiping out three members Locke’s gang in one hit. I was expecting something like this here, but he went for the easy option. I appreciate that without the two main characters the series is pretty much dead, but the world he’s created offers plenty of candidates for new members of the Bastards. And then there is always Sabetha, the girl that Locke loves, the only member of the original gang we’ve never met even though she’s been mentioned on numerous occasions.
Of course if you’ve read the book you know there is a cliffhanger and one that seemingly can’t be got out of. I am worried that considering the way this book ended the next might start with an easy fix, which won’t sit too well with how I imagined Lynch was writing.