Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Title: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Author: Scott Lynch

Series: The Gentleman Bastard (#2)

Publisher: Gollancz

Genre: Brutal, Thieving Fantasy… with pirates!

Pages: 630

Rating: 9/10

The night quiet was broken by the high, distant trill of a whistle, the traditional swarming noise of city watches everywhere. Several other whistles joined in a few moments later.

“It is possible,” said Locke with a sheepish grin, “that I have been slightly too bold.”

Summary: With his sights set on the Sinspire, a gambling house no one’s ever stolen from and lived, Locke Lamora is in the city state of Tal Verarr. The game is proceeding as planned, and Locke and Jean are looking forward to their hard-earned windfall.

But the Bondsmagi of Karthain have a long memory, and soon someone else in Tal Verarr wants Locke and Jean’s expertise. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy, and are once again embroiled in a fight for their lives.

Review: Once again, wow.

I knew I’d like this book from the moment that Locke hopes Jean gets his cock sucked by a shark. Yes, that is a thing.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting as much from this book as from the first one. Second books tend to have a bit of a stigma surrounding them. I take back any hesitation I had.

Okay, some people might not like the fact that there’s more than one plot thread going on (though they tie up neatly in the end), and the fact that the piracy plotline doesn’t start until you’re a fair chunk into the book. But, you know, I liked that. Locke’s life, with its layers upon layers of deception, isn’t going to be straightforward. There’s going to be complications. Just as his Sinspire game looks to be going well, BAM. Something HUGE comes along and messes up all his plans and he has to do major damage control.

Kind of like the first book.

Poor Locke. I believe that he had some major character growth going on in this book. The events in the last book have taken their toll on him and his relationship with Jean, and I feel like he’s growing up. He seems to think more about consequences (well, sometimes), and isn’t quite as cocksure and reckless as he was in the first book.

And we see the aftermath of the first book, even though this first one is set two years after the end. For the first part of the book, we get reminiscences of the previous two years, bringing us up to date on Locke and Jean’s adventures to the starting point of the novel. I liked this feature. Not only was it in keeping with Lynch’s style (like the flashbacks in book one), I’m glad we got to see what happened in the missing two years of time. Locke and Jean’s relationship was strained to the breaking point, and we got to see that, and see the ramifications of that even two years later.

We also get to see the beginnings of the Sinspire game, which, in the main plot, is coming to a close. All in all, I really enjoyed the flashbacks. I always enjoy when an author is clever with time, and with their narrative structure. Especially when it’s not confusing at all.

The prologue was and is, I admit, a dirty trick. Prologues that are a scene from somewhere near the end of the novel always put me in two minds as a reader. Firstly, I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I don’t want to spend the entire book waiting for this scene, or feeling anxious because it hasn’t happened yet. No, thank you. On the other hand, I admire the ballsy hook.

Jean got some character development too! I appreciated the scenes from his point of view – I know there were a few in Lies, but not nearly as many. Jean is the source of MANY FEELS in this novel, just to warn you. I was SO HAPPY and then I was DISTRAUGHT. That aside, you really get to see what a damn good friend he is to Locke. Locke puts him through so much crap sometimes, and yet he is still always there. Always looking out for him.

I love their friendship. They would die for each other. Just die. And we get to see evidence for this over and over again. It’s not just words for them. It was never just words.

Let’s talk about some of the other characters in this book. I LOVE the badass women pirates. I love the fact that Scott Lynch’s world is so totally different than our own when it comes to gender roles. Being a woman doesn’t stop any of his characters doing anything. His women are as real and vibrant as his men, with as many nuances and shades of grey and badass awesome moments.

Like Zamira. She’s a middle-aged pirate woman, a captain of one of the most feared pirate ships in the Brass Sea. She also is the single mum of two kids, and is raising them right out there on the high seas. She’s a great character. She oozes authority, and courage, and you definitely do not want to get on her bad side.

There are, of course, other great characters. I particularly liked the antagonists in this one. I felt that they had a lot of depth to them, rather than just being assholes for the sake of assholes. There are loads of other characters I could mention – Ezri, for instance – but you really need to experience them for yourself.

There is no map at the beginning of this one, which was a grievance I had in the last book. Once again, I feel that the novel would have benefitted from the inclusion of one.

The writing, though. I love the way Scott Lynch can turn a phrase. I really, really do. Amongst beautiful descriptions and plenty of atmosphere building, there are moments of pure humour and snark and wondrous narration.

For example:

“Mew,” the kitten retorted, locking gazes with him. It had the expression common to all kittens, that of a tyrant in the becoming. ‘I was comfortable, and you dared to move,’ those jade eyes said. ‘For that you must die.’ When it became apparent to the cat that its two or three pounds of mass were insufficient to break Locke’s neck with one mighty snap, it put its paws on his shoulders and began sharing its drool-covered nose with his lips. He recoiled.

I am in love with his writing. Pure, unadulterated love. *swoons like a maiden*

Whilst The Lies of Locke Lamora can stand alone as a novel, the same isn’t entirely true of this one. Sure, the main plotlines are all wrapped up at the end, but there is a massive great question mark left hanging over the characters. Technically, you can read this one as a standalone too, but I, for one, am very glad to have the next book sitting right next to me.

If you like cons and thieves and brutal fantasy and enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, read this book. If you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora, read that first, then come and read this book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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