Bookshot #164: Red Seas Under Red Skies

The Gentlemen Bastard Sequence heads into its second volume with Red Seas Under Red Skies and

while the characters are engaging and roguish charming as they were in the first volume (The Lies of Locke Lamora) the structure is similar enough to the first book that I hope we see a bit of a change-up in the next volume otherwise this series might risk becoming somewhat formulaic if it goes the distance and we get the full seven volumes that Scott Lynch is apparently planning. 

We'll get to the potential structural issues in a minute- let's talk plot first.

Red Seas Under Red Skies picks up two years after the end of The Lies of Locke Lamora-- Locke and Jean Tannen have fled Camorr and created new identities for themselves in the island city of Tal Verrar as professional gamblers in a casino known as the Sinspire. The place is run by Requin and his disfigured lover Selendri and they have a strict policy of killing anyone caught cheating, no matter their social rank. Of course, Locke and Jean have been constantly cheating despite that, manipulating opponents and taking advantage of the weaknesses of various games of chance.

Things take a turn, however when the Bondsmagi of Karthain appear to catch up with them and threaten revenge for their torture and mutilation of the Falconer at the end of the last book- they have the power to possess them and make our dynamic duo kill each other, but refrain from doing so throughout the book-- the threat of such action makes Jean and Locke very nervous and they mainly work in the background- presumably in ways that will be explored in subsequent volumes of the series.

Given that, they move forward with the next phase of the plan-- confessing their actions of cheating Selendri and Requin and claiming that unknown proxies have hired them to rob the vault of the Sinspire. The next step in the prospective heist, however, is complicated when they are captured by the Archon of Tal Verrar. He knows their real identities, thanks to the Bondsmagi, and tricks them into drinking a poison that kills a person in two months if periodic antidotes are not taken. The Archon wants them to take a ship and sail south to the Ghostwind Islands to gain the support of pirates there. He wants a military threat to scare the people into consolidating his power and not that of the Merchant's Council .

Trapped and very much fish out of water when it comes to nautical matters, Locke and Jean begin an intensive training course into how to, well, sail and be would-be and entirely fake pirates. Eventually, they get a ship, get a crew, and almost immediately fall prey to a bad storm (they didn't bring along any cats, which are apparently necessary) and then get taken by the real-life actual pirates they're pretending to be. 

Captured by Captain Zamira Drakasha and the Poison Orchid, Locke and Jean work to regain the trust of their former crewmates and gain a place amongst the crew. The two argue about whether or not to be truthful with the pirates with Jean arguing and eventually winning Locke over to the idea that as fellow thieves, they deserved to know what Stragos is doing. Eventually, they persuade Zamira to take the issue before the Pirate's Council in the Ghostwinds to see what they want to do- advising her that even if they fail, Stragos will send someone else.

The other pirates are worried and don't want to bring the wrath of Stragos down on their heads, but agree to let Zamira try to aid in Locke and Jean's scheme. They more or less succeed-- bringing down Stragos, getting an antidote, and successfully completing their scheme at the Sinspire-- but it comes with costs-- and there's only enough antidote for one of them, so it's Locke that wants to spend his last weeks sailing the Sea of Brass with Jean, to find something new.

All right, so that was the plot-- let's unpack this book a little. Do I have concerns? Yes, I do. I think Lynch really runs a risk of becoming formulaic going forward- this might be a function of this book being a sequel to the last one, but the basic formula and structure are more or less identical here. There's an establishing scene- toward the end of the book and then flashbacks that catch you up to the present, woven in with what our heroes are up to know. The characters are still charming. The whole milieu of vaguely Renaissance Italy/fantasy mash-up still works really, really well. Much like Die Hard being followed by what was essentially Die Hard 2: This Time There Are Planes, it is very hard not to be entertained by the nautical and piratical aspects of this volume. 

But: I hope we start to move away from the basic formula of Jean + Locke + Try And Do Something Clever + It Goes Badly + Shenanigans and Trouble Ensue + They Save The Day, Etc. I think that Lynch is going to shake that up a bit in the next volume, as this one ends with a fairly significant cliffhanger and plot development.

What Lynch does well, I think, is exploring the after-effects of the previous book. Locke was pretty messed up and obviously, with the loss of his family, there's a certain amount of trauma for both characters that isn't brushed aside and is touched upon in this book. A large part of the character arcs involve both Locke and Jean recovering and returning to their old identities-- there's also a hint of menace from the prior novel with the Bondmagi working behind the scene and showing up to menace the characters as well. It's a nice, organic tie-back to the first novel that really adds some connective tissue to the series.

Overall: Entertaining, roguishly charming and there are plenty of swashes to buckle as well, Red Seas Under Red Skies is a solid sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora-- I am interested in seeing where this series goes from here. My Grade: *** out of ****


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