Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Red Seas Under Red Skies
Scott Lynch
Bantam / Spectra: 2007

The Lies of Locke Lamora was quite possibly the most exciting novel of 2006. Scott Lynch introduced us to The Gentleman Batards, a small gang of thieves from the city of Camorr with big aspirations to crime. Led by Locke Lamora The Gentleman Bastards attempted daring and complex crime on the highest levels of society for exorbitant sums of money. The Lies of Locke Lamora was fast paced, clever, and exciting. It was a fantastic debut from Lynch, but it set a very high bar for Lynch to meet with his second novel Red Seas Under Red Skies.

Lynch opens Red Seas with an impossible prologue. Impossible because it should not have happened. Impossible because it was inconceivable, except that Scott Lynch conceived of it. Sharing it feels like a spoiler, but because it is the first thing we read, it can't be. Jean Tannen betrays Locke Lamora. Sells him out. And THIS is what we get when we begin Red Seas Under Red Skies. An Impossible Prologue.

After the prologue, when the novel begins, we have no idea when exactly the betrayal happened. It lingers over the entire novel and we wonder when it will occur, and how, and damn it all, why?!

Lynch once again tells two stories: The "present day" and "reminiscence" chapters which brings the reader up to speed as to what happened in the two years after Lies and before Red Seas. Unlike what Lynch did in Lies, he only alternates for the first half of the book leaving the second half for straight storytelling.

Once again Locke and Jean, the surviving Gentleman Bastards from Lies, are working towards an impossibly big score. They seek to rob the Sinspire, an impenetrable gambling house. Cheating at the Sinspire means death. Robbing the Sinspire, well, that just might be worse than death. If this was the only problem Locke and Jean faced we might still have a good novel. But Scott Lynch mixes in pirates, the Bondsmagi, poison, betrayal, battles, fights, deception, and the leadership of Tal Verrar playing Locke and Jean in a game they cannot possibly hope to win.

In short, Scott Lynch packs as much into Red Seas Under Red Skies as he possibly can and still tell a coherent story.

Amazingly enough Red Seas does not get weighed down under a pile of staggering detail. It should, and the occasional digressions Lynch takes to just plop down several paragraphs of description and location should bring Red Seas to screeching halt, and yet it does not. Even with everything Scott Lynch packs into this novel he still tells a rollicking story that moves at a blistering pace while not skimping on description and character or plot. Red Seas has it all.

I had seen criticism that Red Seas could not possibly live up to the hype and excellence of The Lies of Locke Lamora. It is often difficult for a second novel to truly live up to the promise of the first because the first novel had that sense of discovery, but we know the characters and the setting in Book 2. The criticism I have seen mentions that Red Seas was something of a let down from Lies, but still better than most of what has been published this year.

I'll disagree. In no way is Red Seas Under Red Skies a let down from The Lies of Locke Lamora. Scott Lynch is just getting better here, he has improved on Lies, found a way to use the same structure in the first book but make it feel fresh and not be a slave that that same structure. He is possibly far to clever for his own good, but that's what makes The Gentleman Bastards so damn exciting. Reading this novel is pure pleasure. Somehow Red Seas is MORE exciting than the first book, and the new situations Locke finds himself getting into while trying to scheme his way through impossible situations...well, that's just what makes this so much fun.

Highly recommended, but read the first book first.


Mary Robinette Kowal said...

I'm so glad you liked it too. I wound up reading the second book first because I was proofreading it for Subterranean. In fact, I still haven't read Lies of Locke Lamora (lack of time, not desire) and I loved Red Seas. Even without having read the first one, this stood on its own as one of the strongest fantasy novels I've read.

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