Red Seas Under Red Skies – Review

Red Seas Under Red Skies Review

“Difficult” and “impossible” are cousins often mistaken for one another, with very little in common.”

Scott Lynch, Red Seas Under Red Skies

Here is my review of the second installment of The Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch. It’s quickly becoming one of my favourite fantasy series of all time…

  • Title: Red Seas Under Red Skies
  • Author: Scott Lynch
  • Genre: Fantasy/Intrigue
  • Audiobook Reader: Michael Page
  • Series: The Gentlemen Bastards (Book 2)
  • Publisher: Gollancz (UK), 2007

Warning: This review contains regular, garden variety spoilers for Red Seas Under Red Skies, and major spoilers for the first in the series, The Lies of Locke Lamora. I strongly suggest that you read the first novel before reading this review.

Summary

After barely escaping with their lives, Locke and Jean, the last of three surviving Gentleman Bastards – a gang of thieves from the city-state of Camorr – find themselves in the western city of Tal Verrar. A place of gamblers and political intrigue. A place just waiting for a pair of master thieves to exploit.

The Sinspire – Tal Verrar’s gambling house – is their prime target. Spending two years or so perfecting several methods of cheating at the Spire’s uncheatable games, Locke and Jean are mere days from pulling off the heist of the ages: they are to break into Requin’s impenetrable vault.

Until one day. [That’s the stuff stories are made from…] Until one day, when Maxilan Stragos, the Archon of Tal Verrar – the commander of the city’s military forces and aspirant tyrant – takes an interest in the duo. It seems that the Bondsmagi never forget a grudge and have poured their knowledge of Locke and Jean into the Archon’s ear.

Upon tricking them into drinking a slow-acting poison, Stragos presses our heroes into his service. They are to take to the seas and bring the pirates of the Ghostwind Islands into conflict with the Tal Verrar once again and prove to the people that they still need an Archon.

Thus, begins Locke and Jean’s nautical foray into the Sea of Brass. They meet swashbucklers, learn about tacking and the importance of cats, find love, and search for a cure.

How will they ever have time to pull off that heist?

Opinion

This book is fun and well written. Once you turn the final page you realise that it is a fitting sequel to the first instalment. This is a feeling that isn’t present throughout the novel, however. When Stragos sent Locke and Jean out to sea, I felt as if I was starting a new novel (this happens about halfway through the book).

It is a jarring split and I often felt as if Lynch ought to have left out the Sinspire section and just start the novel at their naval training (which is quite deep and informative – the man did his homework).

Luckily, I was wrong. The split does not feel like a split at all in the end. I won’t spoil too much, but all I’ll say is: stick with it, it all ties together, just pay attention.

Be that as it may, I really enjoy Lynch’s writing. I love his mix of high literature and gutter speak. Locke and Jean’s relationship is tested to its limits in a very granular and realistic way. They are, in my opinion, the best-written characters in the fantasy-intrigue genre (if there is such a genre…which there really ought to be).

Cons

The split (when Stragos sends them to the Ghostwinds) feels like a major con when you get to it. The narrative seems to lose all momentum as we embark on a whole new set up. Like I said above, this turns out to be less of an issue as you forge ahead, but some readers might put it down and find it hard to pick it up again.

As with the first novel, this book is full of violence and offensive language. It is mostly at the same level as the first, so if you could stomach that, you’ll love this.

Another downside (for some) is that you need to read the first novel. Without knowing what went down in Camorr, you’ll be out to sea (yes, I said it…). Read the first one – it’s a must.

Potentially Offensive Content

Much like the first, Lynch does things with expletives that satirist cartoonists do with political faces: they are bigger, more exaggerated, and funnier than you could have imagined. That’s a tortured metaphor if ever there was one. Those who abhor foul mouths might take issue with this aspect of the novel.

There are also several loose descriptions of sex, nothing graphic, just enough to rock the boat. Violence is also a prominent feature, but it’s nothing worse than you’d read in any other modern fantasy novel.

“Any man can fart in a closed room and say that he commands the wind.”

Scott Lynch, Red Seas Under Red Skies

Pros

The adventure is brilliant. Seeing more of the world of Locke Lamora was fantastic. Lynch is a great world-builder. He makes each location feel distinct, yet part of the same world. Tal Verrar, for example, feels entirely different from Camorr. The locations they sail to – in both aesthetics and mechanics – has its own identity.

Characters and their relationships are strong and believable. Lynch really makes you care about these Gentleman Bastards. So much so that you feel a cocktail of emotions when they finally find a “cure” to the poison eating away at their insides. I’ve said too much…

This book is worth your time. Onto the next…

Final Review Score: 7/10

The Last Word

Dear Readers,

If you’ve read this novel – or any other novel by Scott Lynch – please let me know if you agree/disagree in the comments below. Also, if there is another book you’d like me to review, please write me a note on this forum.

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Top Image: A Seascape with Tall Ships, By Adam Silo (1760) [Public Domain]

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