Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
Wow, so Scott Lynch may just be one of the most entertaining writers in fantasy. As with The Lies of Locke Lamora before it, Red Seas Under Red Skies was a blast to read, feeling quick and pacey despite it’s not inconsiderable length.
Red Seas Under Red Skies picks up around two years after Locke and Jean fled Camorr at the end of The Lies of Locke Lamora. They have travelled to the city of Tal Verrar, and have chosen a new target; The Sinspire, the largest and best defended gambling house in the world. Generally considered impossible to penetrate, Locke and Jean and back to doing what they do best; conning their way to the top. However, they cannot escape their past, with the Bondsmagi of Karthain not forgetting what Locke and Jean did to Falconer. Not content to simply kill Locke and Jean, they instead manipulate events just enough to make Locke and Jean’s lives miserable, getting them caught up in the power struggles in Tal Verrar, and into a life of piracy. At the same time, flashbacks fill in the gap between the immediate aftermath of Locke and Jean’s escape and the launch of their scheme at the Sinspire.
Although obviously a sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies mostly tells a new story, with the only returning characters being Locke and Jean. As with the first one, Red Seas Under Red Skies contains a lot of plate spinning, with Locke and Jean under a pretty much constant assault of setbacks and complications, and seeing them get themselves out of it is always entertaining. This book is slightly more epic in its scope than its predecessor, but does so without stretching itself too thin. The best thing is that it wraps up most of its plot strands, leaving only a few dangling. This is something I’m beginning to realise I wish more books did, as it combines the comfort and familiarity of a series with the condensed and tight storytelling of a standalone novel. It’s much harder to get bloated with this approach. My main criticism probably has to be Lynch’s failure to foreshadow some key elements. Objects or concepts which play a vital role in the plot sometimes appear out of nowhere, making the impact seem somewhat cheap. A little bit more subtle foreshadowing would have been nice; that said, he does foreshadow some elements really well, but it’s not quite consistently enough.
The general style of the writing is just as pace-y and readable as the first one, with the sense of adventure and comedy still intact. Red Seas Under Red Skies has all the fun of a good old romp, but it transitions into scenes of genuine emotion really well, with the tone managing to be varied without being uneven.
Locke and Jean develop into one of my favourite double acts in the genre, but it’s a new characters who really stole the limelight for me. Tal Verrar is filled with a wonderful bunch of characters, but the best of the bunch are to be found out at sea, with the new nautical cast of characters. Zamira Drakasha, a pirate captain mother of two is utterly badass, and funny to boot. As a female person of colour, probably the most underrated demographic in fantasy, she is just the tip of an impressively diverse cast. This lot are quite a sexually diverse bunch as well, with Lynch refreshingly treating homosexuality as just there, not an ordeal to overcome, not the subject of a book, but just there. Lynch manages in his second novel to get right what many authors never quite manage after dozens.
Red Seas Under Red Skies is an excellent follow up to a promising debut, but has left me nervous. See, Lynch isn’t quite at Brandon Sanderson levels of prolific; he’s more of a George R. R Martin or a Patrick Rothfuss. This isn’t a bad thing, but it means I can add another series to my ever growing list of fantasy series for me to get impatient about. I’m looking forward to reading the next book, The Republic of Thieves, but am not looking forward to it being over.