Friday Reads: Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch
Having left Camorre after the deaths of their fellow Gentleman Bastards at the hands of the Bondsmagi, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen are running a new scam in the Sinspire, a high-class casino in the city of Tal Verrar. Unfortunately the Bondsmagi haven’t finished with Locke yet, and he and Jean find themselves working—decidedly unwillingly—for a Verrari warlord with an ambition to rule the city outright. Temporarily abandoning the scam they take up their new mission, starting with a crash course in seamanship and a new cover identity as the dread pirate Orrin Ravelle…
Warning: here be spoilers! Because it’s otherwise hard to say what I liked (and didn’t like) about the book. And hell, it’s six years old, so I reckon many of my visitors will have read it already anyway.
I’d been putting off reading this book for ages, mainly because a particularly gruesome torture scene in The Lies of Locke Lamora gave me nightmares! I’m glad I didn’t let it stop me, though, as Red Seas is somewhat less violent (or at least not so horrible as that one scene from LoLL) and generally a lot more fun. It has pirates! And kittens! Pirates with kittens! (Yes, really.)
It also has an awesome new character: Zamira Drakasha, a pirate captain who’s also a black, middle-aged widowed mother. Because as Lynch says in a devastating put-down of a bigot who found her implausible, “why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character?”. Now, I’m not one of those readers who’s actively looking for female characters, especially mothers —I read fantasy to get away from the more humdrum aspects of my everyday life—but I applaud Lynch for creating one and doing a damned good job of it. In fact one gets the impression that the crew of the Poison Orchid is about as mixed in terms of gender, race and sexuality as the population of a real-world country such as the US.
And whilst there’s plenty of the usual Crooked Warden shenanigans and wildly imaginative world-building we’ve come to expect from Lynch, Red Seas also puts Locke and Jean through the emotional wringer, which adds depth to what could otherwise be a lighthearted romp in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean. Locke begins the story in deep depression and mourning for his lost comrades (told in flashback to avoid slowing down the narrative), and Jean ends it in equally deep mourning for a new one. I confess I saw Ezri’s death coming a mile off, because Red Seas is basically a buddy movie and her survival would break up their operation, but to Lynch’s credit the incident is so well written that it still comes as punch to the gut and you want to hug the grieving Jean and weep with him.
If I have one complaint, it’s the cliffhanger-teaser at the beginning of the book. That scene is awesome and made me unable to put the book down until I’d found out how it ended – but when I finally got there (many pages later, since it’s towards the end), the pay-off didn’t quite deliver. I don’t know if the teaser was Lynch’s decision or his editor’s, but whilst it made a damned good hook it ultimately spoiled the novel a bit for me.
Overall, an excellent second installment to the series, and I can’t wait for Republic of Thieves to come out in October! Which reminds me – I also need to buy a paperback copy of Red Seas Under Red Skies (I read it in ebook) for Scott to sign at World Fantasy