Gentlemen Bastards sequence (so far)
1. The Lies of Locke Lamora (5/5)
2. Red Seas Under Red Skies (2/5)
Crooked Warden, give me a golden line of bullshit and the wisdom to know when to stop spinning it, [Locke] thought.
The second installment of the Gentlemen Bastards sequence RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES (2007) returns our thieves Locke and Jean back to form. We see Locke doing what he does best: bullshitting out of his ass like never tomorrow! Locke always streaks his lies with traces of the truth, and RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES picks up where THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA left off: Locke dissembling, prevaricating, lying, and scheming for a big score. Again, we find Locke extemporizing with words and legerdemains on the fly, often plunging headfirst into volatile, sure-death situations without a plan or strategy until one seems to present itself. For example, explaining to Requin why Stragos has Locke and Jean go away to the Ghostwind Isles. Most of this was fun, but I found the conclusion a blur and entirely unsatisfying. I lost interest following The Major Death here, and the return-on-investment with this book, both from an entertainment standpoint and from a meaningful perspective, waned considerably in comparison to THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. The deaths in THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA seemed to fuel the story whereas the The Major Death in RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES paralyzes the ending. Neither resolutions with Requin (Sinspire scheme) nor with Stragos (equivalent of Gray King plot, unwanted attention) in this novel compensated for Jean's loss from the reader's perspective.
Relatively speaking, I actually enjoyed the first 450 pages or so of this 576-page hardcover release. I really did. The rest ruined it for me though. Unlike THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, Lynch's latest installment teems with too much set-up without the proper payoff. In fact, the return on investment and execution of RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES seems poor to average. For example, when Locke visits Salon Corbeau early in the novel for the construction of some chairs, the book spends quite a few pages detailing the macabre games at the arena in the city. Locke seethes and fumes over the participants' treatment ("defaults") and we knew that the book was destined to return to Salon Corbeau later. Unfortunately the "payoff" much later consists of 2 passages barely spanning 2 pages as the pirates pillage and plunder the city. We also have a long account of Locke and Jean training to climb down cliff faces with harnesses rope early on. The "payoff"? Maybe a couple lines telling us Locke and Jean slid down rope off of the Sinspire.
The Major Death here prompts Jean into a death offering. The "payoff"? Uh nothing really, they capture Stragos, that's about it. The conclusion was a blur, and I wasn't really interested after The Major Death, none of it made up for it. The circumstances leading to The Major Death were horribly contrived. All of a sudden, we have the existence of this potent alchemical globe capable of burning through ships, a ship's bane. In the ultimate act of heroism, our sacrificial lamb touches the globe that cannot be touched and hurls the globe to the other pirate ship where it finally shatters, engulfing the entire ship in flame and death. Conveniently, the globe didn't shatter earlier on our protagonists' ship the Poison Orchid.
In RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES, Scott Lynch seems to compensate for the relative absence of women in THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. And compensating so much, I had trouble with my suspension of disbelief. You have close-to-40 Captain Drakasha and her first mate Lt. Delmastro. Both are strong women, and that's all well and good, but to see Drakasha handle another man like a toy was a little... uh, unbelievable? Now Locke is pretty small, so I can understand when she flings him like a nuisance out of her way earlier when they first meet in her cabin, but to strangle, drag and throw around Mazucca like he was little more than a toy was a little.... too much? Towards the end, you have Drakasha cleave other men effortlessly like Conan the Barbarian. All the arrows miss her even though she's front-and-center? How is that, just because she has 2 little children and we can't let Drakasha die, but the other death was necessary because it involved love between Jean & Ezri?
True to guy fiction, the love/romance here is tragic, and I could easily tell the novel would separate Jean and Ezri by the end of the novel at best. At worst ... Protestations of love in a SFF novel like this make me nervous because we know it only serves to foreshadow the worst (get the love out of the way early so the death means something when it hits). Can't have Ezri complicating Locke & Jean's comraderie for future books, right? Similarly, we know Locke means to steal Requin's painting ever since Locke observes the paintings in Requin's office.
Locke held up a glittering necklace, a braided band of gold and silver supporting a heavy gold pendant, studded with sapphires in the stylized pattern of a floral blossom... "That's a sweet piece," said Jean... "You didn't snatch that off a street."
"No," said Locke... "I got it from the neck of the governor's mistress."
"You can't be serious."
"In the governor's manor."
"Of all the -- "
"In the governor's bed."
"With the governor sleeping next to her."
The night quiet was broken by the high, distant trill of a whistle, the traditional swarming noise of city watches everywhere. "It is possible," said Locke with a sheepish grin, "that I have been slightly too bold."
"I take some of it back," [Jean] said. "You might still be a lying, cheating, low-down, greedy, grasping, conniving, pocket-picking son of a bitch."
"Thanks," said Locke.
The Story, again, possible SPOILERS.
We pick up RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES in a vein very similar to the previous THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA: our Gentlemen Bastards' high-stakes con game going terribly, terribly awry by some unwanted attention from some powerful people. From THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, we know that Locke crippled a Bondsmage who heralds from an elite cult, the Bondsmagi of Karthain. The Bondsmagi of Karthain own a monopoly on magic-users in Lynch's world, and to kill a Bondsmage instigates certain death for not only the perpetrator, but the perpetrator's family, friends and acquaintances. The complete and awesome power of the collective cult of magic-users exacts retribution for killing one from their order, and no man or woman of power is exempt from this order's complete retribution.
Although Locke didn't kill the Bondsmage in THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, the Bondsmagi of Karthain stalk Locke and Jean making their presence known. On top of that, the Bondsmagi of Karthain have alerted the Archon of Tel Verrar, Maxilan Stragos, to the presence and dealings of our Gentlemen Bastards Locke and Jean. The military dictator of Tel Verrar and the most powerful man in the Tel Verrar, Stragos poisons Locke and Jean as a means of coercion and to use them as instruments for his own purposes. Locke and Jean don't know the ingredients of the poison and only Stragos can provide the antidote in regular doses every 2 months.
For 2 years, Locke & Jean's apparent target in RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES: a vault in the gambling tower of Tel Verrar's Sinspire. Requin runs the Sinspire and owns the vault where several Priori of Tel Verrar also place their fortunes.
As usual, Locke and Jean must balance their con game with Requin at the Sinspire, Stragos' attentions, mysterious assassins, and the most powerful cult in Lynch's world, the Bondsmagi of Karthain. Just great, they're royally fucked as usual!
Locke: "...Have we ever been less in control of our lives than we are at this moment? We can't run away from the archon and his poison, which means we can't just disengage from the Sinspire game. Gods know we can't even see the Bondsmagi lurking, and we've suddenly got assassins coming out of our assholes. Know something? I'd lay even odds that between the people following us and the people hunting us, we've become this city's principal means of employment. Tal Verrar's entire economy is now based on fucking with us."
Stragos sends Locke and Jean away to the seas to incite piracy over the seas around Tel Verrar. Stragos wants the entire city of Tel Verrar begging for him to assume more power, and in order to consolidate his power, he needs an opposition he can crush. After quite a bit of time as pirates on the sea, Locke and Jean return to Tel Verrar and balance the Priori, Stragos and Requin.
The adventures at sea were at times fun, but mostly felt out of place and horribly slow.