“Only one way to win when you’re being chased by someone bigger and tougher than you. Turn straight around, punch their teeth out, and hope the gods are fond on you.”
Scott Lynch has produced a very worthy sequel to his hit debut fantasy adventure. Is it just as perfect as its’ predecessor? No, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a thoroughly enjoyable read! Still recovering from their trauma after the events of “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, this novel follows Locke and Jean as they plot their biggest heist yet in the city of Tal Verrar, facing new foes who would see to it that the pair never acquire their riches. This book is full of dazzling new characters, intricate plans and compelling character development, and while it is bogged down by some pacing issues, I still found it to be a very entertaining ride.
I think the strongest element of this novel, by far, was the dynamic between Locke and Jean. Obviously this was a major element of the latter half of the previous novel, but in “Red Seas Under Red Skies” it is all the more pronounced. Being forced to emotionally confront the choices and events that led the pair to this point, this book highlights how completely these two rely on one-another and god did it pull at my heart strings! I’m a sucker for stories that center on strong friendships so I loved seeing how they navigated their hardships and victories together, and I am thoroughly convinced that if you stuck this pair in any setting that there would be enjoyment to be had. Their relationship and the dialogue that the duo shares just feels so natural that every new situation that they found themselves in was sure to be hilarious, nail-biting, heart-breaking or sometimes a combination of the three.
This novel also has a great new cast of characters, with our heroes’ seafaring companions Captain Zamira Drakasha and her first mate Ezri Delmastro being obvious stand-outs. I didn’t find this book’s villian, Maxilan Stragos, to be quite as compelling or intimidating as the Gray King, however I thought it was really fun watching as Locke and Jean had to desperately attempt to juggle their conflicting lies towards him and Requin (the casino owner they were trying to rob). It really gave Locke a chance to shine at what he does best as a thief: improvisation and manipulation.
As I mentioned in the introduction to this review, my only real grievance with this book were some issues with the pacing. Things were moving along pretty smoothly until around the half-way point, when our heroes found themselves at sea. It’s not that this portion of the novel was uninteresting, as we got to meet lots of fun new figures and experience some fantastic character development. However, I simply found that the action slowed down for a little too long for my taste. Lucky for us though, this is still a Scott Lynch novel, so you can be sure that the writing style is top notch. Sporting such iconic quotes as “I hope a shark tries to such you cock” and “any man can fart in a closed room and say he commands the wind”, at various points this novel was able to make me laugh out loud one minute, and then cry the next. I also appreciated that the alternating perspectives between chapters from past to present were 1) fewer in number and 2) closer to one another chronologically. If you happen to have read my review of “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, then you know that I didn’t take any real issue with the time jumps in that novel, as they offered plenty of important character background information (especially for an introductory book), and I still stand by that statement. However, I found that setting these fewer flashback interludes between the events of the two novels allowed the overall story to feel a tad more cohesive.
I’d like to give special mention to my favorite chapter of this book, in which Locke and Jean are practicing the use of their repelling equipment over the side of a cliff, and a highway man comes along to attempt to rob them. The ensuing exchange where the two parties civilly try reasoning with each other whilst one is dangling over a perilous drop was hilarious, and I need Scott Lynch to admit to me that he took inspiration from the Cliffs of Insanity scene from The Princess Bride.
So yeah, definitely check this book out! It was a captivating read with one heck of an emotional cliff-hanger at the end, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. 4/5