Book review of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies
Lynch’s debut as a fantasy novelist made some waves in the industry, and his sequel had a big name to live up to. This is not just accomplished with Red Seas Under Red Skies. This time, the stakes are higher. I gave The Lies of Locke Lamora 8 out of 10 stars; it was a very quality debut. Lynch has managed to out-do himself with Red Seas Under Red Skies. I believe Lynch is defining a new genre: action fantasy. Sure, there are plenty of other action novels out there, and Lynch’s fantasy books remind the reader of such other great page-turners as Dan Brown’s works. The difference is that Lynch’s novels are huge – Red Seas Under Red Skies in paperback is just over 760 pages. Lynch’s ability to pack over 700 pages with non-stop page turning action is simply unmatched.
Red Seas Under Red Skies has all the elements you would expect from a great action novel: gambling, fighting, and pirates. I’m actually not sure what else I’d add if I had the option. Both Locke and Jean are back, this time moving their thievery to another city, after taking Camorr for all it was worth. The book moves from a deviously named casino, the Sinspire, to the complex of the Archon, general of the city of Tal Verrar’s military, out to the open seas where we find our two main characters impersonating yet another duo, this time a captain and his first mate.
The dialog is great. Lynch has a special ability with business transactions, when one character tries to haggle the price of an item with another. There was a great passage in The Lies of Locke Lamora that I didn’t note; luckily I noted the page when I found another such argument over purchasing pears in Red Seas Under Red Skies:
“A full volani?” Locke feigned outrage. “Not if the archon’s favorite whore held them between her legs and wiggled for me. One centira is too much for the lot.”
“One centira wouldn’t buy you the stems. At least I won’t lose money for four.”
“It would be an act of supreme pity,” said Locke, “for me to give you two. Fortunately for you I’m brimming with largesse; the bounty is yours.”
“Two would be an insult to the men and women who grew these, in the hot glass gardens of the Blackhands Crescent. But surely we can meet at three?”
“Three,” said Locke with a smile. “I have never been robbed in Tal Verrar before but I’m just hungry enough to allow you the honor.”
I don’t even really need to discuss the pace of this novel. Its action, at its best. Here you’ll find Locke and Jean impersonating nobles and gaming against terribly attractive women in some of the most high-stakes card games you’ve ever seen. You’ll discover plots against the government and the private sector, pitting them against one another. You’ll come across insane sea adventures, creatures that lurk just under the surface of the ocean, strange voices that call to you from the water, and death-defying leaps from cliffs and the tallest buildings in the city. In other words, it moves.
Naturally, the fast paced nature of such a novel comes with an outstanding serving of captured moments, like this:
The first notion Jean had that the floor had opened up beneath his feet was when the view of Tal Verrar suddenly seemed to move up toward the ceiling; his senses conferred hastily on just what this meant, and were stumped for a split second until his stomach weighed in with nauseous confirmation that the view wasn’t doing the moving.
and this classic:
It seemed to Locke that sweat was now cascading down his face, as though his own treacherous moisture were abandoning the premises before anything worse happened.
Combined with Lynch’s ability to conjure up imagery via delicious description:
As she flew past, Jean—his rope work quite forgotten—felt his stomach flutter. She had it. She wore it like a cloak. The same aura that he’d once seen in Capa Barsavi, something that slept inside until it was drawn out by anger or need, so sudden and so terrible. Death itself was beating tread upon the ship’s planks.
and you’ve got a knockout combination for some of the most in-your-face action fantasy that I’ve ever read.
The cast of characters in Red Seas Under Red Skies is fantastic. Not only are Locke and Jean back, but we’re introduced to a daring couple, heads of the Sinspire, Requin and his lover Selendri, a woman who’s face and arm are half covered in brass due to burn marks. The other large new character is Maxilian Stragos, the Archon of Tal Verrar. He’s surrounded by his “Eyes”, super efficient guards who wear full brass masks. And finally, you’ll get to meet Zamira Drakasha, captain of the Poison Orchid, and her first mate, Erzi Delmastro; two strong female characters who rule their ocean domain. In the background are the Bondsmagi, still upset for what Locke and Jean did to one of their own in The Lies of Locke Lamora. And as usual, you’ll find Locke and Jean taking on so many personas you’ll wonder how they keep them straight.
Red Seas Under Red Skies is a fantastic addition to the Gentlemen Bastards Cycle, and anyone who is a fan of either epic fantasy or action films should grab both Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Lies of Locke Lamora soon, so you can catch up before The Republic of Thieves is released in 2010.
You can pick up Red Seas Under Red Skies over at Amazon.com.