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Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gollancz S.F.) by Scott Lynch
Review by John Berlyne
Gollancz Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780575076952
Date: 21 June 2007 List Price £18.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

The Lies of Locke Lamora was one of the absolute highlights of last year, an extraordinary first novel that deservedly topped many Best of 06 lists. Such success is what every writer craves, but I always think that the real test comes with the second book!

Red Seas Under red Skies is published this month and is undoubtedly one of the most eagerly awaited books of 2007! Reviewed this issued.

The success of Scott Lynch's 2006 debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora was no accident or fad. The fact is that it was just a very, very good novel – full of energy, captivating characters, snappy dialogue and improbable and problematic scenarios – in short, it qualifies in every way as just the kind of book I enjoy reading – and enjoy it I did, as can be seen in my review in our Feb 2007 issue. If ever then, there was a much anticipated sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies personifies it, as readers eagerly await the next instalment of Locke's richly imagined adventures. This second of a projected seven Locke Lamora novels is published this month by Gollancz and will follow in July in the US where it will be published by Spectra.

The events of the opening novel in this sequence ended badly for our heroes - death and heartbreak were the order of the day, added to which the Karthani Bondsmages had vowed to tirelessly hunt down Locke and Jean in revenge for their audacious, though deservedly cruel treatment of one of their order. The opening of Red Seas Under Red Skies, sees our pair, while not exactly on the run, certainly relocated in view of this pursuit, and in the city of Tal Verrar, Lynch launches the new novel with what I think will become a typical in media res opening. Of course, Locke and companion Jean have pursuits of their own, deep into another of their grand criminal schemes and this time it is a beautifully baroque construction. They plan to rob one Raquin, the owner of an ornate gambling house, the Sinspire, whose inaccessible vault is legendary and whose wealth is built upon a reputation for guile and ruthlessness.

The scheme is suitably grand, requiring nerve, patience and meticulous planning and as the novel opens, we learn that Locke and Jean have already invested two years plotting a course to their prize, consolidating the presence of their aliases in this city and working their way laboriously through the floors of the Sinspire towards their quarry. Now, just as matters look like coming to fruition, Locke and Jean find that their plans are not as solid as they supposed, for a series of mysterious assassination attempts show them that their cover is blown and it seems the relentlessly vengeful Bondsmages may well have found them. Sanctuary appears in the strangest form however, for Strogos, one of the elite and brutal rulers of Tal Verrar also knows of Locke's true identity and through an extreme form of blackmail, he secures the services of Locke and Jean for a baroque scheme of his own.

Very quickly in Red Seas Under Red Skies, Lynch establishes an unpredictable pattern of twists and turns to his narrative that makes it very unwise (and great, great fun) for the reader to try second guess his next move. What is so enjoyable about his writing, apart of the sheer exuberance and undeniable charm, the taut plotting and witty, caustic dialogue, is Lynch's particular talent for backing Locke into impossible corners and piling on insurmountable and insolvable problems. This is bedrock of all good plot-driven fiction – the 'how in the hell is he going to get out of that?' factor – and the quality of that fiction can be judged on the brilliance and ingenuity of the solutions the author provides. In Lynch's work, we just don't see the solution coming, so well has the author wrong-footed and misdirected us, so clever is his slight-of-hand. The result is just magic - genuine 'seat of your pants' adventure, true and breathless thrill-seeking fiction that digs deep into our sense of wonder and rewards with every turn of the page. At the risk of overdosing on superlatives and clichés, Red Seas Under Red Skies resoundingly proves that Scott Lynch is no flash-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonder – instead, he is very much the real deal.

Very highly recommended.

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