Red Seas Under Red Skies
by Scott Lynch
Review by Sam Lubell
Spectra Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553804683
Date: 31 July 2007 List Price $23.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Red Seas Under Red Skies, the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora, adds pirates and secret agents to the first volume's thieves and con men. The result is a highly entertaining low-magic fantasy that is perfect for beach reading. While the first book had a richer background, especially on the culture and training of the thieves, Red Seas... has perhaps a more intricate plot and a few unexpected twists along the way. While a sequel, the book largely stands alone.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The next paragraph contains SPOILERS for The Lies of Locke Lamora. Skip the the second paragraph is you're planning to read The Lies of Locke Lamora.
In the first book, after plague hits the city of Camorr, young Locke Lamora joins a group of trainee thieves, but is sent to Eyeless Priest after manipulating the Thiefmaker into killing two of the bigger boys. The priest Chains, whose "blindness" is just another con, really is a priest of the Thirteenth god, the god of Thieves whose existence is heresy to believers of the Twelve. Chains trains his Gentlemen Bastards to prey on the aristocracy with elaborate con games while pretending to be just minor-league thieves, even to Capa Barsavi, ruler of the underworld. But when a new rival to Barsavi appears, Locke is caught in the mysterious Gray King's schemes. Blackmailed into masquerading as the King, Locke is almost killed by Barsavi while the King's enforcers kill most of the other Gentlemen Bastards as part of the King's takeover. Ultimately, Locke obtains his revenge but at the cost of the Bastards' enormous, albeit ill-gotten, fortune. In the process, he defeats and nearly kills a Bondsmage, who is part of a guild of magic users pledged to protect each other.
Red Seas Under Red Skies opens with Locke and his surviving comrade, Jean in a new city and an elaborate scheme to rob the Sinspire, an enormous gambling house; although flashbacks show Locke's depression and slow recovery after the events of the first book. But they are tricked by the Archon, the city's protector, into drinking a poison to which he has the only antidote. The Archon has a complex plan to encourage pirates to attack the city's shipping in order to unify the city under his rule. For this to work, Locke and Jean, landlubbers both, must learn how to pass themselves off as pirate captains. With the help of Caldris, a real sailor hired to help Locke and Jean fake running the ship, the two liberate a crew from jail, take over a ship, and set sail for the pirates' home port. But Locke has forgotten to bring good luck cats aboard and bad luck soon hits as Caldris dies, the crew mutiny, and Locke and Jean are set adrift on the ocean, with their mission seemingly unraveled and only a few weeks before they need the antidote. And then real pirates enter the picture and the book really kicks into high gear. Then, in the end, when it seems Locke and Jean can go back to their original scheme of robbing the gaming house, the author throws in a couple of more twists.
Lynch's characterization has improved. While in the first book only Locke and perhaps Chains, the priest of the thieves, had much characterization, in Red Seas Under Red Skies, Jean is more of a partner than a sidekick and the two main pirates have strong personalities as well. There is even some conflict between Locke and Jean in spots and Jean actually declares, "I have a life outside your gods-damned shadow." (However, the setup for the book's opening action, with Jean appearing to betray Locke, appears awfully contrived when it finally appears late in the novel.) And it is Jean, not Locke, who gets to romance a lady pirate. Even Caldris is given the little touches that can make a bit player memorable. But the book does suffer from the absence of a strong villain and there is even less magic than the in the first book. Moreover, the first book gained interest from the story of the training and maturation of the young con-men, reminiscent of Oliver Twist, and the rich background of the community of thieves. Red Seas... lacks anything comparable for the first half of the book and the pirate's Port Prodigal is visited only briefly.
This book is the perfect escape reading for the beach or instead of watching television after a long day of work. If you are looking for a fantasy with lots of magic or a book with high ideals look elsewhere. Locke and Jean are crooks and con-men and see nothing wrong with that. While they might risk capture to save people threatened by wraithstone bombs and even rescue a man who tried to kill them by cutting their climbing rope, they'll rob them in the process. Red Seas is exciting and often funny, but there are no moral lessons to be had. Essentially, this book, like the first volume, is a print version of a summer popcorn movie. However, the book does have somewhat more depth than Lies, as the consequences of what happened in the last book are felt and Locke and Jean have occasional doubts about what they are doing.