Monday, June 8, 2009

The seas are red because they're full of blood, get it?

Scott Lynch's follow up to The Lies of Locke Lamora is the almost as good Red Seas Under Red Skies. Two of the protagonists from The L of LL are back, Lamora himself and his good buddy Jean Tannen. They've relocated to a new city, two years after the bloody denoument of the last book, and are working a long, long con.

The first half of the book is split between the con itself – they're trying some complicated theft/swindle targeting the richest and most dangerous casino owner and gangster in town – and the back story of how they got there. At the end of Locke Lamora, the title character was half dead and Jean wasn't in much better shape. Lynch shows Lamora diving into a big pool of self pity, with Jean forced to repeatedly fish him out. Lamora puts himself back together slowly (in the movie version, there'll be a montage of him re-learning card tricks) until he's ready to take on the big con.

Just as the con gets going, however, it's derailed. The military dictator of their new home town decides to press the two Gentlemen Bastards into service. He's on the verge of a civil war with the town's wealthy merchants. He wants a fake pirate scare, so he has Locke and Jean given a crash course in seamanship and sent out with a crew. They'll ravage the annoying merchants and give the dictator the excuse to make his army and navy even bigger.

Then there are mutinies, battles at sea, numerous assassination attempts, new love, betrayal, more sea battles, more betrayal, and Jean and Locke are squeezed tight between so many clashing factions they're almost squished. The book concludes with an orgy of finales – to the con, the pirate wars, and the fates of half a dozen characters.

On a page to page level, the book is almost as good as LoLL. Locke and Jean are still compelling characters, and the pirates, casino owners, various henchmen and others are colourfully drawn. The new city – I still can't remember the damn place's name – just isn't as lively or as fully realized as Camorr, however. The pirate ships prove a better setting.

My key complaints with the book are twofold. First, the flashback structure doesn't work as well here as it did in The Lies of Locke Lamora. In that book, we were learning about the education and allegiances of the Gentlemen Bastards as we watched them doing their job in the present day. In Red Seas, an enormous amount of time is spent in the first few flashbacks on Locke being miserable, but we already know he gets over this in time to jump into the big con game. It all feels too drawn out, and it hurts the book's forward momentum. Second, the grumbling and personality conflicts between Locke and Jean feel a bit contrived. They seem to constantly be offending, disappointing or annoying one another. It never amounts to anything, though. There just isn't enough conflict to tear the duo apart.

Oh, and yet again the love of Locke's life is referred to, but does not appear. Two books running is a bit much to drag out such a key plot point.

Still, it's very deserving of the label swashbuckling. Fun characters, a fun world, and a fun adventure. If you liked the first book, by all means read it and move on to this one.

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