Book Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Minor Spoilers)

Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second book in the Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch. It was first published in 2007, and it is the sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I reviewed previously here. I enjoyed reading Red Seas Under Red Skies, but it was not quite as good as the first book. The plot was somewhat jarring, and the character development was not as comprehensive as in the first book. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, and I do recommend it if you read the first book in the series. The following is my review with some minor spoilers.

Setting

While The Lies of Locke Lamora took place in the City of Camorr, Red Seas Under Red Skies takes place in a different location in the same world, mainly the Sea of Brass and its major city, Tel Verrar. Unlike Camorr, Tel Verrar is cleaner with more law and order, at least on the surface. The city consists of a number of islands that separate people based on class and profession, and like Camorr, it rests on the remains of Eldren architecture and elderglass. The story, however, is not limited to Tel Varrar. At around one-third of the way through the book, it essentially shifts to a pirate story, and much of the book thereafter takes place on the Sea of Brass. While Tel Verrar is interesting, it does not have the same lived-in feel that Camorr has, and it is not explored in the same detail as Camorr is in the first book. I suppose this can be expected, considering this story takes the reader to multiple locations including other smaller cities and ports in the area.

Plot

The book begins two years after the end of book one, and the Gentleman Bastards, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, are planning to steal from a man named Requin, the owner of The Sinspire, which is the largest casino in Tel Verrar. In full Gentleman Bastards style, they false face their way into allying themselves with Requin in order to infiltrate his good graces and pull off their heist. However, as the Gentleman Bastards are executing their plan against Requin, they get forcibly recruited as agents of the Archon of Tel Varrar, whose political goals are at odds with Requin. Tel Verrar is governed by a council called the Priori, and the Priori appoint an Archon as the military and naval commander-in-chief. Requin is allied with the Priori, and the Prior and Archon are in a constant struggle for political power in Tel Verrar. The Gentleman Bastards then have to act as double agents for these two factions, while at the same time trying to execute their heist plan and get revenge against the Archon for his forcible recruitment.

While the main story line is progressing, Lynch again employs the interlude writing style from book one and tells two story lines at the same time, at least at the front-end of the book. These interludes are entitled Reminiscences, and they fill in the gaps of what happened to our two main characters in the two years between the two books. These Reminiscences are some of the best parts of the book, as they explore some real depth to the main characters.

Based on the foregoing, you might be thinking, “So far so good,” but the story takes a weird ninety degree turn about one-third of the way in. What begns as a heist story suddenly becomes Pirates of the Caribbean-lite. The Archon, seeking a way to increase his political power, wants the Gentleman Bastards to train to become sailors and recruit pirates to attack Tel Verrar in order to cause a military/naval crises in Tel Verrar. Such a crises would force the people of Tel Verrar and the Priori to give the Archon more backing to defend against pirate attacks, which will help him solidify his position. So our main characters go out onto the the Sea of Brass and become pirates, and the rest of the book is no longer a heist story, but a story about our characters learning the ways of the seas and sailing and becoming somewhat competent pirates. The idea of a pirate story is not bad. It is just an unexpected and unwelcome shift in the plot. You get into the book thinking it’s a heist story similar to book one, the book introduces to you to a heist story, and then out of nowhere, it’s like reading a different book in a different series.

Characters and Themes

In addition to the two main characters, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, the book introduces us to some new characters. I have already mentioned Requin and the Archon, but I did not find either one of them that interesting. The most impactful new characters are the two main pirates Locke and Jean meat on the Sea of Brass, Zamira Drakasha and Ezri Delmastro. I have already spoiled enough in the this review, so I will not provide much information about these new characters. However, I will say they have some interesting interactions with Locke and Jean, and those interactions highlight one of the major themes of the book–trust.

Locke and Jean are thieves, existing within the underworld of society, and many people want to see them dead. Locke and Jean have always relied on each other and the rest of their Gentleman Bastards gang, but in this book, they only have each other. During one of the Reminiscences, we learn about the two mandates of the Crooked Warden, the patron god of thieves and of our main characters. The two mandates are thieves prosper and the rich remember. When Locke and Jean understand the pirates, Drakasha and Delmastro, are basically thieves like them with similar goals against the rich, they realize they may need to trust them and allow them access into their true lives and identities. Trusting outsiders may be the difference between success and failure and life or death.

Similar to the first book, there are again themes of brotherhood and revenge, but they are explored from slightly different angles. Locke and Jean’s relationship is tested in different ways throughout the book, and this is some of the best content in the book. Will their brotherhood survive these stresses? Also, in this book we get to see Jean’s desire for revenge, whereas in the first book, the revenge aspect was mainly from Locke’s perspective.

Rating

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I give Red Seas Under Red Skies 3/5 stars. It was enjoyable, but it felt like two different books mashed into one. The plot shift really threw me off, and I was not really interested in reading a pirate story. The book starts off great, the pirate stuff is okay, and the ending wraps up all the plot lines but is somewhat unsatisfactory. I hope the third book in the series, Republic of Thieves, will be a return to form.

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