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Scott Lynch – Red Seas Under Red Skies

August 2, 2010

85. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch (2007)
Gentleman Bastard, Book 2

Read my review of book:
1. The Lies of Locke Lamora

Length: 766 pages
Genre: Fantasy

Started: 14 July 2010
Finished: 21 July 2010

Where did it come from? Borders, with a birthday giftcard.
Why do I have it? I had not even finished The Lies of Locke Lamora yet and I knew I wanted the second.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 03 April 2009.

If Jack Sparrow had
been in Ocean’s Eleven,
this is what you’d get.

Summary: Well, crap. I described The Lies of Locke Lamora as “Ocean’s Eleven set in a fantasy world” due to the gang-of-con-men feel of it and then what does Scott Lynch do? He ups the ante and starts Red Seas Under Red Skies with Locke and Jean planning a casino heist. And here I’ve gone and used all my pop-culture analogies already.

Anyways, after the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora, Locke and Jean wash up in the island city of Tal Verrar. They’ve been there for two years, planning a long job at the Sinspire, the city’s most glamorous and wealthy casino, with a purportedly impenetrable vault and a standing death sentence for anyone caught cheating at cards. However, their schemes are interrupted when they come face-to-face with the archon, the head of Tal Verrar’s military, and its dictator in all but name. The archon knows exactly who Locke and Jean really are, and how best to get them on a leash… and how to use them as tools to provide him with exactly what he wants. Soon the duo find themselves over their heads: they’re landsmen, but now they have to sail the Brass Sea and deal with pirates. They’re also caught in a web of false identities, questionable loyalties, double-crosses, elaborate cover stories, and even more elaborate plots, and they’ll have to keep all of their lies straight if they hope to get out of things not only with the money, but also with their lives.

Review: If it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t seriously start writing book reviews until about the time that this book was published, I’d swear that Scott Lynch read my blog (or my mind) and wrote Red Seas Under Red Skies specifically for me. (And if I’m wrong, and Scott Lynch *is* reading my blog (or my mind): Hi Scott! Thank you for writing me such an awesome book!) Because seriously, this book is jam-packed full of so many of the things that I love that it can’t be just a coincidence.

To start with: this book is hilarious. Its snarky, sarcastic sense of humor almost exactly matches my own, and while I was considering copying some of the bits that I found funny into my review, there was so much funny stuff that I would have wound up copying about half the book. The best part, unsurprisingly, was the banter between Jean and Locke; if you like witty, snarky banter, this is the best you’ll ever find. (I would even go so far as to say that it is equal to if not better than Buffy at its peak.) It’s also some of the most colorful and creative invective I’ve ever read, although it’s pretty coarse in places, so if your delicate ears are likely to be blistered by swearing, you may want to steer clear.

To add to the excellent dialogue, this book also involves ships! I’m repeatedly on record regarding my love for the Age of Sail, and it turns out that Lynch’s fantasy sailors are just as good as the British Navy. Lynch writes ship-board action clearly and in a way that feels authentic, at least for this land-lubber. Plus, there are pirates! How can I resist?

But, apart from the snark and the pirates, this book was really all about the characters. In The Lies of Locke Lamora, there was a little bit of a feeling of Locke as the clever charmer and Jean as the muscle, but Jean really comes into his own as a full, complex, intelligent, and just plain wonderful character. The relationship between Jean and Locke is really the central story of the book, and it’s developed slowly but elegantly throughout. The book starts off with this hint that one is going to betray the other, and you’re all “no, that can’t be right, they’re buddies for life”, but as the book progresses, there’s always the niggling little question and you’re never entirely sure one way or the other, and that’s an impressive feat for an author to pull off.

The Lies of Locke Lamora starts out as a happy carefree heist tale, and then takes a turn into some seriously dark territory about halfway through. I didn’t think Red Seas Under Red Skies was as dark as Locke Lamora as a whole, although there were certainly a few individual scenes that qualified. The heist plotline was also more evenly distributed throughout the book; there were a lot more twists, turns, double- and triple- and quadruple-crosses going on, and everyone has their own plans and their own master(s). I thought it was going to be hard to keep everything straight, but it all eventually made sense, and it all came together wonderfully at the end. 5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Love love love. Read it. But read the equally excellent The Lies of Locke Lamora first, since the backstory is important for parts of the plot, and is never summarized in any detail.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Scott Lynch’s website

Other Reviews: A Dribble of Ink, Booklust, Fantasy Book Critic, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, The Wertzone
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Locke Lamora stood on the pier in Tal Verrar with the hot wind of a burning ship at his back and the cold bite of a loaded crossbow’s bolt as his neck.


“What the –,” said a portly, well-dressed servant who had the misfortune to walk around the corner, past the alcove containing the fourth-floor window Locke and Jean had just crawled in through.

“Hey,” said Locke. “Congratulations! We’re reverse burglars, here to give you fifty gold solari!” He tossed his coin purse at the servant, who caught it in one hand and gaped at its weight. In the next second and a half the man spent not raising an alarm, Jean coshed him. (p. 709)

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 52: “With their handful of silver volani (converted from Camorri solons at an extortionate rate by the first mate of the Golden Gain, who’d argued that it was still preferable to the numismatic mugging they’d get from the town’s moneychangers), he and Locke secured a third-floor room at the Silver Lantern, a sagging old inn on the waterfront.” – of, pertaining to, or consisting of coins, medals, paper money, etc.
  • p. 257: “Jean hefted the elaborate knot that secured the rope in a bight around the tree and nodded.” – the loop or bent part of a rope, as distinguished from the ends.
  • p. 258: ““Now then,” he said. “Seems a fine day for abseiling. Care to do the honors before we kiss solid earth farewell?”” – rappelling.
  • p. 314: ““That got him executed, and the ship was ruled droits of the archonate.” – a legal right or claim.
  • p. 314: ““Archon had it careened,” continued Caldris. “Needed new sails, some shoring up, fresh lines, bit of caulking.”” – to turn a ship on its side for cleaning, caulking, or repairing.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2010 1:22 am

    I’m so glad you loved this! I also adored it (though not quite as much as TLoLL), and I’ve seen precious few people who agree with me. There’s so much RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES hate out there. :(

    • August 3, 2010 10:06 am

      Memory – There is?!? But why??? It’s so good!!

      You get major credit for getting me hooked on the series as a whole, by the way. :)

  2. August 2, 2010 8:54 pm

    I have a thing for snarky dialog….these books are now officially on the wish list.

    • August 3, 2010 10:06 am

      Michele – Snarky dialog is one thing they have in spades, so I really hope you enjoy them!

  3. August 2, 2010 9:33 pm

    Boys on boats! WANT. Are there more after this? More books for you to read and review and make me want? Scott Lynch sounds so lovely that I am beginning to feel impatient for his next book before having read any of his current ones. :p

    • August 3, 2010 10:10 am

      Jenny – Hee hee hee! It’s nice to have someone else out there who appreciates boys on boats (although this one has girls on boats as well, and is equally awesome). The Gentleman Bastard series is eventually going to be seven books, so claims Scott Lynch’s website. The Republic of Thieves keeps getting its release date pushed back, but Amazon currently has it listed as being released next February.

  4. August 4, 2010 11:36 am

    This series sounds like a lot of fun. I have to admit I clicked over from my reader to get a better look at the cover – love it! I’ve been reading more fantasy lately too. These look like chunksters though, so finding time might be an issue. :)

    • August 4, 2010 11:42 am

      Alyce – They’re admittedly pretty fat books (more so in mass-market paperbacks, which is how I read them), but they don’t *feel* like chunksters… I think because I’m having so much fun that I don’t really realize how many pages I’m turning.

  5. August 16, 2010 9:04 pm

    I’ll admit I didn’t like Red Seas as much as Lies, but Lynch’s stuff is such pure, unadulterated fun, that “not liking as much” pretty much means it’s better than 90% of all the books sitting at Barnes & Noble.

    is it terrible that I read his stuff as therapy? when I’m feeling down, i read Lies, and I feel a lot better about the world.

    • August 18, 2010 10:55 am

      Redhead – I don’t think that’s terrible at all! I’ve got oodles of books that I keep on hand because I know they can cheer me up when I’m in a bad mood, and I can definitely see how Lies would fit the bill.

      • August 22, 2010 6:56 pm

        good to know i’m not the only one who finds books chock full of violence, trouble, man eating sharks, and psychotic bads guys as theraputic. ;)

  6. Carol permalink
    August 30, 2013 2:10 pm

    Just wanted to say that for audiophiles like me, Michael Page’s narration of these books is as good as Scott Lynch’s writing –and that’s very, very, good indeed. I’m another one of the weirdos who finds these books therapeutic, despite the sharks and bondsmagi and often brutal violence.

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