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Minireview: Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red Skies is the sequel to Scott Lynch’s awesome debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora. Now, writing a sequel to an acclaimed debut is tricky at the best of times – people will naturally be comparing it to the first book, and if you are writing a true sequel, it’s extremely hard to get the same sort of impact. If for nothing else, the fact that readers will already be familiar with your world blunts some of the “newness”.

All of that is valid for this book, but make no mistake: it’s a very good book. No, it’s not quite as good as the first one, but it’s still a damn good and entertaining read.

The action starts some time after the events in the first book. Locke and Jean, having (barely) escaped Camorr with their lives, slowly start to rebuild something in the vein of the old “Gentlemen Bastards” – if for nothing else, to give themselves a purpose. An audacious plot to rob the main casino in Tal Verrar gets one complication after another, and soon that initial heist is the least of their problems. The pair gets forced into piracy… well, at least into pretending to be pirate captains, and hilarity (and bloodshed) ensues. There’s a lot of nautical terminology thrown about, some of it invented for this fantasy world. Locke and Jean, landlubbers both, are ill-equipped to deal with the nautical realm, let alone active piracy.

Like the first book, it switches between lighthearted heist romp and very dark sections; comparisons to China Miéville are easy to make, at least to some extent. The fantasy world of these books remains interesting and ambiguous… it’s clearly not Earth, it might be a far-future post-hightech world, or it might “just” be an interesting fantasy world. Lynch is pretty good at leaving out exact descriptions on some things, making some of the threats in these books quite scary since we’re only given frightening glimpses, not details. One passage through a foggy island channel is especially nice and creepy… without much description about the actual threat at all.

If the book has a fault, it’s that it wraps things up much too quickly. It’s a big book and it uses close to 800 pages to slowly describe an intricate tangle of plots, subplots, betrayals and blackmails… and then suddenly wraps up, in what seems like a heartbeat. It’s almost like the author suddenly realized he’s way over page count limit, and forced himself to end things asap. It’s a bit jarring.

That said, it’s one hell of a swashbuckling pirate-flavored tale. If you’re read the first book, do yourself a favor and read this one too. If you haven’t read “The Lies of Locke Lamora” yet… what’s wrong with you? Off to the bookshop you go. Shoo.

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