This review contains potential spoilers from previous books in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence. You can find my review of 'The Lies Of Locke Lamora' here.
After the madcap events in Camorr, professional thieves Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have fled west to Tal Verrar to recover and begin their next game. Their mark? The biggest casino in the world, the Sinspire where cheating has only one punishment: death. Our dear bastards plan to do exactly that, cheat and swindle their way through the gambling house and run off with the riches from the vaults of Requin, the master of the Sinspire. The duo must also contend with the vengeful Bondmagi and the ruling warlord, Archon Stragos who wants them to incite a pirate war if they want to stay alive.
To save their skins, our protagonists have have gone west and we are introduced to a whole new setting in Tal Verrar, the Rose Of The Gods. Lynch flexes his worldbuilding muscles once again and transforms his imagination into paper and ink. From guild houses to the Archon's headquarters, the night life to the food - the world is believably real. While the Throne Therin thread runs in the background, he fleshes out the present with little touches here and there - slang (breech-clout), metaphors (Lord of Legerdemain), organizations (Elderglass guilds) - and it makes the world feel even more believable. While I complained about the character development the last time, there are enough improvements this time round. We get to see Locke at his nadir, grieving for his comrades, drowning in self-pity while Jean Tannen reveals other facets of his personality, squeezes in some romance and rises to become Locke's partner rather than his sidekick. Speaking of amorous asides, the female characters aren't mere love interests but shine on their own. Selendri, Ezri Delmastro and Zamira Drakasha - each as distinct, individualistic and purposeful as their male counterparts. Hats off, Mr. Lynch!
“That's a sweet piece," said Jean, briefly forgetting to be aggravated. "You didn't snatch that off a street." "No," said Locke, before taking another deep draught of the warm water in the decanter. "I got it from the neck of the governor's mistress." "You can't be serious." "In the governor's manor." "Of all the -" "In the governor's bed." "Damned lunatic!" "With the governor sleeping next to her." The night quiet was broken by the high, distant trill of a whistle, the traditional swarming noise of city watches everywhere. Several other whistles joined in a few moments later. "It is possible," said Locke with a sheepish grin, "that I have been slightly too bold.” - Scott Lynch, Red Seas Under Red Skies
The banter between the bastards remains as snappy as ever, though the nautical dialogs feel a bit... off. It's obvious that Lynch has done extensive research but it's jarring among the rest of the polished prose.
The plot felt like a mixture of the Ocean's series, Mission Impossible and Pirates Of The Carribean, Locke definitely has some shades of Jack Sparrow in him. While the book is a bit slower than the previous (it helps the characterization though), the pace of the last few chapters is so terrifying that I got paper-cuts while flipping the pages. I do see a minor pattern developing though. The Gentleman Bastards have a heist going on, get conscripted into somebody else's scheme, end up taking revenge and then disrupt the city enough that they have to leave. It's been only two books, so I am pretty sure there's a bigger picture that will be revealed and Scott Lynch has an outline figured out. Something we will hopefully see in the next book with the return of Locke's lost love, Sabetha (finally!).
While writing an awesome debut novel is tough, following up with a worthy sequel is even tougher. Luckily, Scott Lynch succeeds (for the most part) in making 'Red Seas Under Red Skies' an engrossing read. Unable to put it down(the book stuck to my hand!), I finished it in a day. The Gentleman Bastards are back in style, playing for higher stakes and game for honest crooked work.