Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red Skies

AuthorScott Lynch

Pages: 488 pages
Publisher: McArthur & Co / Orion Con Trad
Release Date: Jun 15 2006
ISBN-10: 0575079258
ISBN-13: 978-0575078024

Of all the novels being released this year, Red Seas Under Red Skies topped my list of most anticipated novels. This is doubly impressive when one considers that Red Seas Under Red Skies is only Scott Lynch’s second novel. His first novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora (review HERE) was just that damn good. It’s not often that a debut novelist comes out with the best book of the year, but in 2006 that was the truth.

So it was great anticipation that this summer began and I cracked open my nice shiny trade paperback copy of Red Seas Under Red Skies. I read eagerly, expecting to burn through the novel and finish it in record time. It’s summertime, I thought to myself, I’ve got all the time in the world to read!

It took me almost a month to finish.

As I read the novel, and as a took a couple of days to gather my thoughts into a more coherent pattern, I had a difficult time deciding how to review the novel. Do I review it as a sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora (in which case it was a disappointment)? Or do I review it simply against all other novels equally (in which case it’s one of the best I’ve read this year)? In the end, I decided that the only fair route was to examine it from both angles and take a fair look at the novel that way.

As a sequel I just can’t help but feel that Lynch’s second novel disappoints. Lynch had a lot to live up to after the success of his first novel, and while it felt natural to slip back into the world of Locke Lamora (just like seeing an old friend for the first time in a year) I found myself with a feeling that some of the magic of the first novel was missing. I think this is largely due to the fact that the first book was so fresh, invigorating and unlike anything I had read before. With The Lies of Locke Lamora Lynch had his debut status working overtime for him, he was able to produce a novel with no expectations and thus was in a better position to blow his reader away. It felt as though Lynch couldn’t decide whether what he was writing was a caper novel (like the first one) or a pirate novel.

The novel starts off promising enough, with an intricate plot to once again bring the world’s riches into the hands of the Gentleman Bastards, but all of a sudden the two main heroes are whisked away on a diversion at sea that lasts almost half the novel. I felt that Lynch would have been better served by focusing solely on one aspect of the novel. Both of the plot lines are equally compelling, but because they have to share screen time with eachother, they both end up feeling underdeveloped and a little empty as compared to the intricate plot of the first novel.

I can’t say much for fear of spoiling the novel, but I will say that the main protagonist in this novel is not nearly as compelling, eerie and interesting as “The Grey King” from the first novel. What is compelling, however, is that Locke’s companion, Jean Tannen, really steps to the forefront of this novel and steals the show from his diminutive partner in crime. I was a huge fan of Jean in the first novel, so it was nice to see so much time devoted to him, his emotions and his relationship with Locke. Jean and Locke are the perfect team, filling in each others gaps seamlessly and with charismatic chemistry to spare.

Finally, I found Red Seas Under Red Skies to be unfortunately predictable as compared to the first novel. What drew me in so utterly to The Lies of Locke Lamora was that I never knew what was around the corner, and that aspect kept me turning pages late into the night. That feeling wasn’t nearly as strong with its sequel.

This is the point where I turn around, take a look at the novel not as a sequel to The Lies of Locke Lamora but as a novel against all other novels, and maybe lose a bit of my credibility. Why? Because Red Seas Under Red Skies is one of the best damn novels I’ve read this year.

As a novel, Red Seas Under Red Skies is a revelation. Lynch writes with so much style, aplomb and flat out fun that I have a hard time believing that anyone could pick up his novels and not find some sort of enjoyment from them. Red Seas Under Red Skies is about as charming and charismatic as a novel can get and its bursting at the seams with characters your truly care about.

I mentioned in the earlier portion of my review that the novel delves fairly deeply into the character of Jean Tannen, and one of the results of this is that Lynch spends a lot of time developing the two main characters and fleshing them out to a point that I well and truly feel as though I know Locke and Jean as though they were highschool friends of mine. I think the best thing I can say about the characters in the novel is that it is clear that Lynch lost control of them early on and they burst into life on the page, forcing all of their charms, failures, quirks and deprecations into the story in the most suitable manner. The characters in this novel, main protagonists and secondary characters alike, are alive in the purest sense of the word.

The World Lynch is developing isn’t the deepest in the world, he’s more interested in character-building/plot-development, but I still find myself compelled to find out more about the world and the different cultures that inhabit it. I have a feeling that the history of the world is going to play a larger role in the novels as we progress through the series. As of now the world simply acts as a backdrop for the events of the novels and as scenery for the characters to explore.

Lynch moves the story along with chippy, fast writing that won’t be a strain on any reader. This makes him the perfect candidate for readers unfamiliar with fantasy, he rarely gets bogged down in unnecessary detail and instead chooses to focus on the things that truly matter.

Red Seas Under Red Skies works as a stand alone novel, for the most part, which is something I always appreciate. Lynch does a good job of wrapping up the various storylines contained within the novel (though the ending does seem rushed), but leaves just enough strings dangling to make me eager to get the next novel in my hands. Lynch is a master at dropping little hints of what is to come, just enough to whet the readers appetite, before pulling back leaving things hanging in anticipation. There are several threads exposed in the first two novels that I just can’t wait to see Lynch pick up and run with in the remaining five novels (Sabetha, anyone?)

Lynch may not have slammed one out of the park with his sophmore novel, but he surely batted a couple of runs in, in any case. Red Seas Under Red Skies is a strong novel that is sure to charm anyone who picks it up. It doesn’t live up to the first novel, but then again not many novels do stand up to The Lies of Locke Lamora. Red Seas Under Red Skies, despite some of my complaints, once against proves that Lynch is well on his way to becoming one of the top ranking Fantasy authors in the field. If the further novels in the series retain the quality of the first two, then we’ll be sure to find a series that stands up with the best of them.

  • Joe Sherry September 2, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Interesting viewpoint in how Red Seas disappoints compared to Lies, but excels compared to other novels. This is possibly my most anticipated novel of the year, too.

  • aidan September 2, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    I’ll keep an eye out for your review, Joe.

    I seem to be in the minority in regards to this novel, most other readers seem to feel it’s even stronger than its predecessor. I’ll be interested to see how you like it.

  • The Book Swede September 3, 2007 at 12:02 am

    I won’t be reviewing it anytime soon unfortunately :(

    At the moment, I don’t have a relationship with Gollancz, but hopefully I’ll be reviewing it in the new year!

    As Joe said, interesting about it disappointing in comparison to TLOLL, but still being at the top of the genre.

    I’m looking forward to the story arch that is going to start appearing, (Lynch has said).

    The Book Swede

  • Tia Nevitt September 4, 2007 at 1:07 am

    I’m in the same position as Chris. I’ll want to read LIES before picking up this one, and I don’t see myself having the time before Christmas, especially since there are several “backlist” debuts from this year that I did not read before starting my blog.

  • aidan September 4, 2007 at 6:30 am

    Ahh, but Tia, you should put everything aside for The Lies of Locke Lamora! Since you’re so invested in debuts, you’ll rarely find one as good as Lynch’s first novel!

    Chris, I can’t wait to see what Lynch does with the overarcing plot as well. I have some ideas where he might take it, we’ll just have to see if I’m right!

  • Ethan October 2, 2008 at 9:59 am

    I agree with your review,”Red Seas Under Red Skies” is definately a very well written and fun to read book, but it doesnt stand well next to “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, The Lies Of Locke is definately one of the best books ive ever read, not man books can compete with the underhanded tricks exciting twists and nonstop action of the first book.

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