Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Master thief and con artist Locke Lamora is back with his steadfast sidekick Jean Tannen, both set to pull off the scheme of a lifetime when they are coerced into becoming–pirates?

Red Seas Under Red Skies is the follow up to Scott Lynch’s debut The Lies of Locke Lamora, a smash hit which placed a Sopranos-esque crime drama within a fresh, imaginatively realized fantasy world. The sequel throws swashbuckling in the mix, and the overall result of this melange is one of the most entertaining reads I’ve had all year. (Not including On Chesil Beach, natch.)

The world that Lynch has created is both epic-fantasy mercantile/feudal, and urban edgy, and that’s no small accomplishment. I think his success comes in the way he uses alchemy as both a stand-in for electricity, as well as a kind of magic (think potions and devices). This allows him to give his characters very contemporary-sounding dialogue even as they are bashing heads in a medieval-ish alehouse without it feeling anachronistic or stupid. I know you know what I’m talking about.

Lynch’s flair for description is nearly beyond compare. With his words, he creates vistas that no eye has ever seen–yet now I’ve seen them for myself. His got a prodigious imagination and the wordsmithing skills to communicate what his inner eye sees. Every bizarre and otherworldly setting he created came to life as I read, to the point where I was dying to walk the streets of Tal Verrar myself.

As for the plot, well, I do think that Lynch bit off a bit more than he could chew. He creates a matroshka doll out of no less than three discrete schemes being run by Locke and Jean, all at cross-purposes, all with their own sets of baddies, thugs, allies, and double-crossers. For the most part, Lynch did a good job of tracking each scam and their relationship to one another, but when it came time for the big climax, it just proved to be too much and I lost the plot. That didn’t make the raw power of the final set pieces any less spectacular. Then again, politicking and military strategizing have always been a bit beyond me. So I’ll give Lynch the benefit of the doubt.

Lynch takes Locke and Jean from a high-stakes gambling parlor to the corrupt inner chambers of power and finally plunks them on a pirate ship, and it’s great fun all the way through. Lynch takes plenty of risks with his characters and teases just enough of the backstory to leave me aching for the third volume.

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