Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch
Book Two of the Gentlemen Bastards sequence, one of the most eagerly-awaited sequels coming out this year, and I get a copy of it three whole months before its official publication date! Mwahahahaha! I managed to resist the temptation for nearly half an hour, but then that was it for the rest of my weekend. Who needs sleep anyway? With the same intricate plotting, fast-paced action and sharp dialogue that Lynch provided in The Lies of Locke Lamora, this is a hard book to put down, and a real pleasure to read. And it's got pirates in it!
The story is set about two years after the end of book 1, with Locke and Jean approaching the culmination of their latest scam. The city-state of Tal Verrar is famous for its opulent gambling-houses, and so of course the Gentlemen Bastards are after the biggest and richest of them all. All is going to plan, when an old enemy interrupts their scheme and embroils them in the messy local politics; they are forced to pose as pirates, and sent off to bluff their way across the high seas. The layers of deception grow thicker and thicker, as Locke tries to play all sides off each other, satisfy his Camorri thirst for vengeance, and still walk away with the treasure at the end...
The glimpses of Locke and Jean's earlier life that we got through flashbacks in LoLL are mostly absent here; the few flashbacks are used to show the origins and progress of their current scam, and don't go further back than two years. We also don't get any of the "historical data" interludes that peppered LoLL with tales of Camorr's past, but Tal Verrar's history is nonetheless sketched in throughout the story; it doesn't have quite the wealth of criminal society and nasty marine life that Camorr did, but this is made up for once we meet the pirates and their Tortuga-esque town of Port Prodigal. Stranger things do happen at sea, and there are some very elegant hints of the unpleasant mysteries of the deep.
A lot of the side-story focuses on Locke's relationship with Jean; you can gather from the flash-forward prologue that all is not entirely rosy between the two of them, both wanting slightly different directions now that their Camorr lives are behind them. This all got a little too fluffy at times, which pulled a few of the book's teeth and gave the lie to Locke's character as Sicilian force of vengeance, but ultimately the darker edge was not too badly blunted. In fact, I have a hard time finding negative things to say about this book; even the use of one of my least-favourite plot devices (no, I'm not telling you what) was handled in a different and darker way. Now I'm going to hide my copy away in the proverbial Undisclosed Location, protected by myriad alchemical devices, lest some prospective Gentleman Bastard lose patience and try to nick it. June's not far off, and it's worth the wait.