Search This Blog

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

If you've been following my blog for at least the past few months, you'll know that I absolutely adored The Lies of Locke Lamora. It had action, a really good sense of suspense and main characters that it was impossible not to love. It got surprisingly grim, but never lost its sense of humour. So when my fiance raved about the second and third books, I knew that it would only take as long as his finishing them for the next installments of the series to be in my hands. As I suspected, I soon found Red Seas Under Red Skies encouraging me to finish my previous read. A warning before the review proper, there will be spoilers for The Lies of Locke Lamora from here on out, so if you didn't take my advice and read it, you might want to give this review a miss.

Red Seas Under Red Skies starts two years after the events of the previous book. Trying to rebuild their lives after the deaths of their fellow Gentleman Bastards, Locke and Jean have set up a new base of operations in the coastal city state of Tel Verrar, a city torn between the Priori, the official ruling merchant council, and the iron fist of the Archon, head of its army and navy. Considering the delicate nature of the political situation, the remaining Gentleman Bastards decide that the only target that is both prudent and big enough is the Sinspire: a gambling house of magnificent proportions that has a tendency to throw cheaters out of the tower's ninth storey windows. Their plans are rudely interrupted though, when they are brought to the Archon, who is determined to get them involved in a bit of piracy, whether they like it or not.
Holy cow, this one hurt to read. Not in a "this was badly written" way, as I honestly can't find anything about the book to criticise. No, this one hurt because I had kind of forgotten just how grim the first book was, only for this installment to sucker punch me even harder than last time. It's an easy thing to do, simply because the characters are written so goddamn well. Locke and Jean are as entertaining as before, but the thing that cements their favour with me is the absolutely beautifully written friendship that they share, often tested but never truly faltering in its loyalty. They're joined in the main cast by some really interesting allies and antagonists. Chief among the new protagonists are two fantastic lady pirates: Zamira Drakasha, the feared pirate captain of the good ship the Poison Orchid and a fiercely protective mother of two, and her first mate Ezri, the runaway daughter of a noble turned buccaneer whose literature-based flirtation with Jean is adorable beyond words. On the side of the antagonists are Requin, master of the Sinspire and owner of a tempting and supposedly unbreakable vault, and Stragos, the Archon determined to gain clear dominance over his rivals in the Priori through whatever means he deems necessary.
The plot is, again, superb. There's a bit of a jarring moment when the action starts transitioning from Tel Verrar to the Brass Seas, but it still works simply because it's just as jarring for Locke and Jean as it is for the reader. The separate plot-threads come together slowly, but when they all reach their conclusion it is immensely satisfying. I will give one warning for those still deliberating over whether to read Red Seas Under Red Skies: if you thought that the first installment got grim, then know now that this installment only makes it worse. You've had longer to get to know the characters and it makes watching them struggle all the more difficult. I nearly put the book down on at least three different points in the narrative, simply because I was getting so damn anxious about how things might go wrong. And that ending. Jesus Christ, that ending. Absolutely the perfect way to end it, but it nearly had me crying in public. I still recommend this to anyone who liked the first book, but you can't say that you weren't warned. I also look back on my previous review and kind of regret that I wanted to know more about the Bondsmagi. Their presence is comparatively minor in this installment, but the consequences of Locke and Jean pissing them off so much last time is becoming all too clear.

If The Lies of Locke Lamora was an emotional rollercoaster, then I think it's safe to say that Red Seas Under Red Skies is the emotional equivalent of a battering ram. I still think that the series is a spectacle that any fantasy reader would be remiss to not get a copy of. But for those who like their fantasy adventures light and fun, then you might want to read this carefully. It is easy to get very involved with these characters' lives and then be absolutely devastated when things start to unravel. 5/5

Next review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Signing off,

Monday, 3 August 2015

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

If you read a lot and have any interest whatsoever in the classics, then it's kind of expected that you will read Dickens at some point. I had been a little bit reticent to read him after a few attempts at his work had been stymied essentially because I was too young to appreciate the language and tone. Up until now, the only work of Dickens that I had finished was A Christmas Carol, and that had been quite a few years before, perhaps even a decade. As such, I thought that of all his books to try, The Pickwick Papers might be a good one to start with, since it's supposed to be a comedy and therefore unlikely to bog me down in misery. Admittedly, part of me wondered why I hadn't really heard much about Charles Dickens and his comic efforts, but I put it down simply to a change in interest as he developed as a writer.

The Pickwick Papers is essentially the misadventures of the eponymous Mr Pickwick and a selection of his close friends as they bimble around the English countryside, peppered with a few short stories that they hear told on their way. These misadventures usually end in some kind of misunderstanding or slapstick, though the tone does gradually shift more towards a matrimonial and domestic feel towards the end. In terms of structure, it actually reminded me a fair bit of Don Quixote.
So, I'll start with the good points. Firstly, the writing itself is of fairly good quality and not terribly difficult to pick up for people who are less familiar with the classics. There's even a glossary for some of the more obscure Victorian terms, which was appreciated considering that there were only a couple that I either knew previously or could glean from the sentence's context. Secondly, while I compared it to Don Quixote, I found that the humour in The Pickwick Papers had aged quite a bit better over the years and wasn't anywhere near as cruel in its slapstick. Thirdly, the short stories that are recounted throughout the narrative are generally quite interesting and entertaining, with the story of the man who was kidnapped by goblins being a particular favourite of mine. It makes me want to read any short stories that Dickens might have written, as he seems to have been pretty good at them. Fourthly, there was some reference to a town fairly local to me through most of my life, which was amusing in and of itself due to the obvious low opinion that the writer must have had of the place. That just tickled me.
Now for the bad points. Jesus Christ on a bike, this bored the living daylights out of me. I think the only reasons that I finished reading it was: a) I didn't want to write a DNF review for the blog, and b) there might have been some gift-related obligation guilting me into continuing. While I praised the book for having better humour than Don Quixote, I personally found that it went a bit too far and becomes kind of neutered as a result. There's not really much bite to the humour, largely I think because the majority of the book is so episodic and the characters really two-dimensional. The only character that really stood out for me was Pickwick's servant, Samuel Weller, if only because he seems to have at least a little bit of an inkling about how absurd everyone else around him is. Additionally, I found it really irritating whenever Dickens started writing in dialect, because it just slows every bit of dialogue to a crawl as you turn on your interpreter head. It also seems a bit like Dickens is using the whole dialect thing specifically to differentiate poor people from the rest of the cast, because with the rest of the characters (mainly middle to upper class) he seems perfectly happy to write their dialogue with correct spelling and generally accent-free despite the wide variety of locales that they hail from. So yeah, irritating and awkward, just my luck.

All in all, not my cup of tea at all. While I don't hate The Pickwick Papers due to it being at least well-written and not totally offensive to my personal standards. But the overwhelming impression that I got from it was boredom, with the occasional brief moment of interest when the short stories came around. Maybe one to pick up if your sense of humour is extremely gentle or if you're already a fan of Dickens. Otherwise I can't really recommend it. 2/5

Next review: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Signing off,