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