The first half of Red Seas Under Red Skies is structured in much the same way as The Lies of Locke Lamora with alternating views of past and present. The present finds Locke and company in the middle of another grand scheme two years later – a scheme more grandiose and treacherous than ever before – this time in the island city-state of Tel Verrar. The past takes us back to events immediately following events in The Lies of Locke Lamora where recovery and loss strains previously unbreakable bonds.
Look, to avoid spoilers for the first book and appropriately keep you guessing for this one, I’m not going to say much more than these next few hints. We see towering houses of decadent gaming and yes, there are pirates – lots of pirates, maybe even Locke and Jean. The plot twists and turns, death happens and is narrowly avoided, love is found, old love hinted, and bondsmages make their power known while that fight is for a later book – and this barely touches on main storyline where a wannabe tyrant clashes with a merchant guild and underworld kingpin, throws pirates in the mix and places Locke and company in the bloody middle of it all. Locke just may be in over his head this time, and it’s a long, deadly swim in these waters.
The often light and fun, raw and witty Robin Hood meets Ocean’s 11 feel from the first book takes a more strained, forced, and altogether darker hue in Red Seas Under Red Skies. At first this may feel like a failing, but rather this is Lynch being true to his fully realized main cast – past events have taken their toll and some scars never fully heal. This is not to say that the witty humor is lacking, it’s just not at the glib forefront that it was for much of the first book.
Where The Lies of Locke Lamora suffers from occasional first-novel jitters, Red Seas Under Red Skies shows the improvement of Lynch gaining his sea-legs. Supporting characters are still a bit too often paper-machete thin, but Locke and Jean in particular shine even brighter than before. While we learn little new about their past, we see clear character growth, particularly with Locke, and a few hints of what’s to come.
Things start out a bit slow and tedious, but quickly heat up to an all-out gale as Locke’s machinations spin out of control. One the greatest strengths of Lynch is the ability to carefully balance the predictable with the not-so predictable and to get the reader so wrapped up in the story that implications of long forgotten earlier events hit with full force at just the right moment. Any yes, he keeps you guessing. When I was at a point about 100 pages from the end, my thought was ‘how can he possibly wrap things up in a satisfying way in only 100 pages’ – well, Lynch answered with the force of a hurricane. Sure a couple of things may have been a bit too convenient, but high entertainment value cancels such issues out. I once again challenge you to put down the book in the final 100 pages – I sure couldn’t.
Fans have waited a year to see if Lynch will sink or swim after his successful debut. From the card tables to the high seas, assassins in the dark to out-right mutiny, Red Seas Under Red Skies is the real deal – a sequel showing growth and improvement, and offering all the fun a book can. Fans can rejoice while the un-initiated need to join the club and we all anxiously await The Republic of Thieves. 7.5-8/10