Red Seas Under Red Skies was the strong second installment in the Locke Lamora/Gentleman Bastards series from fantasy author Scott Lynch.
Locke and his surviving partner/best friend Jean Tannen land in the coastal city of Tal Verrar. They implement a long-range plan to rob the Sinspire, the city’s most exclusive gaming house with a vault said to be impenetrable. While dodging the reach of old enemies. Locke and Jean become mired in the city’s volatile political situation, caught between two lethal, powerful men. Requin is the crafty master of the Sinspire, intrigued by Locke’s brashness. Stragos is the city’s military leader, who deploys a ruthless strategy to force Locke and Jean into his service. That lands the boys in a high seas sojourn, where they hook up with complex pirate queen Zamira and Jean finds romance with first mate Ezri. Locke and Jean return to Tal Verrar for a final reckoning with the two men controlling their fates, a confrontation that leaves Locke in a highly precarious condition.
With Red Seas Under Red Skies, Lynch built creatively upon the world he’d created in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Sending Locke and Jean far afield from their home city was a smart move. It gave Lynch the chance to spin adventures in different locales, while charting the ups and downs of Locke and Jean’s fraternal bond. Lynch’s facility for sketching a believable world, packed with smart details that enhanced and sustained the sense of place and time, was on full display.
Locke remained a compelling lead, though Lynch was able to devote a lot more time to Jean and tease out complexities that made him a worthy co-star. The story was packed with a large cast of players with varying impact. Zamira and Ezri stood out most and developed into compelling parts of Locke and Jean’s saga. Stragos wound up being the more interesting antagonist, probably because the motivations that Lynch wove into the plot for him felt more relatable. While Requin had some good moments, by the end he still felt somewhat remote.
Lynch did a strong job with action sequences and was very smart about constructing the details of Locke and Jean’s various schemes. The lengthy sea adventure was highly entertaining, but could feel like a major detour, after all the time and effort Lynch put into establishing the Tal Verrar plots. He dovetailed the two halves of the book fairly effectively in the final act, but at times it could seem as though a reader was experiencing two very different, albeit very well done, books in one volume.
For fans of The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies is an entertaining, rewarding read. It doesn’t really make sense for newcomers to start here, but once you’ve consumed the first volume, it’s a worthwhile adventure.