(spoiler free review focusing more on the general flavor of things and my own overall experience, like all my other reviews)
I was excited to start reading ‘Red Seas under Red Skies (book two of ’The Gentlemen Bastards’ series) for two reasons. The first being that it was a sequel to one of my favorite novels of all time, ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’. The second one had to do with the fact that I was having reading blues which I have talked about in my previous post. I was about fifty pages into the book and loving it and was confident I would finally finish a book effortlessly. I did end up finishing it, but it required a lot of effort.
The novel starts off superbly. Locke and Jean are in a gambling tower, where advancing to every floor above requires you to prove your proficiency against opponents in gambling games. The difficulty of the games gets harder as you proceed upwards, for you face more experienced players but so do the rewards of winning; the whole concept being akin to a video game. Their aim? To pretend to advance to the top and gain the trust of the people within the establishment, while what they are looking for is not just winning money through advancing in the gambling games but rob the whole place itself. How interesting! But the initial excitement tends to die out after a while. Multiple sub plots are being introduced and the story begins to advance extremely slowly. The book enters new waters, quite literally. For Locke and Jean somehow find themselves doing a crash course in how to be a pirate (or appropriately how to pretend like one).
There are a few problems I found with the book. For one despite a great start, it starts to become too long winded. You are clueless as to what direction the story is taking. In the first book, we were introduced to our beloved characters and their backgrounds, we knew what the stakes were, who the villains were and what Locke and Jean ended up eventually aiming for, i.e., revenge. It is hard to say what this one is about. It did not even feel like it was setting up the stage for future books. We see a lot of characters being introduced and I think it is unlikely we will see any of them again. I felt unsure who to root for. This book felt more like a standalone story, albeit one that loses pace with time.
There are too many interludes which are essentially reminiscences, all in the beginning of the book. It broke the rhythm of the story for me. Maybe they could have being spread more throughout the book. Perhaps Scott was aware enough that the interludes were getting to be too many, that he appropriately titles the final one as ‘The last reminiscence’. Almost sounding like, hang in there reader I know I am testing your patience but bear with me.
I found a lot of ship and ocean jargon (Locke and Jean are pirates in this one like I mentioned before) being hurled at me constantly, not something I liked. It would require me to use a dictionary to understand in depth what was being referred to (ex: parts of a ship, ways of managing it etc.). I mostly skimmed those parts, but there are too many of those. It generally surprises me when authors take a very specific topic (in this case ships and navigation) and use terminologies the reader is unlikely to have encountered before. I for one don’t mind a small word list at the end of the book, along with their meanings to help with this. It may seem odd, but I have seen it done before and it works (ex: in the book ‘Eragon’, if I recall correctly).
The last hundred pages of the book is where things start to get really heated up. This reminded me of the first book which had a great ending and the pace being fantastic towards the end. This is classic Scott Lynch fashion. There is a major twist towards the end, one that will tug at your heart strings. But enough with teasing spoilers.
While this book is not great it is still a decent read. The first one remains my top fiction books of all time. I have also invested time and energy, so I will still definitely pick up the third novel of the series. The plan is that he will write seven novels for the series and I am a sucker for epic fantasy series spanning multiple novels. Generally, with long series we tend to figure out what the overall plot is about. Ex: Hogwarts life and adventures aside, Harry Potter is in the end a fight against a Dark Lord. Even after finishing book two, I don’t see a broader plot (only hints). All that said, this remains a brilliant series with tremendous potential. Last, I checked Scott had done a George RR Martin by making everybody wait a millennium for the fourth novel of the series, which at this point is not out yet. But I still have the third one to read so I am not too worried about that. I hope this one delivers.
Overall Book Rating: 3.5/5