Red Seas Under Red Skies is part 2 of The Gentleman Bastards series (here’s my review of book one).
Locke’s thieving life continues in Red Seas, this time focusing on one Big Con that will hopefully set Locke and Jean up to live comfortably the rest of their lives. Of course, complications arise, and his plans get more and more tangled.
Red Seas has got almost all the good bits of part 1 (colourful environments, snappy dialogue, humour, lots of action) and is free the most obvious weakness of part 1 (a chopped-up narration because of frantic cutting between past and present). The pacing really is a lot better. We come in towards the end of the run-up to the big heist, and while there are flashbacks to Locke’s earlier preparations, these are few and well placed.
As the title hints, this book has got not just thieves but pirates, too. Halfway through it goes from being a Big Con book to being a pirate book – it’s really two stories in one. Most of the time that’s OK but the whole thing gets quite frantic in pace at the end when all has to be resolved.
I was a bit disappointed that the book doesn’t take the overarching story of Locke’s life any further. In the first book he grew up, became a thief, made friends, got a gang etc etc. Here he just spends a few years of his life thieving and conning, and by the end of it, not much has changed. I’m hoping for more of a long-term plan in book 3.
I also hope he gets a new gang or at least some more friends in the next book. Book 1 had a fair number of colourful likeable characters, but in book 2 instead of a whole gang there’s just Locke and Jean most of the time. That gives us too few people to care about, although we do get some pirates to care about for a while.
The pirates are of course as good and decent inside as the thieves. All this pirating, killing and looting is just a job. In fact, most of the time the series strongly romanticises crime and violence. There are likeable thieves who steal only from the rich, beautiful female pirates, exciting escapes and so on. It could almost get tasteless… but then at regular intervals in both books, a conflict ends with the death of someone Locke cares about. It’s not all fun and games, being a thief.
Speaking of dying, Lynch seems to have a great fondness for cruel and unusual punishments. In his books people invent ever more bizarre poisons, torture others for fun, organise violent games, or exact revenge through slow and painful death. None of this leads to more than raised eyebrows – no outrage, no campaigning for ending cruelty to the poor. The morals in Locke’s world must be different than in ours.
But all these complaints are minor quibbles. I found Red Seas to be a very enjoyable book, great fun to read, a book that makes time fly past. It’s like a good James Bond movie, complete with evil overlord and a ticking bomb kind of death threat, lots of action and flair and fun in exotic places. I’m already looking forward to book 3.