The Lies of Locke Lamora was a breath of fresh air on the fantasy scene. It was dark, edgy, and imaginative with a unique hero. In the sea of high fantasy based on Middle Earth or Westeros, it was a magical Renassiance Italy with a con man and master thief hero. The story was an epic tragedy with unexpected deaths, twists, and turns. Scott Lynch had a big job ahead of him, living up to the standard set by the first book.
So does he?
Red Seas under Red Skies is a fun novel with a great story but it doesn't have the level of drama the original does. The first book had Locke Lamora personally invested in the destruction of the Gray King. This book, by contrast, has Locke and his partner, Jean, under pressure from far less interesting opponents.
The premise is Locke and Jean are attempting to rob a powerful casino owner in a brand new city. Their con games attract the attention of the city's military dictator, who conscripts them with poison to become his agent provocateurs. The dictator needs the local pirates to raise a fuss so he can crush them and secure his political position. Locke and Jean are forced to learn how to become sailors as they end up infiltrating a crew which is less-than-impressed with their usual flourishes.
As mentioned, the stakes just aren't there. Locke and Jean don't care what happens to the city, don't have a vested interest in the pirates, and aren't even robbing the casino owner other than out of boredom. If not for the poison, they'd be able to leave with no real consequences. A new character, named Eris, is introduced who becomes very close to Jean but I never got the impression she was going to become a permanent part of the gang.
Indeed, the pirate element of the story is the place where the story drags the most. Jean and Locke maybe abysmal pirates. Given much of the series is appeal is seeing how the two of them manage to outsmart everyone else, the charm of seeing them as fish out of water wears off quickly. I also am less than pleased at the relative disposability of the Ezri character since she managed to make a impression despite herself.
Despite these major flaws, the book still manages to create a delightfully eccentric cast. Requin, Stragos, and pirate captains are all wonderfully realized. Any of them would have made a decent foil for Locke (and do, if we're honest) with a bit more personal antagonism. As such, the book feels like a side-story in the adventures of Locke Lamora as opposed to a continuation of his adventures.
In conclusion, Red Seas under Red Skies is a step-down from the original novel. It's still very good, however, and has a lot of humor as well as action. I just wish we'd had some serious consequences. At the end of the novel, it feels like the story hasn't really changed anything for our protagonists but put another obstacle in their way.
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