Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) After a brutal battle with the underworld that nearly destroyed him, Locke and his trusted sidekick, Jean, fled the island city of their birth and landed on the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But even at this westernmost edge of civilization, they can’t rest for long—and are soon back to what they do best: stealing from the undeserving rich and pocketing the proceeds for themselves.
This time, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the most exclusive and heavily guarded gambling house in the world. Its nine floors attract the wealthiest clientele—and to rise to the top, one must impress with good credit, amusing behavior… and excruciatingly impeccable play. For there is one cardinal rule, enforced by Requin, the house’s cold-blooded master: it is death to cheat at any game at the Sinspire.
Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way up the nine floors… straight to Requin’s teeming vault. Under the cloak of false identities, they meticulously make their climb—until they are closer to the spoils than ever.
But someone in Tal Verrar has uncovered the duo’s secret. Someone from their past who has every intention of making the impudent criminals pay for their sins. Now it will take every ounce of cunning to save their mercenary souls. And even that may not be enough…
Thoughts: If there’s any series that’s on the lips of fantasy fans these days, it’s Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series. The first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, blew me away when I read it. Its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, did not disappoint.
Where the first book took place in Camorr, a Venice-inspired city of corruption and commerce, the second book of the series takes place partly in Tal Verrar, with its giant casino known as the Sinspire, and mostly on the high seas, turning the book into a grand tale of piracy and betrayal.
It’s hard to review this book without making comparisons to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Locke’s adventures and misadventures, along with a complex plot of double-dealing and lies within lies, sounds very much like something Jack Sparrow would encounter if he started his life off as a grand thief on dry land. Both Locke and Jack are larger-than-life characters that have brutal and humourous realism to themselves, making them fantastic characters to follow and get invested in.
Most interesting is that over the course of the story, the relationship and trust between Locke and Jean gets stretched and altered, with the presence of Ezri coming between them on more than one occasion, and we get to see a fine example of platonic jealousy. Locke certainly has no romantic interest in Jean, but is jealous of the attention he gives to Ezri, and how that might change the dynamic between the lifelong friends. It was wonderful to see this, not only as character development but as an example of a very real feeling that occurs between close friends when someone new comes along. Rarely do I see this happen without there being a romantic bent or love triangle in the making.
I’m coming to realize that this series is difficult to talk about without giving away a good deal of the plot. To say that this book involves Locke and Jean engaging in high-seas piracy is accurate, but does the complex and well-thought-out plot a great disservice. As in the previous novels, seemingly random occurrences come together in the end in the literary version of a cinematic masterpiece. The duo get caught in political machinations with wide-spreading ripples, and it goes far beyond a pirate tale with familiar characters. It takes what was established in the first novel and expands upon, showing us more of the world and the characters who dwell within it, taking us on a wild adventure that leaves a deep impression, and a legacy I hope the final novel in the series, The Republic of Thieves, will live up to.
I’m starting to feel like this review is turning into a fandrogyne squee-fest instead of a constructive dissection. Ultimately, this book is best experienced by experiencing it, not reading reviews like this. Begone with you. Go read it. Seriously, go now; you won’t regret it.