The Problem with Pirates; an analysis of books one and two in the Gentlemen Bastard Sequence

Warning: this analysis will contain spoilers for both Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. Viewer discretion is advised. [dun dun]

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Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, book two in the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence

Nearly a year ago, in October of 2014, I read the Lies of Locke Lamora and immediately fell in love. The characters of the Gentlemen Bastards took hold of my heart and put me on an emotional roller coaster of a journey. I cheered as they schemed and swindled their way through the city of Camorr, raged at The Grey King and Falconer as they took away characters I loved and cheered on Jean and Locke in their final attempts to overcome the villains and avenge their friends. By the time the book was over, I had a new favorite book to put in my top ten list. But more importantly, I felt satisfied with the journey I just went on. We had a real sense of loss and achievement and the ending, while certainly leaving room for further adventures with the Bastards, wrapped nearly every loose thread up. I was left wondering, “where do we go from here?”

This is what Red Seas Under Red Skies faced from the beginning. As a follow up to Lies of Locke Lamora, it needed to keep enough of the same tone and structure that made us love its predecessor so much, but also craft its own identity as a sequel. For the most part, the book succeeds. Jean and Locke continue to grow as characters in a logical and dynamic way, we introduce new locations and change up the plot so it’s not simply a rehash of Lies, and we introduce new characters whom I love to interact with our two main protagonists. But at the same time, there’s a lot Red Seas Under Red Skies does that structurally is very similar to Lies but doesn’t do as successfully.

This is a non-spoilery review so I won’t get too much in depth as to what I feel didn’t work that well in Seas, but I am writing a spoiler filled in depth comparison of the two books in case anyone cares to read that.

I love most of the secondary characters in Seas. Pirate Captain Zamira is a force to be reckoned with, resolving any qualms I had regarding Lies and its sparse offering of important female characters. Requin and Selendri are much more competent of marks than the Don and Donia were in the previous books, keeping Locke on his toes throughout his primary scheme involving them. Zamira’s pirate crew is a colorful and entertaining lot, standout being the most badass first mate ever, Ezri.

The villains leave something to be desired. Similarly to Lies, about a third of the way into the book, we introduce a roadblock in Jean and Locke’s conmen scheming ways and put them in a situation where they have to deal with this new villainous force. Only he’s not the most threatening. Unlike the Grey King and Falconer, I never particularly felt afraid of this villain and the power he supposedly wields over the Bastard’s head. The bondsmagi in theory show up now and then but don’t play nearly as pivotal a role as I hoped given how Lies ended with the fate of the Falconer. If they had played a more active role in the challenges Jean and Locke face, I feel this new threat would have elevated the book in my mind.

There’s one last part I want to mention which unfortunately doesn’t seem to fit anywhere else because it’s an extraneous plot thread that has nothing to do with the main story. Sabatha. I said it in my review of Lies and I’ll say it again here, but what is the point of Sabatha? In Lies she was mentioned as clearly an important part of Locke’s past that caused him a lot of pain and regret. We didn’t learn anything about her so I assumed it was set up for later books but then we did literally the exact same thing in Seas. We occasionally mentioned Sabatha, Locke got all angsty and upset and then we stopped talking about her. What is the deal with Sabatha? Is she dead? Thought to be dead so we can bring her back later? If that’s the case, how am I supposed to emotionally react to this “reveal” when I don’t know anything concrete about her to begin with? Is she just… I don’t know, off somewhere else being a swindler? What is her history with Locke? Why is he so hurt and upset whenever her name is mentioned? We’ve gone two books now with offhand mentions of this mythical person but nothing for me to care about regarding her alive/dead/lost/ran away status.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is most definitely not the same book as The Lies of Locke Lamora, and that’s okay. People going into this expecting something as good as the first book will be disappointed. It’s not as good, but I don’t think it ever could be. That doesn’t mean the book is bad. Red Seas Under Red Skies is an entertaining adventure all on its own, and a different kind of adventure than Lies was. The kind of adventure that involves pirates and plunder rather than conmen style schemes. The side characters are vibrant and fun to be around and I grew attached and concerned about the safety of a good number of them. The tension is not as high as it was in Lies, but that’s alright. The story of Jean and Locke continues on and left me excited to read book three.