Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentleman Bastards, Book 2) by Scott Lynch, read by Michael Page
In his highly acclaimed debut, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch took us on an adrenaline-fueled adventure with a band of daring thieves led by con artist extraordinaire Locke Lamora. Now Lynch brings back his outrageous hero for a caper so death-defying, nothing short of a miracle will pull it off.
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.…
It occurs to me that I never reviewed The Lies of Locke Lamora. I read and listen to a lot of books, but I end up mostly trying to post about the recently released or upcoming stuff here on the blog. So I’m gonna say a few brief words about Lynch’s debut first. Begging your pardon, of course, for luring you in under false pretenses.
Michael Page read both books. And he reads the third book in the Gentleman Bastards Sequence, The Republic of Thieves. He reads with a clear, strong voice employing more than just a range of pitches to distinguish his characters. He’ll bring a slight growl from the throat or clip the ends of words with aspiration or any of a number of other techniques to provide a distinct speech pattern that lets you know exactly who’s speaking even in the chaos of a pirate attack.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is a darling of contemporary epic fantasy. Fans hold it in the same esteem as A Game of Thrones or The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s almost required homework if you want to discuss the genre seriously. That’s why I took it in.
I liked it well enough. It reminded me of nothing so much as Ocean’s Eleven, or maybe twelve with a darkly humorous inversion of the special orphan origin story and maybe the early X-Men without the superpowers. It’s a heist novel and a revenge tale and a curious exploration of family and faith. Locke and Jean and their compatriots stick with you.
The Lies of Locke Lamora made me a reader. Lynch’s story “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” in the anthology Rogues made me a fan. But Michael Page brought me back to the audiobooks.
Red Seas Under Red Skies is another complicated heist novel with all the danger and glamour of a Bond movie. Incredible set pieces like a Renaissance interzone where the wealthy live beyond the law, a casino high rise made of shimmering glass, and a pirate ship on the high seas lend a cinematic quality to the action. Lynch is meticulous and detailed and it all comes together both believably and unexpectedly.
However, like all the best epics, this is really a story about friendship, recovery, hardship, sorrow, and loss. The author knows his business and plays most of the genre’s tropes straight, subverting them only to make a point about honor and justice. Most of the time when outlaw characters “live by a code” it’s just an arbitrary mess of personal prejudices. Here, they struggle with the right thing versus the sensible thing over and over again.
Locke and Jean are terrible people by most standards. But their conduct is so proscribed, their behavior so emphatic, that the reader is lulled into rooting for them. This is a special thing.
Recommended for fans of Fast Five, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Stress of Her Regard.