Part 2 of my, uh, delicate dissection. *wields scalpel*

Red Seas Under Red Skies

Narrative structure. Ahhh… I was honestly confused when I read on forums complaints about Mr. Lynch’s use of flashbacks, and what they called ‘infodumps’. Certainly not! Detect my indignant tone! I loved those interrupting interludes, and the way the book was sectioned into different parts, or books: c’mon, do you really want all the books ever written in life to be written in the same damnably boring straightforward pointA-to-pointB style, which besides being didIsayboring would also mean the death of a huge part of literary study and also necessitate the abuse of authors that dabble in such analepsis for example toni morrison alice sebold yann martel and about half the literary canon? *wheeze* Don’t make me come after you with meat cleavers. I only hope that Mr. Lynch didn’t seriously consider those comments as representative of all his readers’ opinions, and that instead, the lack of good flashback, infodumping scenes in Red Seas Under Red Skies was only because he had a clever interwoven flashbacky structure in The Republic of Thieves, Gentleman Bastard Sequence book 3. I loved the Half-Crown War interlude, for example, very nicely played, kept right until just after the “Complication” part of The Lies of Locke Lamora. In Red Seas, I did like the scenes revealing how Jean and Locke got away from Vel Virazzo, and the abseiling practice session had me giggling throughout, but later on, there weren’t any interludes to check the plot before it went bubbling into pieces. Melted pieces. On a sponge.

Meaning I found the second half of the book messy. In a way, the narrative structure of The Lies of Locke Lamora was so tight and focussed it knew what it wanted to deliver and did just that. It didn’t pretend to debate morals and ethics, nor elements of mythology nor symbols pointing toward some great flaw in humanity that we needs address. It wasn’t trying to win the World Fantasy Award (though getting nominated was probably a nice experience for Mr. Lynch…*jealous*) so much as entertain its readers. Red Seas Under Red Skies, on the other hand, wound up a dance of strangers, no character being really fleshed out enough to get my hate or my lifelong affection, and scenes or ideas being introduced too late – the part where Jean and Locke hurriedly list the members of the Priori confused me, for example. I thought it was my memory telling me it’d gone bust with disuse before I realised Cordo and Lyonis and the others had never been mentioned before. Would it really have been so difficult to include a hint of them earlier? I don’t know. Mr. Lynch is the master; I’m just the disgruntled reader who finds messy writing leads to detached reading, which is never good except when approaching textbooks thicker than an inch.

Since we’re talking in comparison to Lies, another major cause for dismay was the prologue. While Lies‘s prologue set an atmosphere of possibilities – that Locke was highly skilled, highly capable, “and therefore look out! the rest of the book will be as highly skilled and highly capable and you will be shocked”, Red Seas‘s prologue threw a storm over our heads, some bolts of lightning, devastated the landscape and replaced it with a heath, made Locke old and bearded and wearing a crown of thorny twigs and shouting “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks!” and Jean a Fool tagging along behind. OK, so even if Locke didn’t quite make the definition of Shakespearean tragedy, his apparent ‘betrayal’ by Jean made us wary of everything Jean said to Locke in the book. Only to finally reach that opening scene later in the book, and have it resolve just as quickly as it was introduced. Besides, since some of us were pretty certain Jean would never betray Locke, we spent a lot of time wondering what trick Jean was working, and just how intricate it would be, and perhaps it would be just sneaky enough to prove Jean almost as quickwitted as Locke himself and therefore a better partner than we thought. To resolve all that speculation so rapidly seemed a waste. So putting that scene in the prologue made it all rather melodramatic, and would have worked better left only in the main story, so that you felt that same horror as you did when Barsavi toppled Locke into his cask.

Oh! How could I forget this – I had a pretty damn hard time accepting the Salon Corbeau section. Why? I know some of you loved it, but I really couldn’t get over how it seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. It seemed so deliberately contrived to get our sympathy for the sacking of an entire city, and yet, it didn’t seem gruesome enough – not as gruesome as, say, Sage Kindness’s glass-massage in Lies. I almost winced at it; it’ll be some time before I can go back and read it without recoiling mentally. That’s just me, of course, and people who know me will probably say I’m a stickler for the very subtle, over the overt. Go ahead and disagree – that’s what the comment box is for πŸ™‚

That’s the jist of my quarrel with Red Seas Under Red Skies. See earlier post for some of it. Characterisation – Ezri, Zamira, Stragos, Rodanov, flat. Merrain might have been a mystery, but the kind inspired out of an annoyance over loose ends on your carpet, than the Grey King’s implacable, reticent, hatred. Mood and setting – oh, not too bad. Camorr was more tangible. More charismatic. I’d love to go back there one day. Book 5, perhaps, Mr. Lynch? πŸ˜‰ Plot and narrative – the list of names Locke and Jean rattle at one another? Why are these people significant?

Not exactly important, but I did miss the, hm, constructive detail, so to speak. The Lies of Locke Lamora had Camorr’s Beautiful Arts, the Shifting Revel, ‘teeth lessons’, Falselight, crow’s cages, ‘first touch’, and even the mention of Locke’s vocabulary games being a sign that he was confident – it also had references within itself, like having Lorenzo Salvara as a boy appear in the House of Glass Roses interlude. Red Seas didn’t have that. Of course, Locke and Jean were in a new and unfamiliar city, and no interludes into faire childehood had been scheduled, so… well, let’s just say I’m anticipating The Republic of Thieves with more enthusiasm than I usually anticipate books following not-so-hot books. Was that deliberate? I wonder. Are all authors of sneaky con-books as sneaky as their characters?

But there are good scenes, of course. Really good scenes. My favourites have to be the abseiling practice session, which was plain rollicking good fun, the opening Carousel Hazard game, with all of the Gentlemen Bastards’ “look who’s really winning” blithe smart-mouthing, and for some reason, the legerdemain display in Requin’s rooms. I love picturing things like that. Pouring wine for the ‘gladiator’ in the wasp cage under the guise of disdain – terrific. The ‘reverse burglars’ comment had me in stitches. (Actually, that whole break-in scene reminded me of that part in FF7 where Cloud breaks into the Don’s mansion dressed as a girl, and threatens his manhood. Bloody ingenious, that. Still wish it’d been done in literary form. Would have loved to have read it!) And love the ending; Locke must be a step ahead of Jean, or else how can he be garrista? Like someone said on asoiaf forums – another ending where the Gentlemen Bastards wind up “slightly more fucked” than how they started out.

In conclusion (What’s my word count, sir? Funny how I’m using time I’d set aside to write my philosophical essay to write this. Scott Lynch now owes me about 4 hours), I was disappointed, yes, but no more than I was with Robin Hobb’s Soldier Son trilogy – like her trilogy, this sequel carries the same writing style, the same quirks that mark each author as separate entities and not growing appendages off one pulsating blob of authorship, and also the same unravelling of tight plot structure. To me, anyway. Argue with me as you wish. …Actually, I was bitterly disappointed, downright pissed, with the Soldier Son trilogy, so my relatively mild dissatisfaction with Red Seas Under Red Skies is really just that – mild. Nothing to stop writing over, Mr. Lynch. *winning smile*

Nice book, all in all. 3.5 star rating. Wouldn’t reread it all that much though.
What is written, is irreversible. You cant take it back. So, even though I’m in all kinds of excitement to read book 3, I do so hope Mr. Lynch takes his time, as much as is possible, with book 3: to slow down, reread, feel it out, explore his characters and his cities, show them to us in all their full, vibrantly coloured exteriors and rotten, corrupt interiors. Reading is one thing. You got to get your readers rereading. *goes off to buy new version of The Lies of Locke Lamora, replete with sexy French cover*

***1/2 (3.5 out of 5)
Some extra speculation. Sabetha and plays. Obvious link. Three line synopsis on Mr. Lynch’s official webpage: very, very suggestive. Interview with Mr. Lynch, mention of the Falconer of Karthain’s mother. Ooh. Named Lady Patience. …she better not have an attendant named Lacey. Plus, poison hanging over Locke. All this makes me just as excited to read book 3 as I was to read book 2. And here’s a question for you to think about … I reread Lies’s chapter on Locke travelling to the farm he was to ‘apprentice’ on, and caught in Chains’ voice what seemed like emphasis on “country bandit“, when he explained to Locke the benefits of learning the country people. I instantly thought: aHA! Trav! … πŸ˜› What do you think?