Scott Lynch

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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? ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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! … ๐Ÿ˜› What do you think?


The second novel in the Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Sequence, following The Lies of Locke Lamora. Erm, ‘ware spoilers. This isn’t a review so much as a dissection. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Red Seas Under Red Skies - II

I hate that Australia, despite being one of the first countries to experience ‘tomorrow’ as ‘today’ compared to the rest of the world *cough* the US *cough*, always seems to get her books last. It’s like the other countries carry out clandestine transactions behind her back while she courageously essays forth to greet the day first; and only when she’s bludgeoned the night away do her followers offer her the dregs of the deals. Bah! See, Red Seas Under Red Skies finally hit local bookshelves just a week ago, here in Brisbane. September! Damn! September!

But it was worth the wait. Psyched myself to the point of breaking tradition and buying the large paperback version, tackily shimmery as it was. (I’m even going to buy the recent Gollancz SF version of The Lies Locke Lamora, with its remodeled-French-version cover – sexy figure on cover, sexy.) I actually stood there in Borders for a few minutes, exulting that it had finally come. Then I got home, swept with supreme carelessness PHIL2140, Charles Dickens and Joseph Conrad off my desk, grabbed French Onion Kraft dip and some Arnotts and thenceforth seated myself beside Locke and Jean at Carousel Hazard. There was a prologue, but my version of Lies already had it as a teaser at its very end, so it wasn’t going to stop me much or make me go “GAH! Betrayal!!” since I’d already gone and done that.

It was a pretty good book. Entertaining, funny, occasionally clever, more lighthearted than epic-dramatic and that’s a darned good thing, when you’ve been like me and read Robert Jordan, George R. R. Martin, and Robin Hobb on end. Mr. Lynch definitely has a knack for writing good dialogue, and he knows it well; he doesn’t need to put in flowery adjectives or long unintelligible monologues in the stream-of-consciousness style to get across what his characters are experiencing. *points smug smile at Molly Bloom* But I’m afraid, good as it is in its own rights, it definitely didn’t match the standard set by The Lies of Locke Lamora. Yes, I know there are glowing reviews saying Red Seas Under Red Skies is either almost just as good as, equally good as, and even better than, Lies, but I just can’t agree.

“Well, why? C’mon, you incompetent, half-pint, mangy little girl-whelp, Locke was awesome when he charged the Jeremite Redeemers all by his scrawny self!”

True, that. And also true that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was wrong with the book. In fact, there’s nothing at all ‘wrong’; it tries very hard indeed to please its readers with the same plot, character and wit mix that the first book gave us oh-so-pleasingly. And that, I think, is where the problem lies. It seems to try too hard to have all those things. I got the impression that the book was written too hastily, too feverishly, and without enough of the backward glance that checks to see if the world it left in its wake is really a complete and three-dimensional one. So let’s see what gave me that idea…

The characters lacked real depth this time around, especially the female characters. There were a couple of people at that thought the same thing I did, that is, that the female characters were remarkably predictable, and flat, and that Ezri and Zamira, the two females that accompany Locke and Jean for most of the book, were disappointingly simple – Ezri tellingly so. Her past was glossed over, her appearances were mostly used to complement Jean’s character, and you already knew that because of how straightforward these things made her character, she was going to die. It was kind of a vicious cycle thing – you knew she was going to die, so it seemed kind of pointless to really attach yourself to her, which made her seem even more superficial. I spent most of the time wondering what Locke was doing and thinking during those Ezri/Jean scenes, than concentrating on Ezri. Zamira…her initial showing, when threatening Jean to see Locke’s response, was brilliant – sharp, intelligent, very efficient: a female Barsavi with double his mental clarity. She seemed to fade after that though. I expected her to do something interesting at the pirates’ meeting. She didn’t though. Just talk. Pity.

Selendri was probably the most appealing female character on scene. Only half a real woman, but twice as dangerous as any other. And she oozed a bold pride to match Locke’s; flaunting her scarred side as disconcertingly much as her whole one, was just fantastic. She was underplayed of course, being Requin’s sidekick. That was another pity, putting Requin and the Sinspire game aside for most of the book, since Requin was much more charming a character than Stragos, who just seemed a little Hitleresque for my taste, what with his dreams of the future. This is part of what gave a fair number of readers, including myself, the strong feeling that the first half of the book being much better than the second.

An aside: why do I keep thinking of non-protagonists as NPCs? Weird. The peripheral characters here were certainly not NPCs, a fact which bugged me a great deal. They were more PC than I ever wanted. I hate reading the other characters’ points-of-view, especially when they’re on the ‘enemy side’ – it reminds me of those children’s books that attempt to teach us that nobody is truly evil. Really now, by the time you get to reading Lies and Seas without having your parents gasp at the amount of liberal (but very amusing ๐Ÿ˜€ ) swearing in them, you’ll have understood that moral very well, and you’d expect books to be describing the difficulty of dealing with the problems that cause such ‘evil’ to be done, rather than explaining it. And that description won’t involve POVs from their side. I admit Requin’s narrative at the end of the book was pretty necessary, to explain succinctly what was going to happen to the government of Tal Verrar, however, the effect of Strago’s POV, and Merrain’s, took away the latent danger of atmosphere that Lies so effectively gave Camorr. Barsavi’s potential to absolutely ruin Locke and Jean’s life had no parallel here – you expected Locke to stay on top.

– ok, this post is getting too long. If you’ve been a patient reader, click here for the next part.

…no seriously, I was thinking that was a hell of a hilarious name, until I realised Locke would never use that name. *pouts*

Still, Leocanto Kosta has a nice ring. And I was giggling again when I saw them using the old ‘Tavrin Callas’ persona. Wouldn’t be too surprised to see the name tossed around in every subsequent book, so that by the end of the sequence, all the powers that be in Locke’s world will be trembling at the varied talents (which includes dying several times, and reappearing nevertheless, and often in places rather far away) of the elusive Tavrin Callas. Hah!

But more on Red Seas Under Red Skies after I ponder on Sabetha and plays. Not that we actually get to see Locke’s lady-love just yet. I wonder at Scott’s self-control – and mine, as a dear, desperate reader – in introducing her on the first book’s very first page, and never letting us hear more than a fragmented barebones mention of her before Locke throws his sullen glares and heavy sighs around and everyone shuts up. She’d better turn up in the next book. In some Locke-worthy sneaky way. On a stage perhaps. *muses*


Full dissection/review coming up next.

…thoughts on actually finishing the book. (4 stars/5)

So classes begin again next week, and I have this annoying problem with my timetable – everything clashes. Almost. Half my subjects clash with the other half, and I’m not about to give up my beloved Victorian Literature, oh no, and certainly not the Philosophy of Language, and unfortunately another subject is compulsory, and the fourth subject is highly recommended. So, I’m stuck for a while, until the powers that be reply my emails regarding clashes. I’ll probably have to drop something, and that’s putting me in a very depressed state of mind. Boo hoo.

At any rate, I finished Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, with mixed feelings. (Check here for my initial reaction to the book) I was completely captivated right up until Locke and Jean’s last meeting with the Bondsmage of Karthain, i.e. the one with a knife and a flame. Locke’s ‘defeat’ of the Falconer’s spell was a nicely done thing, though I’d anticipated that thing about Locke’s first name, but after that, everything was just too easy. I kept reading feverishly after that, waiting for more of the suspense and clever that’s-cool! twists that Lynch was, until then, delivering with punch. I read. I read. And then the book ended.

Well, it wasn’t quite that dramatic (uh, I mean dull). It just seemed that everything from Locke’s return to Raven’s Reach, even the fairly unimpeded flow of truths from the previously -arrogant-as-hell Falconer, fell in to place too conveniently, without much effort on Locke’s side, apart from some blind, rash dashing about. Sure, it portrayed both Locke’s flaws, in his assurance in his own abilities, and also Locke’s skill (in proving those abilities), but compared to the struggles of the past 9/10’s of the story, it just felt like a letdown. And frankly, while I very much enjoyed Locke’s rather unfair match with the Grey King, and ‘bleeding to death’ is a very agreeable phrase to put in the ending chapter of a book, I can’t imagine how many more times Locke will be near death in the future six books of The Gentleman Bastard sequence. I’m sure it’s possible to maintain the atmosphere of danger and constant need for wariness that Lynch marvellously created here in his Camorr, in the future books without more near-death scenes, but I can’t quite imagine it myself. I’ll have to think harder, I suppose. So will Lynch, I hope.

I did read through the ending bits several times, very closely, to see just why Locke had it so easy, and if there was any place his actions might have been countered. Perhaps here: Vorchenza might have never recovered her memory of what really happened when Capa Raza visited her with his Bondsmage, and Locke was just lucky when she did. Reynart might have been so loyal to his adoptive mother, or so suspicious (probably rightly so) of the Thorn of Camorr that he might have just locked Locke up somewhere secure and soundproof. Or Conte might never have believed Locke. These are possible obstacles, but I suppose no more possible than Locke getting his own way, as he did. *grudging nod* I did find some conflicting bits of detail: at two points in the part after Locke gets floored by Reynart does Locke get back ‘on his feet’, and there’s quite a bit of time in between them. Not a point to write essays over, just a sulky whine from a fussy reader who likes envisioning everything in the story, and who can’t find any other detail to pick on.

But all of what I’ve said is really just quibbling. Nothing really brought the book down to that status where one dithers over changing ‘great promise’ to ‘great read’. It was a great read – I loved the wit, the unadorned and yet sometimes even poetic prose (a starry night as a jewel-merchant’s rug of wares? I love it!), the effortless switch between the seriously sombre and the seriously comic, and most especially, the constant presence of the backdrop. Camorr came alive by the end of the prologue, and never died. (The Last Mistake was a fantastic idea. Vaguely familiar from somewhere else, but as long as I don’t remember that ‘somewhere else’, I say it’s original and I’m impressed.) God, if I wasn’t such a helpless coward myself I’d wish myself in Camorr for a day. So, on the whole, I liked the book, and hope Lynch keeps his pen nib wet and pages fresh. Or wordprocessor program running and fingers flying over keyboards.

Revised Rating: **** (4 stars)

I bought Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” just two days ago, and have since spent three sittings of non-stop, feverish page-turning – alternatively grinning and laughing my head off and staring in absolute horror at the book, and wearing my butt out after hours of stasis on an extremely uncomfortable chair, forgetting to eat and drink… and all the other symptoms of the addiction one can get from a pretty darn good book. The hallmark of the book is excitement: suspense, pace, plot twists. It doesn’t hurt that Lynch is, I admit, a very skilled writer. This guy knows his language, and he knows how to use it.

The Lies of Locke Lamora

And here I was afraid the book was going to turn out just another Harry Potter clone tottering in the footsteps of its awkward idol. Wait, wait – point your fingers elsewhere: you have to admit that an alliterated, teasing little title like this seems either aimed to amuse young minds, or is a mocking giggle at the more sober series of epic fantasy.

Not that this book isn’t epic fantasy, or sober. Here’s the cinch and the pinch. This book is just the first book in what Lynch has titled The Gentleman Bastards Sequence, and ‘sequence’ suggests that we shouldn’t expect a trilogy, or a quartet. (I’ve heard it’s to be seven books.) Isn’t this terrible news? Utterly appalling? Mindblowingly catastrophic? NOOOOOO! This means I’ll be hooked on yet another series, suffering from that same, ohgodno desperate in-between syndrome for the next book, for six times including now, extemporising theorising and basically guessing what might happen next and who’s going to die and AUGHH!

Lynch, you got me good.
You’ll want to read this book if you:

…like fantasy in general and read any book that falls into that category.

…like clever, often witty dialogue and descriptions, lots of detail and skilful, careful writing, regardless of genre. Oh, but if you’re a prude about the crude, this might not be the perfect book for you. Then again, if you can read A Song of Ice and Fire without having your sensibilities offended, you’ll be just fine.

…don’t feel like yet another thick, heavily moral and sober series, a la The Lord of the Rings. The Lies of Locke Lamora is fun, catch-your-breath kind of exhilarating.

…like being shocked very frequently. Or quite frequently. The book is divided in aptly titled Parts – once you get to the part called “Complication”, start armouring your virtual book-invading presence, ’cause you’re about to, well, be shocked.

…like something I think is a mix of George R. R. Martin’s high adventure and disregard of my personal sacred rule don’t kill apparently major narrators, or any beloved characters, and Clarke’s irony. And though I’d like to believe that rule should stand, truth is, books often get from ‘very good’ to ‘brilliant’ when they break it.

I’m currently caught in the last quarter of The Lies of Locke Lamora. Mind you, it isn’t just Locke that’s lying here, it’s a whole bunch of other clever characters, and of course, the all-knowing Lynch himself. Being played is part of the fun of reading the book; it’s almost interactive really, the way you get fooled as much as the characters do.

LIES of Scott Lynch - er, Locke Lamora.

Once I finish the book, regard it sullenly for a few hours or so, reflect on events I expect will make me both laugh aloud, feel like an idiot, and revere Lynch as my personal new god (though hmm, I recently proclaimed George R. R. Martin as my new god, after he de-heavened Robin Hobb), I’ll write a more detailed post on it. In the meantime, satisfy yourself that the book gets 4.75 bloody grudging stars from me, and go ahead and read this review.

****3/4 (4.75) out of 5. If you’re wondering why not the full 5 stars, well, I gave Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell the full 5, and frankly, nothing I’ve read really matches that standard.

P/S: Is it just me, or does Locke Lamora remind you of Locke Cole? Too smart by half and too cheeky by whole?