Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch

Ok, so it occurs to me that I never actually posted my review of Red Seas Under Red Skies. OOPS. I shall do that now, in anticipation of Republic of Thieves. It’ll only be a short one though, as I’m a good few months out from actually reading the book.

Everyone told me that RSURS was pretty good, but not as good as tLoLL. And the tl;dr version is that I agree with them. I mean, yes, as fantasy books go, it is pretty ace. But it’s not the oh-my-god-amazing that tLoLL is. This is always the problem when you write a really good book. You’ll only show yourself up in the end.

Spoiler warning – I kinda have to talk about the end of tLoLL to get at what matters about RSURS, so if you’ve not read the first one, just go do that now instead, okay?

Right. What I think is the main problem, certainly for me, is that I loved the setup of Camorr, and the world-building, and everything that went into that. The social structure of the city in which the book was set was beautiful, and even though tLoLL did a lot of social uprooting, I was really hoping to stay in the city afterwards and see how the aftermath was dealt with. I wanted to see more of the Spider. I wanted more gang-politics, and secret peaces and alt-universe Venice. It was lovely and it was still unexplored and I hate leaving things left unanswered. And Lynch does that. He really really seems to have a problem with answering the riddles he writes into his setting. But nope, off we trot to another city and a whole new set of riddles and a brand new infrastructure to learn (and watch fall over, if the first book is anything to go by). But this one just… isn’t as interesting. While the physicality of the city is more alien to us, the social structure isn’t, and so while the place is written to look odd and intriguing, the similarity of everything else sort of overrides that.

Now to the thing that may be controversial. Ok, you ready? I thought the pirates were kind of dull, really. The captain was a great character, and as a group, they do a great job of continuing Lynch’s excellence genderwise (yes, he doesn’t have any female lead characters, but he saves himself by having a world populated by women of all varieties in all sorts of positions of power and non-power, just as much as men), but they aren’t really great as a plot thing, for me. I got a bit bored of them. I wanted them to get back to the city and conning people. Piracy is just not as exciting as political intrigue and heists. Sorry. I mean, don’t get me wrong, there is political intrigue. But it’s just not as fun as in the first book. And that’s sad. Also the Grey King vs the gangs thing had a great deal of excellent tension that the second book really lacks. They play people off each other, yes. The Gentleman Bastards mess everything up for loads of folks. But it’s not as dramatic because they have less investment in the place. I think the characters worked so well in Camorr because it was theirs, and so their determination to beat the ridiculous odds worked because it was their thing that they protected. When they moved to a different city, you lost that bit of fire, and it is noticeable. Likewise the fact that they lost their people in Camorr, and so, while you have Jean and Locke teaming up against the world, the loss they felt and the revenge they needed because of their friends was a huge and important part of tLoLL, and a part that is sadly lacking in RSURS. It isn’t ignored, which is a blessing. To have that in the first book and to move on as if nothing has happened would have been wrong, and Lynch handles the characters’ gried very well… but it’s just grief. It is not the passion of revenge and the defence of what is their own, and so it lacks that extra… thing. I really cared about what happened in tLoLL, because the characters cared. They cared so desperately that it made it matter a great deal. And while there are emotional ties in RSURS, it just hasn’t got the same effect it had with the first book. It never really could, because the destruction in the first book was of the ties of pretty much a lifetime, and RSURS was working from a fresh slate. It would have been terrible if it tried to do the same thing, but it is sad that it is missing, even if I can see no way of having it not be.

On the other hand, if you look at it with a strict eye, all the basic ingredients of tLoLL are still there. It follows the same recipe for excellence, it’s just not executed quite as perfectly. I sound like I’m really down on it, and that is partially true, but it’s because it has so much to live up to. Without the first book as a comparison, RSURS would stand up beautifully. It certainly isn’t suffering as badly from a case of sequel as a lot of books do. But, very much like the second Rivers of London book, having a great first novel to follow is just impossible. That said, everyone has told me who has read it that Republic of Thieves is ace and totally returns to the normal form of tLoLL, so I am still confident. We’ll find out next week, anyway.

Edit: I may have posted this as “Red Seas Over Red Skies” the first time around. Oops.

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About readerofelse

A student of a redundant, useless and thoroughly interesting subject and reader of many books, particularly fantasy, science fiction and plenty else besides.
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