Back to the world of Locke and Jean: Red Seas under Red Skies
I finally hauled myself back to the world of Jean and Locke, the Gentlemen Bastard series. I read their first adventure back in 2009 and was completely blown away by heist artists. A Sword and Heist (I would prefer to call it thus as opposed to sword and sorcery as magic while an underlying theme, never really gets its full due till now) story that gave us two of the best protagonists ever in the fantasy worlds in Locke & Jean, and well, a fantastically memorable setting in the city of Cammorr where the events of the first book play out.
There has been much uproar over the delay in the third book in the Gentlemen Bastards series – After the spectacular epic fantasy debut, Locks of Lie Lamora, established Scott Lynch as one of the brightest shining stars in this genre ; he churned out the second blockbuster adventure in that series by the next year with a promise to keep it coming once a year.
Now that the third book, Republic of Thieves is out (Oh well, if you imagined it is a shorter innings to be wrapped up in a measly trilogy and you get all the answers to the ElderGlass mystery and the wonderful world that Locke/Jean inhabit, well, get ready for a longer innings. The planned number by which Scott feels he will do justice to the fantastic series is seven!) I felt it is the right time to go back and visit the duo.
Was I disappointed? Hell no. But I feel that I have become emotionally attached to both Locke and Jean. The ending of this one leaves a lot to be desired. Cheated? Yes, that would be a better description of my state of mind. Let me expound.
Scott sets up the beginning of the book with a mind blowing twist (a back-stabbing treachery that we would never have anticipated!) and it immediately sucks you in. Gimmick? Yes…but. hey, the writing, the action and the stupendous world-building is so profound that you don’t mind. In fact, as the plot hurtles along at a headlong pace, you are willing to be sucked in further. The basics from the first book are retained as plot devices: couple of thieves down on their luck, hapless but mad geniuses driven by desperation to up the stakes of their games. Rules of the game remain the same. Steal from undeserving rich bastards and then disappear to a new start in a new city. Save the world as well, along the way.
The last time it was in Camorr – a beautiful la-Venice kinda city. And they barely managed to pull it off. But lost three of their gang members during the process. This time the settings change to the port city of Tal Verrar. Scott plays it well – expanding his world to outside the mystical city of Camorr to this new place and we are slowly exposed to the wonders and architecture of ElderGlass set in place by ancestors and lost civilizations eons back. Magic is still unexplained but do we care? I thought it was a wonderful way to expand the horizons and invest the readers in. beautifully dealt just like Locke and Jean playing out their hands within the great gambling house that houses nine levels of treasures.
The grand scheme that we are introduced to in the beginning of this one is a big heist – to make away with the locked treasures of the top most levels in a gambling houses – guarded even more closely than the doorways of hell. The stakes are well drawn out and the schemes are beautifully laid down. Familiar grounds huh?
That is when Scott shifts gears and pitches in new twists to the story. Enter Villains – some old, some new – all equally twisted and wicked in their schemes to outwit Locke and Jean to make them serve their own vested needs. The first book had the Grey King, Capa Barasavi and the Bondsmagi. This one features some new and interesting antagonists – from the greedy and cunning Requin who is the master of the impenetrable fortress called Sinspire to his one-handed lady confidante and killer Selendri, the tyrannical Archon and his Eyes to some fabulous side characters who just breathe and spew evil – this book definitely brings to color some memorable villains but somehow Grey King and the Bondsmagi still retain that top place in my mind.
By the end of first quarter of the book though, we start feeling slightly confused as Scott throws us right into the middle of the sea. Literally so, we are floundering in a completely new plot where Locke and Jean are pitched out into the open seas and have to masquerade as pirates – to serve the evil Archon and his world domination bid. It does get a bit tiring as we navigate these waters – nautical terms, training, new characters and a whole new twist out in the sea – and you’re almost like, hey what the hell happened to the original plot of stealing the riches of Sinspire?
But patience pays off and anyways with the sharp crackling banter dripping with saucy wit and the choicest most inventive epithets you’ve ever heard in genre fiction between Locke and Jean, you are in for a rollicking ride. New relationships grow as always steeped in suspicion, the lies getting bigger and the stakes getting higher. Multiple assassination attempts, heart-stopping high jumps from skyscrapers, debauchery, architecture, artistry, gambling, naval navigation – Scott sweeps all this along in a tightly wound twisting action-filled narrative. Sure it has its ups and downs – the slow moments hitting you when the plots switch tracks – but Scott brings it all together in a fiery rocking finish to all the mad capers that Locke and Jean get embroiled in.
More than Locke, this time it is Jean Tannen’s character who demands your attention. Jean finally grows out of the shadows of the smooth-talking slippery Locke. He’s more than just the brute who can swing a hatchet or two and whose duty it is to keep saving Locke’s bony ass in every other fight. His growing relationship with the pirate first mate Ezri is one of the best pieces of this book. The pirate captain Drakasha and Ezri are well etched out characters who hold their own against the dynamic duo and deserve all the attention as well.
All this is good and hunky-dory – but what happened to the Bondsmagi – you ask?
Well - Wait for part three and you’re in luck because it just came out and it features Sabetha, Locke’s secretive lady love and arch-nemesis! And we return to the devils of Karpathia who feature prominently according to the blurbs I have read.
In conclusion, for me the book two is a good book but nowhere near as fantastic as part one. While the flashbacks and the switching between time-lines are still present in this book, I missed the happy fun-loving nostalgia-tinted flashbacks of Locke’s childhood. Missed it dearly. There is something super endearing about that narrative that was missing in these flashbacks. But nevertheless, it remains a worthy addition to the Gentleman Bastard series – another rollicking adventure of these two characters who I have come to love dearly! Very much so. And which is why I HATED the ending.
Four-stars. Make your own judgment though. It’s on to the Republic of Thieves for me now!