Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies

Posted: October 2, 2013 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Scott Lynch, Fantasy

When you first novel is THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA (EBR Review), you’ve made things very difficult on yourself. Scott Lynch’s first novel was incredible. So incredible that it set the expectations for RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES (Amazon) incredibly high. I remember reading RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES and feeling a bit disappointed. Why? Because it wasn’t the best novel ever, of course. How could I expect anything less after reading the first novel? It wasn’t fair, and now that I’ve finished a re-read, I have a much better point of view on the novel than I did originally.

Let’s face it, shall we? While RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES isn’t as good as THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, I feel that it is still an amazing novel and better than 99% of the stuff out there in the Fantasy genre. It’s just that RED doesn’t blow LIES out of the water that has people feeling the disappointment.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “But, Steve,” you muse. “RED does have problems, right? You aren’t just ignoring them because you love LIES so much, are you?” Indeed, RED does have some issues, and no, I’m not ignoring them.

RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES begins just after THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA leaves off. Locke is in a bad way physically, mentally and emotionally. Jean is dealing with Locke’s inability to cope with the guilt he (Locke) feels after the events in Camorr. This portion of the story is told in flashbacks while we read the “current” part of the story of Locke and Jean trying to pull a heist on a gambling establishment called the Sinspire in Tal Verrar. While LIES was more of a novel about confidence schemes, RED is more Ocean’s Eleven… at least in the beginning.

And this is perhaps the biggest issue people–including myself–have with RED.

The book starts out promising a heist novel and then switches gears 1/3 of the way into the novel… into a pirate novel. This does two things. First, it gives the novel an impression that it didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. Second, when the pirate parts start, the pacing of the novel is restarted completely from scratch. It isn’t a permanent reboot within the novel as we revisit the heist here and there, but any time the novel shifts from pirates to casinos, the pacing restarts. Honestly, it feels like the heist story was what the novel was intended to be, then Lynch realized there wasn’t enough meat here for a full-blown story.

That said, it’s not like either of the portions of the story are bad. Not in the least. I loved the heist story. I loved the pirate story. It was the odd juxtaposition of the two that threw me off initially when I first read the novel several years ago. Upon a second read, this didn’t bother me near as much, and I could just enjoy the novel. And I have to say, the sea battles in RED are thrilling. As usual, Lynch’s action scenes are chaotic and well described. It still amazes me how people don’t talk about Lynch’s ability to write action.

What Lynch still excels at in RED is his sense of the characters. While Locke and Jean have just a shaaade too much false conflict, I love their interaction. I love the banter they have between themselves and with the other, side characters. Speaking of side characters, I love both Zamira Drakasha and Ezri Delmastro. Lynch writes them so well. I love the little quirks, and the major character defining elements to each of them. They mesh so well with Locke and Jean, and so it makes the ending of the novel that much more powerful.

While RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES isn't as good as THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, it's still better than 99% of anything else out there in the Fantasy genre.

On my second read-through I read RED as if it were a tragedy, and for some reason that made me enjoy the novel quite a bit more. There were some points that still made me tear up even though I knew they were coming. That’s good writing. Good characterization.

Scott Lynch is such an amazing writer. There are moments where he easily approaches a literary lean, but then others where it’s almost pulp. Horror in some places, with good comedy in others. Happiness mixes with tragedy. It is in these contrasts that Lynch sets himself apart from his peers.

RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES isn’t as good as THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA, but how many novels are? Seriously, think about that for a minute. RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES is still a fantastic novel, and it holds up exceptionally well upon multiple reads.

My re-read of the series has concluded and I’m convinced that this is a must read for every fan of Fantasy. If you haven’t read Lynch’s work thus far, now is the perfect time to start. THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES (Amazon) is set to come out next week (10-10-13).

  • Recommended Age: 17+
  • Language: Tons. Just like the first novel.
  • Violence: Definitely. Throats are cut, dudes are stabbed, fires consume people
  • Sex: It's talked about, but never shown in detail


  • ritika says:

    I am rereading gentleman bastards … the first tine around I was very impatient with the pirate bit.. so didn't like this book much.. but rereading it.. I am enjoying this book as much as the first one… so note to all readers.. you need to read red skies twice to appreciate it and it is worth reading again 🙂

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