Friday, November 21, 2008

Red Seas under Red Skies

Before I get too far into this, I would point my readers back to the earlier review of the prequel to Red Seas under Red Skies, located at (March? It doesn't really seem that long ago at all) In the time since I wrote about the first book, I was able to recommend this book to a friend, who in turn recommended it to his brother, who subsequently recommended it to another brother. That last reader made it his pick for our book group, and now Mrs. Speculator read Lies of Locke Lamora and enjoyed it so much that I bought its sequel for her. And she wouldn't stop tempting me with spoilers about it that, I had to read it, and now I find myself full circle. Who knows what the repercussions of this will be?

That said, I haven't got a lot new to say, even it is about a new book. Red Seas is a fun book, but not quite as twisty as the first novel. Again there is little in the way of stylishness of wordcraft; the joy lies almost entirely in the plot and character of Locke. Locke is carefully portrayed as the anti-hero, a con artist and street fighter who, because it is his point of view that we generally follow, the reader generally finds himself pulling for. And while Locke (and his companion Jean) thinks himself the pinnacle of con artistry, he often makes mistakes that the reader can see coming from miles away. And I find this annoying, as it goes against the general flow of the caper genre. I've heard and read that this series of books is a sort of fantasy Ocean's 11, but if that is the case, then it is an homage to the earlier Frank Sinatra version, where mishaps derail the true course of the con/robbery. In the George Clooney Ocean's 11, the suspense lay in the audience not knowing all the twists that the gang had planned out, rather than just seeing what was going to go wrong.

Further weakening the claim that this series fits the caper genre are two important details: first, Locke fails as much as he succeeds. The tragic ending of the first novel, the emotional underpinnings of which continue to ripple through Red Seas is indicative of how huge Locke's failures are. The pattern continues in Red Seas where more tragedy befalls his plans and ultimately, the con that the plot revolves around only partially succeeds (and it is debatable that the part that succeeds is the bigger portion). Worse, though, is that if the reader can disentangle himself from the narrative-induced fondness for Locke, it turns out that here are times when he is eminently unlikable. He is a selfish braggart, and yet his failures but the lie to his braggadocio. Slippery Jim DiGriz, from the Stainless Steel Rat series, is also a selfish braggart, but he succeeds in every count.

I suspect that Scott Lynch's Locke Lamora series is as much about Locke's growth as a human being as it is his about his developing skill as a con artist. And since I still find myself pulled to the series, there are obviously elements that I am enjoying. When the book turns to humor, it can be either enormously funny or endearingly cute. Lynch has also left some mysteries regarding Locke unresolved (although according to the description of the next book, one of those is going to be resolved). Also, being a serial, Locke's mistakes in judgments are piling up and pursuing him all over this interesting new world. At the same time, tension has developed between Locke and Jean, simplistically resolved, indicating that the root causes remain unaddressed. It'll be interesting to see how all of these issues get resolved in forthcoming books.

So, I'm holding out for more—I like the setting of the book and I really like Jean, even though he is rarely the focus of the books. The plots have unexpected but realistic twists, even if predictable in this outing, and show a lot of potential for future stories.

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