The Gentlemen Bastards are excellent con artists on the land, but then unforeseen events send them onto the waves to become pirates. Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second book of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards sequences as Locke and Jean find their plans upset by politics, the one type of con they tend to avoid.
Locke and Jean are working a two-year con of the owner of the grandest casino in Tal Verrar, the Sinspire, when their plans are upended by the Bondmagi threatening revenge. They decide to get start their endgame with Locke admitting to the owner he and Jean have been cheating other gamblers to set things up only to be abducted by the secret police of Tal Verrar’s military commander-in-chief. The Archon poisons the duo to force them to work for him to become pirates and get allies from the Ghostwind Islands to attack shipping around Tal Verrar so the archon can get money to strengthen the navy from the city’s merchant council as well as gain the political upper hand, but promises them temporary antidotes. Suddenly in the archon’s service, the duo use this new wrinkle as part of their Sinspire con as the owner is an “ally” of the merchants whose wealth is in his vault. After a six-week crash course in sailing, the duo and a ship’s master spring prisoners from a military prison and take an outfitted ship provided by the archon towards with Locke as the charismatic captain. Things go well until the ship master dies just before their first storm and it become obvious that Locke and Jean are not sailors and there is a mutiny with Locke and Jean left on a little boat in the ocean. Two hours later, a real pirate takes their former ship and the duo are rescued through the pirate captain finds their cover story fishy but allows them to stay alive. Locke and Jean prove themselves on the ship and in the raiding another ship thus becoming full-fledge crewmen then reveal to the captain everything. After arriving at the Ghostwind Islands, the pirate captain tells the other major captains of the archon’s plan and her plan to end it by “playing” along until they get a shot at killing the archon, the other captain’s agree either wholeheartedly or begrudgingly. Weeks later, Locke and Jean report to the archon about their adventures and that they convinced a captain to hit the waters around Tal Verrar as well as continue their Sinspire con. The pirates begin doing small time ship raids and mount a massive assault on a town to the northwest where peasants let themselves be put through cruel and humiliating games by nobles for money. The archon isn’t pleased and demands a proper raid or never see him again, but then another pirate captain appears and attacks their ship believing his previous decision to approve the plan unwise. Locke, Jean, and their pirate allies are victorious but at a personal cost to Jean and they decide to end things in Tal Verrar across the board. Locke and Jean enlist the aid of the merchants against the archon then finish their Sinspire job by stealing the owner’s paintings then getting captured by the secret police who are waylaid and killed by the merchant’s operatives who take their masks and then proceed to the archon who attempts to kill them when the false secret police stage their coup though during the confrontation the chemist of the poison is killed and only one vile of antidote is available for Locke and Jean. The two give the former archon to their pirate allies to do with as they please and go to sell the paintings only to find their replicas, getting only a fraction of what they were expecting. Locke secretly gives the antidote to Jean and the duo sail off to the unknown.
While the overall book a good, after the halfway point it felt like there was a series of “add-ons” where people were introduced or events would happen that would be the next narrative turn of events with the set up for the pirate ship-to-ship battle the biggest example. In contrast, the flashback intrudes to the events after the previous book up and during their set up for the Sinspire con not only gave the reader how Locke and Jean got to where they were at the start of this book but also foreshadowed things that you were looking forward to play out in the narrative flow. The further developments of Locke and Jean were excellently written, and the major secondary characters were fun as well which compensated for the narrative “add-ons”.
Red Seas Under Red Skies is a nice follow up to the first Gentleman Bastards book, but also felt like a let down as well. While Scott Lynch continued to develop Locke and Jean as well as creating some good secondary characters, the narrative flow felt off and as the book went along it was telling. Overall a nice book with an ending that makes a reader curious about what will happen next.