Scott Lynch – Red Seas Under Red Skies

Writing a sequel to a very successful first novel is usually considered not to be easy. One such a sequel is Red Seas Under Red Skies (2007), the second instalment in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch. After some thinking about the plot I realized Lynch solved the problem by using a similar plot structure as the first novel, The Lies Of Locke Lamora. And it has worked while it is not that obvious at all. The setting is completely different, there is a new cast of characters besides the main protagonists, and the development of the events at first sight seems very different.

But it isn’t. Lynch uses in his plotting the same subtlety and smoke screens as his main protagonists but the formula is all too similar. The novel starts in the middle of a new and most complex scheme by the main protagonists. It kicks off faster and with more comedy than the one in The Lies Of Locke Lamora so that it captivates the reader from the start. As before the scheme is regularly interrupted by flashbacks, so-called interludes, which in a series of episodes tell the story of what happened after the end of the first book and the earlier stages of the scheme they are working on. The latter however don’t give anything away of the true nature of the scheme and increases the excitement.

Whereas the first novel still had some more need of a gradual development before trouble kicks in, Lynch does not waste time here and starts the troubles and complications early on. The story reaches top gear before it even gets half way.

So these are subtle and effective changes within the plot to make sure the reader is far too busy keeping up to everything going on to pay attention to the plot structure. Because at this point the scheme, as before, gets interrupted when an adversary forces the main protagonists to play another scheme. It is at this point where the story sags somewhat as the plot development slows down for some time. Fortunately things pick up eventually although the story is by this time a three quarters on the way and there is little space for manoeuvres. Lynch speeds up events and while it is entertaining it is less exciting.

The final sequences of the plot are shuffled a bit compared to the first novel but as before there is a great clash with some dramatic losses, there is a great escape from one adversary before rushing towards another one. There is more subtle and covert play while the impact is of a lesser degree.

I have said much about the plot. What about the characterization? This is very fine and Lynch avoids creating stereotypes. However, the cast is somewhat larger and many characters aren’t around the main protagonists long enough to create a greater connection. This compared to the first novel where there setting was more focused and we spent more time with some minor characters. The main protagonists have less development as they are already uprooted and out of their comfort zone. It is mainly the interaction between the two central protagonists that creates more depth to their characters.

Red Seas Under Red Skies is overall of the same quality as The Lies Of Locke Lamora. It doesn’t have the same amount of moments with dramatic impact and it sags a little in the middle, but the first half is so strong that it makes good where the first novel had its weaker moments. Lynch may have reused the plot structure of the first novel but the story of such complexity and in its elements so different that nobody will care. I do not care for it myself. I just happened to notice it in retrospect. Either way, it has allowed Lynch to deliver a sequel that will leave no reader unsatisfied.

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