Book #2 in the Gentleman Bastards series started with the same flavor of book #1: two clever, snarky thieves running cons on the rich and powerful. This time, the setting is Tal Verrar, ruled by a triumvirate power structure consisting of the Archon (military dictator), the Priori (a council of the wealthy), and man named Requin (a sort of underworld gambling boss). Locke and Jean are running a long con to get at the latter's substantial horde of wealth, but complications soon arise. The Archon blackmails them into acting as his agents and posing as pirates to stir up rebellion on the Sea of Brass, which would allow the Archon to seize more power in Tal Verrar.
Okay, that's a sloppy summary, but honestly the plot isn't entirely necessary for this review. Let's just dig in to the nitty-gritty.
First thing's first: Lynch's strengths. The man writes beautiful prose. No doubt about it. Unfortunately for me, I'm not big on Tolkien-esque descriptions of every new location. Lynch has a habit of starting each chapter with a lovely scene-setting paragraph (or three) which, while well-written, I found myself glossing over or skipping entirely. Second, his dialogue remains effortless and uncluttered, which I greatly admire. Third, his characters - the newest batch, in particular - are fleshed out, memorable, and unique without becoming caricatures. Believable, incredibly human characters are what I look for most in a book, and Lynch hits a home run on that front.
Reviews of this book are decidedly mixed, and I can understand why. Lynch has some golden moments in Red Seas, but he also stumbles his fair share. The pace of the plot is agonizing for the first half of the book. Once Locke and Jean finally do set out to sea, it picks up and the second half of the book is quite enjoyable. Lynch throws us romantics a bone in this one, with a sweet and understated romance that had me grinning like an idiot. Unfortunately, Scott's also a total asshole who knows how to tear out hearts, put them in blenders, and hit 'frappe'. Seriously, man, I don't think we can be friends after this.
It's clear that a lot of research went into this book. I mean, a lot. Red Seas reads like someone who never dabbled in sailing suddenly wanted to write a book entirely about sailing. Which it kinda is. To be fair, the obvious depth of his commitment to accuracy is admirable, but I think he went a little overboard. Much of the detail in the seafaring chapters had the distinct flavor of showing off when just a small amount of technically-accurate banter would have gotten the job done. As a reader, I got fatigued with the jargon after the third such taste (having no experience with sailing, myself) and I ended up just skimming every future instance, of which there were quite a few.
The meandering plot and the lack of a much-needed trimming down left me feeling a bit lukewarm about this one, though the closing chapters redeemed it somewhat. I almost DNF'd this book (if you know me, you'll know how incredibly rare that is), but in the end, I'm glad I pushed through. I enjoyed the second half and went ahead and bought book #3 in the series. While Red Seas wasn't a complete disappointment, I have to say that Republic of Thieves will have to be really good for me to want to keep tabs on this still-incomplete series. The next week or so will tell.