This second book in the Gentlemen Bastards series was something of a letdown, at least in the beginning: having thoroughly enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, I expected to be just as thrilled with Red Seas Under Red Skies, but for the first half of this book it was not so. This second installment takes a while to finally find its legs, and that happens only when Locke and Jean, the surviving members of the Gentlemen Bastards, meet with pirate Zamira Drakasha's crew and the adventure begins in earnest.
Until then, Mr. Lynch's story seems to wander in several directions, as if in search of its identity: the only reason I stayed with it was that I wanted to trust the author on the basis of the first book's strength and innovative storytelling - luckily for me, that trust paid off in the end, even though it was a close call.
One of the book's saving graces comes of course from its main characters: the interplay between Locke and Jean both defines them as persons and expands on the story. Here they are often at odds with each other: the loss of their comrades, Locke's fall into depression and Jean's efforts to carry them both forward until they can recover from that loss, all contribute to a friction that explodes at times into dangerous conflict. Yet their friendship - the bond of kinship that goes well beyond mere association to become true brotherhood - comes out of those pitfalls stronger than ever.
The pirate society - or rather the microcosm aboard the Poison Orchid, the ship where our heroes become full-fledged raiders - is wonderfully described and quite vivid: Drakasha is a memorable character, a pirate captain who is a middle-aged woman and a mother, but at the same time a ruthless brigand and a fair, level-headed commander. Her second Ezri is also a strong female character, but sadly she gets less development than Drakasha, since her function seems to be there merely as Jean's love interest, and she finally shines through only toward the end in a dramatic scene that loses nothing of its potency even as the reader realizes that events were tailored to bring that ending about.
After the shaky beginning I mentioned the plot does gain speed and proceeds toward the end in a satisfactorily adventurous way, but still I feel that it lacks the spirited quality of the first book, that the author somehow felt the pressure to deliver that followed the debut novel in this series and this hampered his style in some way.
Nonetheless, the misgivings I listed are not enough to stop me from going on reading - not in the least because this second book closes with a huge cliffhanger that I can't wait to see resolved...