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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Follow-Up Reading Recommendation: Scott Lynch's Red Seas Under Red Skies

So, a little while back, I noted that I'd really enjoyed this author's first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora. I've just finished the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and Lynch continues to defy expectations.

Brace yourselves: I am about to speak favorably about the dread Boys'N'Boats genre.

Ranking two data points is more than a bit silly, but if forced to do so, I'd have to say I liked the first better. However, most of my reasoning has more to do with chronology, first exposure, and the possibilities native to the first novel in a new universe than with any real flaws or gaps in the second book.

As with The Lies of Lock Lamora, Lynch structures Red Seas Under Red Skies intelligently. In the former, Lynch uses two timelines simultaneously: One to tell us how the characters came to be the people they are, the other to show us what that means. Lynch seems to have taken great pleasure in constructing his characters' back stories, but having done such a thorough job in Book 1, there's little need for it in Book 2. In admiring Lynch's gift for structure and pacing, I appreciate the wisdom of not returning to the well of Locke and Jean's past; having really loved those vignettes, I missed them.

In the case of RSuRS, Lynch takes advantage of the device of those parallel time lines to propel the reader directly into a long con in progress as the initial hook, and still honor the toll the events of the first book have taken on the characters by showing the reader the long, ugly path they've taken to get back into the game. About a third of the way into the book, though, the timelines converge (in fact, there is a chapter bearing the heading "Final Reminisce"), and the narrative is more or less linear from there on out.

As I was reading RSuRS, I kept telling M that it seemed more complicated than the first, but of course the first book also takes a large left plot turn at Albuquerque. In the case of TLoLL, though, it's more a noirish plot complication, whereas RSuRS ventures into entirely new plot and character space once the timelines converge. In the interests of rapidly sketching that space, Lynch plays much more with point of view in RSuRS, whereas TLoLL stayed almost entirely with Locke. As a result, a handful of scenes and plot elements are left hanging for a bit, although everything is ultimately tied up.

As with his narrative techniques, Lynch seems to have a great sense about what character elements to leave intact and where he can and must make his characters grow and change. There is no mistaking Locke and Jean, and no doubt about why we grew so fond of them in the first place, but they are not unchanged, and neither the characters themselves nor the reader can always tell whether they'll behave as we expect them to. (On that note, one standing complaint with RSuRS is that it opens with a rather cheap mislead.)

The newly introduced characters are very well done for the most part. Lynch does stray into ridiculously overpowered villain territory once again, and we spend more time with the villain of RSuRS than we did with the Gray King, so the cheese grows a little ranker a little sooner in this book, but the other additions are so good that they make up for a lot of it.

One of the issues I had with TLoLL was the invisibility of women in the book's setting. That's far from the case in RSuRS, which features a number of women in well-done lead and supporting characters.He makes good on the device established in the first book, namely that women are well represented in almost all professions, and draws them out into the narrative without having to draw attention to gender. His leading and supporting women are 3-dimensional and well-drawn, and Lynch doesn't spend pages telling us how hot they all are or what they're wearing at any given moment (Jim Butcher, I'm looking at you). There's a certain amount of gooeyness associated with one of the leads, who becomes a love interest, but it's not dire. Moreover, he *gasp* implies that not everyone is heterosexual without at all fetishizing non-hetero relationships.

For me, personally, as a reader, the real marvel of RSuRS is that fully 2/3 of the book is about sailing, and I did not want to flash freeze and chip out my own eyeballs even once. I hate Boys 'N' Boats books. Really, truly hate them. Thought The Hunt for Red October contained about 100% too much submarine. Could have really gotten into Polar Star if were, say, set on a Dude Ranch. HATE THEM. But this one was cool. Check it out.

Please note that I am also bloody annoyed that (a) I have to wait until the end of February for the next book and (b) I'll apparently be buying the hardcover.

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