Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review of "Red Seas under Red Skies" by Scott Lynch

Allow me to digress from the get-go to establish context.  Mel Gibson and Danny Glover prove a somewhat interesting duo in their first pairing Lethal Weapon.  The first film featuring the tandem, viewers watch with a sense of trepidation as the plot unfolds, wondering whether each will survive the action.  With character and routine established, Lethal Weapon 2, 3, and 4 affect far less suspense, however.  Red Seas under Red Skies, the follow up to Scott Lynch’s success, The Lies of Locke Lamora, suffers the same problem.

Lies established Locke and Jean as untouchable.  No matter how they are threatened, the reader turns the pages of Red Seas under Red Skies knowing the end will find the two on their way to another adventure.  All suspense temporary, the story must be endured rather than enjoyed as a result.  Red Seas being the second in a planned series of seven, how Lynch intends to maintain drama until the end is beyond this reviewer.  We know how fresh Lethal Weapon feels after three sequels…

But the problems get worse.  Anyone who has seen a Bollywood film knows that presenting a singing and dancing routine followed by a bloody shoot-em up simply doesn’t work.  Integrity fades as the moods are spliced.  Red Seas (like Lies) does the same—though without the singing and dancing, thankfully.  Numerous scenes find Locke and Jean under severe duress, but in the next line a buddy-buddy joke—a la Mel and Danny G.—completely distracts from the crisis at hand.  Is it drama or comedy—or drama-comedy?  The resulting lack of sincerity fails to endear Locke and Jean anymore than Lies.  This largely stems from:

Fritz Leiber is one of few writers who can pull off the combination of humor and action.  And it is the strength of his style that makes readers enjoy turning the pages.  Lynch, unfortunately, is not a stylist.  Better at profanity than prose, the jarring language—both vulgar and syntactical—of Lies returns in Red Seas.  Dialogue is also just as forced and wooden.  “Locke, what do you think about the men chasing us?”  “They can suck on (enter scatological joke here).”  Narrative, well, it’s more bloated and clichéd.  Lynch, who used half of Lies to establish character back-stories, faced the challenge of filling a whole narrative with a single plot in Red Seas.  The result only a moderate success, Disney still does a better version of pirates.  

But topping all of this is the continued failure of Lynch to be ingenious.  The wily trickery and clever ruses of Lies are once again hopelessly weak and anti-climactic once revealed in Red Seas.  There is one setup in Red Seas in particular that Lynch keeps secret from readers, but hints that later in the story will have important consequences.  When the secret setup is finally revealed, nothing could be more disappointing.  A child could think of a better ruse, and the air Lynch has put into the balloon deflates in slow, zig-zag fashion across the room.  

In the end, Lethal Weapon was liked by enough to spawn three sequels, meaning Locke has a similar chance.  Thus, readers who loved Lies will probably also like Red Seas.  The series remains an easy to digest, adventure/revenge story that requires zero engagement.  Full of juvenile humor (often of the toilet variety), the disjointed, erratic prose does not help.  The “what scheme that Locke has cooked up will fail now” storyline also gets old quick.  For those interested in fantasy and pirates, I suggest Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides as a better conceived alternative.

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