I was torn over this rating. I think there was a pretty serious plot and pacing blunder in here that many other reviewers have noted, BUT Lynch did some absolutely amazing things with character development and building the readers empathy with Jean and Locke even beyond what he managed by the end of The Lies of Locke Lamora. In the end, empathy won out for me and I was willing to overlook Lynch's sudden and inexplicable pirate fetish because of the relationship building that took place throughout. This story tried to be as reliant on sudden and dramatic plot twists as its predecessor to keep its hooks in you, but unlike its predecessor a lot of the plot points felt contrived to throw you for a loop and keep you guessing rather than being logical extensions of the unfolding drama. Maxilan Stragos's "brilliant" idea to suddenly send Locke and Jean, who he doesn't even know, out to sea in a mad scheme to seize complete control of Tal Verrar being chief among them. The whole plot point is neatly attributed to blind ambition and lust for power loosely veiled by some dramatic plan to spur the advancement of human civilization that seems shallow and poorly thought out by author and culprit alike. One can't escape the whimsical notion that Lynch went out and watched Pirates of the Carribean
one day and suddenly decided he wanted to make his story about pirates too. I honestly don't know what else explains it. The con being built at the Sinspire was intricate and awesome enough, with rich enough characters and complicated enough scheming to keep me interested in its full play-out. Throwing in the shenanigans of a bunch of bondsmagi sweetened the deal and would have made a great novel by itself. Ultimately, I walk away feeling that this was actually two stories, that only really pay any reference to one another as afterthoughts to keep you from forgetting you're reading one book. BOTH stories are really, genuinely engaging though, and would have made great stand-alone novels in their own right. In both, we are exposed to rich new characters, witty banter and the seriously twisted and screwed up situations that seem impossible for all but Locke and Jean to work their way out of.
Jean shines in this book as much as Locke ever did in the first installment. We're treated to a more complete backstory and see Jean in a more sober and responsible role than before. Sure, one still gets the feeling that Lynch is relying on him as the deus-ex-badass to get the pair out of sticky situations too frequently, but there's a whole level of depth added to Jean's characters that endeared him to me as much as Antillar Maximus from the Codex Alera
series by Jim Butcher. Among the other things you become engrossingly concerned about as you read through Red Seas
is the friendship between the pair, exposed to new strains and tested in new ways, the brotherhood the two share seems as plausible as it is ideal in Lynch's care.
Zamira Drakasha and Ezri Delmastro were nice additions as was the natuical lore of Lynch's world. I liked the ease with which Lynch inserted strong female characters in new roles without excessive justification and commentary. His heroines are capable and as strong-willed as his two male protagonists and so their positions as master spies, captains and soldiers seem perfectly natural rather than forced...a rarity in the genre to be sure. Lynch also does a fantastic job at expanding the horizons of the ongoing story, placing this new one in a larger context of "future-things-that-need-a-gods-damned-reckoning." I suppose it was too much to expect the bondsmagi not to take notice of what Locke and Jean did to their brethren in Camorr and the developing "war" between the two is something that builds a hell of a lot of epic anticipation. Lynch also spends time fleshing out motive for the Gentlemen Bastards as a thieving crew by expanding upon their religious beliefs and the precepts of the Crooked Warden. The beliefs give purpose to Locke and Jean's actions beyond just thieving for thieving's sake, or worse, thieving just to live the idyllic life and elevates their profession considerably when contrasted with the opulent decadence of Salon Corbeau.
I'd say reaction to this book seems to be split between people who've drunk Lynch's Kool-Aid and love Locke and Jean like their very own brothers and those who read with a little more detachment. If you're thoroughly in love, you'll observe, but not see the crummy plot twist in the middle of this novel and pay it as much attention as you would a speed bump five seconds after passing. If you're a little more critical....chances are you're going to be hugely distracted and your mind will stick on it like a splinter in your thumb. I, my dear friends, have drunk the Kool-Aid.
That said, I honestly can't wait for more. It should be a crime for Lynch to keep us waiting till next September. Especially with that ending...