Many of my friend enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora much more than I did, and it was only after some poking that I revealed my reasons why. After that, I was assured that the problems I had with LLL were not present in the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, so I agreed to read it and post my thoughts. I finished it up over the July 4th weekend, so here they are.
First and foremost, yes, I enjoyed it much more. It’s still the adventures of Jean and his annoying friend, but I’m ok with that, and most importantly, the cheating was not nearly so rampant, and is mostly limited to mere hand-of-author stuff rather than caper-breaking stuff. This is, at least in part, a result of the smaller role played by the bondsmagi (and, tellingly, that part lead to me frowning at their apparent violation of their own rules) and I’m grateful for it.
For context, I actually listened to it rather than read it, and while I was originally skeptical of the overly-theatrical nature of the reading, I was quickly won over to it. The reader (Michael Page) does a good enough job with the voices that it was very easy to stay on top of conversations. One of the unexpected benefits of the audio book format is that it makes Lynch’s fondness for fantasy names much more tolerable. Hearing them spoken makes them at least feel like names when they otherwise sit like lead on the page.
The audio book also has a bit of a downside in that it casts a harsh, unforgiving light on the entirety of the text. Because there’s no way to skim, overly detailed blocks of prose that don’t actually move anything along are cast into harsh relief, and this book is awash in them. If I did not know that Lynch was a gamer, I’d suspect it based on his descriptions, which often serve to lovingly showcase his worldbuilding (which, in his defense, is pretty good) far more than they do anything to move along the plot. They’re problematic enough in their own right, but they’re far more problematic in a book that feels too long to begin with.
In fact, this really feels like two book jammed together, the first a city caper, the second a pirate tale. Either one would probably have been a good read, but their combination feels fat, and wrapping them thickly doesn’t help. This is further muddled by a number of unnecessary time jumps, most egregious of which being an opening flashback which more or less reads like a storyboard for the screenplay this book might be. It’s such a blatant structural trick that it chafes, and it also forces a technical gaffe onto the protagonists (check which names they use).
Finally, this is kind of soft writing. There were numerous points where the tension depended upon your thinking the author would be willing to go there, and Lynch won’t. That’s not too bad a thing, since it’s caper stuff, and fun is appropriate, so it mostly becomes an issue when this moves away from it’s caper roots.
That’s a lot of complaints, but here’s the rub. I enjoyed it, and I’ll read the third book – whenever it comes out – with far less hesitation. For all those complaints, there are some good parts to it. First and foremost, when Lynch is on his game, he really rocks it. Dialog and action move along, his fight scenes are great, and by and large when things are happening, they’re a joy to read. If he were more willing to jump-cut between scenes, it would be a joy to read.
I worry sometimes that Lynch is an author out of time. His writing (at least as showcased in RSURS) seems less well suited to the massive fantasy bricks of today than to the novellas and short stories of yesteryear. With only minimal editing, one could turn RSURS into a collection of stories akin to one of Lieber’s Lankhmar collections and vastly improve them thereby. Many of the longish asides (like the event while climbing) would make perfectly serviceable little stories on their own. It would also offset some of the softness of the writing since there's an expectation in short stories of a return to the status quo.
It occours to me that the seams are so clearly visible that I wonder if, perhaps, that was the original format, and it got beaten and spackled into Big Fantasy Book. It wouldn’t surprise me, since I imagine that’s the necessity of the day, but it would be a shame if so.
Anyway, the bottom line is that the book’s not flawless, but it’s a fun adventure yarn, with some surprisingly good setpieces. Glad I finally broke down and read it.