Some Spoilers for the previous book, The Lies of Locke Lamora
Gods damn it, Scott Lynch! You did it to me again!
And this time there's no excuse. I remembered very vividly how the first book was a great deal of rollicking fun, and then an emotional evisceration in the last few chapters. But somehow, I forgot that until the final battle drew near, and suddenly, a sense of foreboding settled over me. I'd been here before. Characters I loved had died. It filled me with a sense of dread to turn the pages.
I truly don't want to spoil anything here, but let's just say that the new character I had grown to love the best suffered a horrific fate. And if anything, it was even worse than the deaths in The Lies of Locke Lamora, because this one was heroic. And horrifying. I was sitting in the middle of the campus cafeteria seating area, crying. It makes me upset even to write about it.
I rarely give the second book by a new author who delighted me quite as good a review. This one is going to be an exception. I think it's even better than the first, and I loved the first. I've already bought the third, but I think I'm going to wait a while to read it, until the emotional wounds have at least started to scab over.
We rejoin Locke and Jean as they are midway through a plot to steal from the owner of the richest casino in Tal Verrar. It's Ocean's...well, Two. Complete with snappy dialogue, twisty plans, and some breathtaking reveals. But then the local military leader, the Archon, steps in and "convinces" Locke and Jean to do a job for him - and no, I'm not saying how. He wants a military threat to bolster his power, and trains Locke and Jean how to masquerade as pirates, with the aid of a ship master who actually knows what he's doing.
Unfortunately, Locke can get neither women nor cats onboard his ship, which makes his new crew immediately suspicious. And soon, he is captured by pirates! And the book really takes wing here - the pirate captain, her first mate, and the rest of the crew are all wonderful characters. Locke juggles plots like mad, trying to stay ahead and alive.
Did I mention the Bondsmagi are still out for his blood as well? Throw another couple of balls into the fire!
It's a satisfying book, and starts out with a great device. We see Locke and Jean, in the middle of a stand-off. Jean appears to betray Locke. Those of us (read: me) who are deeply attached to the characters dismiss this as an obvious ploy. Jean would never betray Locke! They might fight, sure, but if you're making a list of impossibilities, this would be at the top. So I think I totally know what's going on in this scene.
And damned if, in the next few chapters, Lynch doesn't supply us with a perfectly believable reason why that scene might turn out the way it appears to be turning out. It doesn't contradict my deep-down knowledge about Locke and Jean, but it does make sense with everything that's happened. This is quite the feat of writing - giving me several different potential answers to this scenario, and each of them seems equally plausible. Talk about tenterhooks!
This is such a strong book, a wonderful entry into this series. Fun, enjoyable, and then, devastating. I guess I'll mention the swearing, as it seems to put some people off. I don't understand that, but there it is. People swear. If you're shocked by that, this is not the book for you. But if the idea of a fantasy men with conmen, pirates and schemes by the yard appeals, check this one out, after you've read the first in the series.