Thieving Thursday: Red Seas Under Red Skies 1

Two ships on high seas under full sail. Text: Red Seas under Red Skies - Gentleman Bastards Read-along

It’s two years since the Gentleman Bastards fled Camorr to heal their wounds and start again. Locke and Jean have settled into new identities and a new con, their eyes on the riches of the Sinspire, most luxurious – and dangerous – chance-house in Tal Verrar. But old enemies are moving against them…

1) “Jean, I would describe this turn of events as less than helpful.” 

We get off to an unexpected start, jumping straight into the middle of – well, what? We’re in Tal Verrar and the wheels appear to have come off. In the subsequent chapters, there’s a lot of focus on Locke and Jean’s friendship and devotion to one another. Do you think Jean has really turned against Locke? 

Oh, my. Well, that was certainly an unexpected start (or at least it was the first time I read it). I obviously can’t answer my own question – tch – so I just want to take a moment to reflect on their friendship.

I love that I can reread this still looking for clues as to what’s actually going on in their heads. First time around I was so distracted by plot and oh my god how do we get to that; now I am slightly awed (and bruised) by some of the exchanges between Locke and Jean.

In Lies, Locke and Jean were brother thieves, tightly bonded and entirely trusting in one another. In Seas, we see that evolve in several directions all at once: Jean’s frustration in Vel Virazzo; their usual lockstep under threat, and while a game is in play; but then there’s those little signs that all is not well. That their trust has been eroded. We go from

“Gods help me, I will never be better off without you.”


“That was another shitty thing to say. Gods, when did we discover how easy it is to be cruel to one another?”

…and it’s easy to forget that this is not the correct chronological order of these conversations. But Locke still asks Jean if he’ll still be there when Locke gets back from laying out the con for Requin.

I love that their relationship is going through a rocky patch. It makes it feel so painfully real, and it adds a new dimension to the narrative that goes beyond the stakes of the game in hand.


2) “I am an honest working thief and I’ll do what I have to to keep a table set and a roof over our heads!” 

This time, the interludes are flashbacks to what the Bastards have been up to for the past two years. How did you feel about Locke’s depression – and Jean’s responses?

I guess I’m more like Jean in that I tend to lock down my emotional responses and find distractions. Hey, my life is falling apart, watch me focus on this thing over here that I can channel all my energy into! So I understand his initial impetus to go out and make sure there’s cash coming in, and then his secondary impulse to start training the Brass Coves. He’s finding community, he’s dodging his grief and seeking positive feedback, and he’s doing something he’s good at (who doesn’t enjoy that?)

And Locke is a little self-pitying shithead when he tries to frame all that as replacing Calo and Galdo and Bug. But Locke is a long way down the well, here. Depression and grief twist us up, and many of my beloved people battle depression daily, so I’m not going to judge him too harshly. I can understand him retreating into himself after Camorr; the drinking and the failure to exercise. He has lost almost everything, and he’s too far gone to stop himself driving Jean away.

I think this is a pretty brave choice as character development goes. It’s not your typical epic fantasy arc. But if one of Locke’s weaknesses is his love for his brothers (and Sabetha); another weakness is his ego (just as Chains noted back on the temple roof in Camorr when Locke was 6). And one of Jean’s great strengths is how well he knows – and loves – his friend.

Sympathy aside, I still cheer when Jean empties a barrel over his head. And I delight in the little detail of Locke stealing earrings to prove he’s still got what it takes. I’m not sure I entirely believe Locke would snap out of it quite so dramatically, but then… I’m not entirely sure he does.


3) “It is possible,” said Locke with a sheepish grin, “that I have been slightly too bold.” 

The Requin game is worth more than the Bastards entire lost fortune in Camorr (and Locke gives us a little insight into what it means in real terms). His reputation is ominous. Given everything we learn about Requin, is Locke over-reaching himself?

Is Locke over-reaching himself, or is he looking for insanely big challenges to stop himself from slipping back into his depression? Is this his equivalent to Jean training the Brass Coves? Maybe. Although I don’t think he (or Jean) should rush to send a thank you note to the Bondsmagi or the Archon!

And honestly, Requin is no worse than Barsavi or the Grey King (when you consider the fate of the Full Crowns). He’s just more visible and more socially acceptable than the Capa of Camorr – and I think it tells us quite a lot about the Verrari that the Priori and the Archons are perfectly happy for him to execute cheats and keep their hands as trophies. It’s not that the Camorri are above such behaviour, but I think the Duke prefers to be seen as the only official justice in the city (although what the Capa does to his own people is another thing).

Still, it’s quite a risk Locke takes in revealing their cheating to him. And the more I hear about the vault (the more I can’t help but think of the planning scene in Ocean’s Eleven), the harder this game sounds. I usually hate it when authors have characters share information with each other without sharing it with the reader (a pet peeve in crime drama in particular), but I actually don’t mind here that I don’t know the plan to get the better of Requin. I know the joy will be in watching it unfold. Even without George Clooney.

…but that story about Selendri makes the consequences clear. If they fail, it will be very painful. And very slow.


4) “It’ll be good to be the predators again.” 

I guess Maxilan Stragos and the Bondsmagi are front of the queue to disagree with Jean (even if you don’t think Requin is more dangerous than a half-starved, blood-crazed wolf shark). And is it just me, or does Tal Verrar feel even more intense than Camorr? Even if the average bod on the street seems less knife-happy, a lot of the buildings seem to be designed to intimidate and/or murder you. How are you liking the new setting?

I love that the city states have such individual identities. Although the Elderglass towers of the nobility dominated Camorr’s skyline and Elderglass bridges arched over the canals, Camorr still felt very human to me – brick and stone houses crowding up against the water’s edge. It had shades of Venice with alien add-ons. I get more sense of the Eldren architecture dominating every part of Tal Verrar – the glass roof arching over the Terrace gives me modern architecture goosebumps. Didn’t the Eldren like getting wet?

The first time I read Lies I described it as ‘technomediaeval Hustle‘. But we mostly see alchemy (although those lifts up the side of Raven’s Reach *shudder*), whereas in Tal Verrar we see ‘artifice’ – and it’s explicitly clockwork. The mechanics of the Mon Magisteria are fabulous, if daft. Hallo, are we playing on the fringes of steampunk? I think we’re still a good long way off airships, but…

I am also enjoying the new political setting. Instead of an all-powerful Duke (matched by the Capa in the underworld), we have a council of merchants struggling to wrest power back from the military. The nobility are irrelevant here; it’s all about money and influence. Inevitably, we still have a harsh division between the haves and the have-nots.

…and I find it harder to argue for equal gender representation here than in Camorr. While the Spider was underestimated, did she have to work harder to get that position in the first place? We don’t know. But in Vel Virazzo, for the first time, we see a gang comprised entirely of men and boys (the Brass Coves); and in Tal Verrar, while we see plenty of women, they are all (so far) subservient to a dominant man (Requin or the Archon).

Still, we haven’t met any pirates yet. And the description of Durenna makes it exceedingly clear that at sea, a woman can be in command.


Favourite moment(s) this week: I actually find this first section quite emotionally difficult; the tension between our heroes and the sharp edges that have evolved across their relationship. There are so many exchanges that go straight to my heart.

But there are a few moments of joy. As mentioned, I love stroppy Locke dumping his thefts in front of Jean in Vel Virazzo; and the throwaway line in the inn after breakfasting on little cakes made in their own image – “Alas, poor Locke and Jean.” “They died of consumption” *snort*


Take a tour of our responses to this first week:


Discussion schedule: We’ll be reading roughly 3 chapters per week:

  • May 5th: Chapters 1-3
  • May 12th: Chapters 4-6 hosted here at x+1
  • May 19th: Chapters 7-10 hosted at The Illustrated Page
  • May 26th: Chapters 11-13 hosted here at x+1
  • June 2nd: Book 3 and Epilogue hosted here at x+1

Want to get in on the action? It’s never to late to jump aboard – just leave a comment below and get reading if you’d like to join us!