Locke and Jean have concocted an intricate plan to get the better of Requin, ruthless owner of the Sinspire and head of the Verrari underworld. But Locke is yet to win his trust – or that of his scarred and suspicious lover, Selendri – when the Archon sets the Gentleman Bastards the false-facing challenge of a lifetime: can the thieves become pirates and start a war?

It’s all getting complicated in Tal Verrar!

1) And if some small part of him felt sour at twisting her emotions (gods damn it, that part of him had rarely spoken up before!) – well, he reminded himself that he could do as he pleased and feel as he pleased while he was Leocanto Kosta. Leocanto Kosta wasn’t real.

Between flirting with Selendri, confronting the horrors of Salon Corbeau and handling a certain cliff-top encounter, Locke’s conscience gets a solid work-out this week. What do you make of our little thief’s elastic ethics? Is he a good man, a good thief, or both?

Locke is a complicated fellow. He’s got a fairly well-developed conscience, but he tries not to let it out of its box too often! When he’s in character, he’s all about the role and achieving his goals – he’s ruthless, but even he isn’t entirely convinced by his line that it doesn’t count if it’s his character doing it…

When his conscience does come to the fore, it usually seems to be on account of his role as a priest of the Crooked Warden. He’s genuinely upset by the Salon Corbeau, because he does have a soft heart for the downtrodden, but he also takes it as an offence against the Thirteenth. The rich remember – or in this case, they don’t, and perhaps they should.

When he spares Trav the bandit, he takes the line that he might need him in future – but it looks an awful lot like a spot of proselytisation on behalf of the Crooked Warden. Trav is a rubbish thief, and he thinks the Thirteenth is a heresy, but Locke isn’t going to kill him in cold blood (although I think Jean is irritated enough to consider it) and he isn’t going to pass up the opportunity to make a point.

Even the poor cage fighter gets a blessing after the stiletto wasps have done their work.

In spite of all this, I don’t know that I’d call Locke a good man. He’s a good thief, and mostly a good priest (I’ll consider Salon Corbeau on notice), but it’s pretty rare that he gives in to his soft-hearted tendencies. The Thorn of Camorr never actually gave his riches to the poor, and although he’s starting to seem more aware of social injustices, I don’t see him moving to do anything about them. Self interest still comes first, so I’m not going to rush to call him a hero.

 

2) “I think Selendri can be sweet-talked, at least a little bit.”

…what do you think? What do you make of Selendri so far?

HAHAHAHAHAHAH. Ahem. Seriously, Locke, WTF? I know it’s been a while since you had meaningful interaction with a lady-person, but where on earth do you get the impression she was intrigued or unsettled by you? Honestly, I’m taking this as a sign of Locke’s naïveté or ego, because all I’m getting from Selendri is a mildly irritated distrust of the slippery fast-talker and a largely-suppressed impulse to push him off the balcony. I may be projecting, of course.

In my head, her relationship with Requin is a bit like the Underwoods’ marriage in House of Cards. She’s Requin’s confidante, his partner, his trusted right hand – she may or may not have been an Eye of the Archon, but I have no doubt she’s as ruthless as her lover, and that he respects her judgment. I wouldn’t cross her.

 

3) “You are thieves. I am offering you a chance to help steal history itself.”

Now that Stragos’s plan is laid bare before us, what do you make of his purported ambitions – and of his strategy for achieving them?

He’s a bit sure of himself, isn’t he? I am tending towards thinking of him as a full-on moustache-twirling villain in military garb. He lives in an unassailable fortress with a personal staff who can fake weather for him, and he has mysterious allies who are puffing up his ego. I can see the logic of him wanting to foment a war to diminish the power of the Priori, but his determination that Locke and Jean should be able to pass as pirates within a few weeks is bonkers. He knows better than this – surely? – but it feels like he’s been surrounded by yay-sayers.

…to be honest, he reminds me of a number of men I’ve worked for who are quite sure the impossible can be done by tomorrow if we’d just stop arguing with them and work a bit harder (this sort of motivation normally being doled out late at night). Thankfully, I’ve never worked for a man who considered poison the best way to get me to agree with him though!

I’m don’t feel entirely clear on the full scope of his ambitions, though. Tightening his grip on Tal Verrar is one thing, but it’s hard to tell how much of his rousing speech about the Therin empire and diminishing the influence of Karthain is heartfelt and how much is for the Bastards’ benefit. Still, his conversations with Merrain suggest he isn’t just feathering his own nest…

 

4)“Then I may report to my masters that the plan is underway?”

How many different factions do you think are in play at this stage? Any ideas who Merrain might be working for?

I’ve read Red Seas before, but I honestly can’t remember! My head is whirling like Verrari clockwork gears trying to keep track of how many political players are engaged here.

Requin, the Right People and the Priori are essentially a unit (which is ironic, since the constables work for the Priori, so this puts the underworld and the peace keepers on the same side politically, if not legally). The Bondsmagi are furnishing the Archon with information about Locke and Jean, but don’t appear to have employed Merrain. Someone is trying to kill the Gentleman Bastards. And we haven’t even got to the pirates yet.

All of which leaves me puzzled as to who Merrain actually works for (although I wouldn’t be surprised if she were double-crossing Stragos) and exactly who keeps trying to assassinate Locke and Jean. Merrain and her people repeatedly save their lives – but is this an elaborate ruse to make them think they’re in more danger than they are and push them towards the Archon’s hospitality? The Priori have no reason to want them dead unless they’re simply taking pot shots because of their association with the Archon; and the Bondsmagi seem unlikely to stoop to such mundane means. So who does Merrain work for, and who is trying to kill them?

I have absolutely no idea.

 

Now let’s be frivolous. How cool are Verrari job titles? Eye of the Archon. Consulting Poisoner. Second Mistress of the Great Guild of Artificers. What would you like your Verrari job title be?

How about Consulting Mistress of Practicalities? I think it’s best we’re vague about exactly what practicalities I might consult on; my clients prefer me to be discreet.

 

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
  • 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!