adventure

REVIEW: Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

When Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) realises he’s on the last of his nine lives, he sets out to find the mythical Last Wish and restore his nine lives.

Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has finally been released in the UK and I’m happy to say it was worth the wait. Considering it’s been over ten years since previous Puss in Boots film and the Shrek franchise is one of those things that makes us millennials feel old when they realise how long it’s been since those films were at their peak, it is kind of impressive how great The Last Wish is.

Everything about The Last Wish just works from story and character to the brilliant animation. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse clearly shook up how animated films could be as there’s elements used in The Last Wish that are as dynamic and entertaining as that film as it moves away from the standard late-2000s 3D animation and instead uses impressionistic imagery not seen in this franchise before. The colours pop, the fight sequences are thrilling, and some of the new character designs are fantastic. Special mention goes to the Wolf (Wagner Moura) who is a looming presence as they’re on Puss’s trail, that character is one of the most interesting in design and in character motivation.

The action and adventure is there from the outset as Puss takes on a giant creature to save a town but it’s how The Last Wish tackles Puss’s character arc that was really surprising. He reluctantly teams up with a chihuahua (Harvey Guillén) and his old flame Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek) and how the friendship between these three develops is great. For a character like Puss whose defining characteristics is his bravery and being a swashbuckling hero, seeing him face up to his mortality and how that can affect how he sees himself was really interesting and sincere.

As Puss searches for the Last Wish, other characters come into play including Goldilocks and the three bears (Florence Pugh, Olivia Colman, Ray Winston, and Samson Kayo), and Jack Horner (John Mulaney) who all have their own reasons for wanting to be the one to get to the Last Wish first. Amazingly all these extra characters still have their own satisfying arcs that aren’t underdeveloped and they way the story brings everyone together to resolve things in a heartfelt way is impressive.

Honestly, I think “impressive” is the word to describe Puss in Boots: The Last Wish because it’s far more entertaining and visually interesting than one ever could’ve thought it’d be. The way it twists fairy tales/nursery rhymes is fun, it has humour and heart throughout, and it’s just a beautiful film to look at with a wonderful story. 5/5.

REVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

In the wake of King T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) death, Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) must lead the people of Wakanda as they fight to protect their home from outside forces – whether that’s member states of the UN, or the nation of Talokan in the deep depths of the ocean led by Namor (Tenoch Huerta).

It’s pretty much impossible to talk about Wakanda Forever without talking about the passing of Chadwick Boseman and the affect this had on the film. Director and co-writer Ryan Coogler incorporated Boseman’s passing into the film and needless to say in the first five minutes I was already getting emotional. This makes Wakanda Forever an almost unique grieving experience. All the characters who knew T’Challa are mourning his passing, and so are the actors playing them, and so are you as you watch this film. It’s easy to imagine that in some of the big emotional scenes, the actors used their grief for their friend and co-worker to fuel their characters grief.

There’s a lot going on in Wakanda Forever with new characters and a new civilisation with a lot of backstory introduced and some aspects were more interesting than others. Martin Freeman’s CIA agent Everett Ross is back and while his character is somewhat integral to moving the plot forward to begin with, it does kind of feel like the film grinds to a halt every time it leaves Wakanda to see what he’s up to in America. Wakanda Forever is close to three hours long and it’s moments like this that makes you feel the runtime.

The whole cast is incredible but Bassett, Huerta and Letitia Wright are truly standouts. Angela Bassett gives a couple of powerful and emotional monologues and the fact that one is almost soft with her contained rage while the other has her pain over flowing just shows how talented she always has been. Plus, the first happens in the UN in front of a majority white audience while the latter happens in the throne room in Wakanda, infront of the other tribal leaders and her people – once again showing how these characters have to be uniquely aware of their race and power even when they’re from one of the most technologically advanced countries in thise universe.

Namor is such an interesting villain – though really he is more of an antihero – and Huerta is just so compelling that your eyes never leave him whenever he’s on screen. His Namor is principled and loyal but on the flipside, he can be very intimidating and, like the first sequence where the people of Talokan attack, almost frightening. Letitia Wright’s Shuri goes through a lot in this film but she’s truly the emotional centre of Wakanda Forever. She’s trying to combine her love and knowledge of science with the realisation that it wasn’t enough to save her brother and if that’s the case how can she protect her people? Her inner turmoil is fascinating and Wright is phenomenal – pretty much every time I felt myself get teary eyed, it was due to her performance.

One of the many things I really appreciated in Wakanda Forever was that it let emotion and drama sit with you. There are jokes or humorous moments in the film – mostly from Winston Duke’s M’Baku who is still an excellent scene-stealer – but they’re used in a way to ease some tension rather than becoming an almost parody of the MCU joke machine as seen in some other MCU movies recently aka Thor: Love and Thunder.

Black Panther won Oscars for Music, Costume, and Production Design and those same Oscar winners are back for Wakanda Forever and I wouldn’t be surprised if they got awards consideration again. Ludwig Göransson’s score has echoes of familiar themes but also plays on the unknown with Talokan, and both Ruth E. Carter and Hannah Beachler make both Wakanda and Talokan feel so alive with their costumes and set design and when it comes to Wakanda, adds to the history and culture we already know. Both Wakanda and Talokan feel so vast and real because of the costumes, sets and props especially as they’ve incorporated African and Indigenous cultures into it all.

Overall Wakanda Forever is a story about grief. How grief is hard and messy and people deal with it in different ways and some ignore grief until it almost consumes them. It still has its action and the Dora Milaje led by Okoye (Danai Gurira) is still awesome and it’s a thrill seeing so many complex and powerful women on screen, working together. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is definitely my favourite MCU film released this year. 4/5.

REVIEW: Enola Holmes 2 (2022)

Now a detective in her own right, Enola Holmes’ (Mille Bobby Brown) detective agency is struggling as she tries to make it out of her older brother Sherlock’s (Henry Cavill) shadow. That is until she gets asked to find a missing girl by her little sister, and soon Enola is entangled in a dangerous conspiracy and her case may even be related to Sherlock’s case and they both will need all the help they can get.

I was a big fan of the first Enola Holmes film and I’m very happy to say the sequel is just as fun and delightful as the original and expands on the characters in an engaging way. In many ways Enola Holmes 2 is incredibly similar to the first film as it may be a different mystery but there’s still the undercurrent of political/feminist themes and the same fourth wall breaking with a wink from Mille Bobby Brown but what this sequel does well is not make these elements seem tired or boring. Look sometimes it’s nice for a sequel to do something vastly different, while other times it’s nice for a sequel to embrace what made the original so entertaining and just do that again. With a lot of Netflix’s action output being stoic, it’s nice that they’re investing in the fun adventures of a plucky young girl in Victorian London.

Mille Bobby Brown continues to shine in Enola Holmes 2 and the referential humour could become grating in lesser hands but with Brown as our lead, she plays Enola as charming and resourceful as ever. Though it is the moments when she is out of her depth, like attending a ball and having to ask young Lord Tewkesbury (Louis Partridge) to teach her to dance, that are really interesting as while Enola comes across as self-assured, her independence doesn’t fit into what society deems fit for women and there are some things that she is clueless about.

The mystery itself loses its way a bit in the middle and all the loose ends aren’t tied up particularly neatly but the inclusion of new adversaries – David Thewlis’ Superintendent Grail is fun as it appears that every Holmes has a problem with him, including the matriarch of the family Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter) – old friends, and some young romance and rebellion makes it an enjoyable ride.

Having Sherlock involved more in this mystery works without him taking control and pushing Enola out of her own story. He has his own case and while he does help Enola, she helps him too and their awkward personal relationship is more compelling than their working one. Also Cavill’s dry sense of humour as Sherlock while still being very protective of his little sister is brilliant.

I honestly would happily watch Enola and her friends and allies go on many more adventures. A casting choice in a mid-credits scene makes me hopeful that there will be a third film as I need to see more from that person than a cameo. Plus, these films are just fun, lightly feminist, teen girl power escapism and are really enjoyable to watch and we all can use some light, charming fun these days. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)

After surviving the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) become targets of the Capitol as unrest rises in the Districts of Panem. Then when the Quarter Quell is announced, they plus twenty-two other former victors, are forced to return to the arena.

Catching Fire is honestly perfect. It’s one of the best sequels ever and best book to film adaptations. It does exactly what you want from a sequel (even one that’s a bit of a rehash of the original), it builds on the character work done before, increases the stakes and tension, and it leaves you wanting more. Just like when I reread the book, I was amazed that half the film happens before Katniss and Peeta arrive in the arena and you’re never wishing it would hurry up and get to that point. The pacing is truly excellent as the civil unrest throughout Panem in the first half of the film is like an ever-increasing boiling pot of tension, threatening to explode at any moment. Meanwhile the latter half in the arena is tense and exciting as there’s a whole load of new creatures and elements ready to kill Katniss and her potential allies.

Hutcherson’s Peeta and Liam Hemsworth’s Gale are still kind of pushed to the side and like the first film, any thoughts on focussing on a love triangle are soon forgotten as Katniss does what she can to keep herself and those she loves safe. Because that’s the thing throughout the books/films, it’s clear that Katniss does care for both of them but she’s never allowed herself to think of a future where a happily ever after was possible.

The cast is expanded with a whole host of new – or rather former – tributes. Having the competitors being former victors adds an extra edge to this Hunger Games and there’s alliances and friendships that Katniss and Peeta are unaware of. Finnick (Sam Claflin), Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Johanna (Jena Malone), Mags (Lynn Cohen) and Wiress (Amanda Plummer) are some of the major players but with everyone having their own agenda it’s hard for Katniss to know who to trust.

Jennifer Lawrence really is fantastic throughout all these films and she’s the backbone to this franchise. The final shot of Catching Fire though is outstanding though. It’s a close up of her Lawrence’s face as Katniss goes through all five stages of grief before staring straight into the camera with a look of fiery determination in her eyes.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is truly an excellent film and is pretty much the gold standard for a YA book to movie adaptation. It’s exciting, heartfelt, and tackles big themes like cruelty and dictatorship in an engaging way. 5/5.

REVIEW: Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

Twenty-nine years after the Black Flame Candle was last lit, two friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern day Salem and they must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.

I am definitely of the generation that grew up watching Hocus Pocus pretty much every Halloween and I still rewatch it each year, so I was definitely equal parts excited and apprehensive about a sequel to a childhood favourite. Thankfully, I really enjoyed Hocus Pocus 2. It has the charm of the original without overly relying on nostalgia and the same jokes or plot points as the first film.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all look like they’re having a blast as Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson. Honestly most of the fun and joy of this film is seeing these three comedic actresses back in these iconic roles and just going for it full throttle. There are a couple of new songs and seeing how the Sanderson Sisters can still be duped by modern technology but they aren’t so naïve as when they first arrived in the 1990s because they do remember the things they saw and learnt then was a nice touch.

Have to give a shoutout to the three young actresses who play younger versions of the Sanderson Sisters at the beginning of the film. Taylor Henderson, Juju Journey Brener, and Nina Kitchen are all brilliant. They each embody the various little quirks each sister has so well that it’s easy to imagine these girls grow up to be the witches we know so well.

The new young heroes are pretty great too. The friendship between Becca, Izzy, and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) is believable and as they’ve grown up in Salem on stories of the Sanderson Sisters, they quickly jump into action rather than have any doubts or disbelief.

Sure, I might be blinded by nostalgia for the original when watching Hocus Pocus 2 but I really did have a good time with it. It’s a fun children’s film and the kind of kids film that adults can enjoy and don’t find any of the jokes or references that annoying. It’s a fun film and a worthy sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Hunger Games (2012)

After revisiting the books for the first time in about a decade it was time to revisit the films – many of which I probably haven’t seen since they were first released.

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games – a fight to the death on live TV until only one victor remains standing. When her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) as she and her male counterpart, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives.

From the outset it’s clear the difference between the Capitol and the Districts aka the haves and the have-nots. The Hunger Games opens with two men with brightly coloured hair and vibrant clothes talking about the Games and then cuts to District 12 where a woman screams and everything is bleak and grey.

Even before we get into the arena, the camera work is shaky and frantic. While it works in the arena, encompassing the fear and the adrenalin as the tributes fight to survive and quickly moving away from children’s bloody bodies allowing the imagination to fill in the gaps, in Katniss’s day to day life it feels jarring. I’m not one to feel queasy due to shaky cam, especially not when watching a film on my laptop, but some of the sequences in District 12 did make me feel funny and my eyes hurt due to the camera work.

Some of the most interesting moments in The Hunger Games comes from things we’d never have seen in the book as it was all from Katniss’s point of view. In the film, you get to see the Gamemakers, the people pulling the strings behind the scenes on their holographic screens as they set traps for the young competitors. Again, it goes to show that for people in the Capitol this is just entertainment or just a job but for the tributes it’s the worst time of their life.

I feel like there will be more to comment on performance-wise as the films progress but the likes of Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, and Toby Jones looking like their having a whale of a time. They all play citizens of the Capitol and are used to lives of luxury but Banks manages to ensure that Effie comes across as well-meaning if a bit insensitive as she’s never not on Katniss and Peeta’s side.

Jennifer Lawrence is really does a fantastic job at Katniss. She’s not the most expressive or potentially even likeable character as she’s had to have so much responsibility from a young age but Lawrence makes it work, showing the girl behind Katniss’s stoicism and the moments when she truly lets her emotions out, often when she’s with her sister or Rue (Amandla Stenberg), you truly feel what she’s going through.

Overall, The Hunger Games is a solid, though sometimes a little slow, adaptation and with stellar performances bringing to life such interesting characters it sets the franchise off on a good foot. 4/5.

REVIEW: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Shortly before Halloween, twelve-year-old Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

I haven’t read a middle grade or children’s book since I was the intended demographic for such a book, but when I heard about Ghost Squad, I knew I had to check it out and I’m very pleased I did. Yes, the humour is naturally more juvenile than my kind of thing as an adult but there’s still some moments that made me smile to myself and Syd especially had some witty observational one-liners.

I read Ghost Squad in two sittings and it was a great way to spend some time. I got pulled into the story almost immediately and Lucely and Syd’s friendship was so great. I liked both girls a lot and they have a proper ride or die friendship and there’s pretty much nothing they can’t say to one another. I liked that a lot actually, that they weren’t afraid to ask each other tough or potentially personal and uncomfortable questions and the other never getting upset with those questions. Instead, it was a sign of how deep their friendship was as they could be so open with one another even when it was about something that could hurt them.

I really liked how present the adults in Lucely and Syd’s life were. Yes the girls go on a lot of adventures on their own and figure things out together, but it’s nice that when adults are made aware of what’s happening, namely Syd’s grandmother Babette and Lucely’s dad Simon, they’re supportive and help the girls solve the problem. As I said, I haven’t read much middle grade but with YA there’s often a lot of dead, abusive, or emotionally or physically absent parental figures in the main characters lives. This tends to be so the main characters can have their adventure and story without worrying about the pesky adults getting in the way but Ghost Squad shows how your child hero characters can be the heroes of their story but still have love and support from the adults in their lives when they need it.

The ghosts themselves and the monsters they can create were excellent and suitably spooky. The action sequences and the magical items the girls and Babette use to capture and fight the ghosts were fun too. Ghost Squad really captured the sort of childlike wonder of a situation full of ghosts, like the items used to fight ghosts could only be found in a children’s book and it was great.

I found how Ghost Squad delt with death and family really interesting and effective. Lucely can still see pretty much all of her dead family members thanks to their spirits being connected to her home while her dad has lost that power and can only see them as fireflies. So, for Lucely no one is truly dead and gone so when something threatens them, and her grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins start to get almost sick even though they’re already ghosts, it’s a really scary time for her. On the flipside to that, her mother left Lucely and her father and that grief and sadness is there unlike the grief of losing a loved one to death. It’s a really interesting parallel and shows the difference between losing someone due to something out of their control, and losing someone due to their own choices.

I’m really pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Ghost Squad considering middle grade isn’t something I read. I liked the characters, the adventure, the spooky vibes, and that there was a fat cat called Chunk that was more than meets the eye. It’s a fast-paced and fun story that has some depth to it. It’s definitely a book well-suited to Halloween season. 5/5.

REVIEW: Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)

Unsure of his life and what he wants from it, Thor’s (Chris Hemsworth) mid-life crisis is interrupted by Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), a galactic killer who seeks the extinction of the gods. Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and his ex-girlfriend Dr Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who is now the Mighty Thor and wields Mjolnir, to stop the God Butcher.

Thor: Love and Thunder is style over substance. I feel at one time I may have had that criticism for Thor: Ragnarok but at least there the tone was mostly balanced and there was still a decent plot and character work. In Love and Thunder it’s all bright colours (except in the Shadow Realm which is the one stylistic thing and sequence I found interesting) and rock music and it’s so tonally inconsistent and the jokes are juvenile and grating. There’s running gags in Love and Thunder that may have been a bit cringey but generally OK the first time but the fact that they just keep going with that joke it feels like it’s flogging a dead horse and even if it was a little funny to begin with, in the end it becomes so unfunny that it’s painful. The jokes also often come at the expense of the drama and supposedly more emotional, hard-hitting moments which is annoying. Also, if you’re like me and only really like Korg in small doses, then Love and Thunder may be grating at times as that is a “funny” character I do not find amusing.

The tonal inconsistences aren’t just the humour undercutting dramatic moments, but how in some ways Gorr feels completely out of place to the rest of the film. Christian Bale is great in the role and is creepy and gives a great performance. Gorr is so serious, and perhaps a little mad, so when he comes up against a God that’s self-indulgent and arrogant it’s kind of jarring. You could say this is on purpose – showing how the Gods don’t care about the people that worship them and how they just want to live in opulence and have all the food, wine, and sex that they could ask for – thus giving Gorr all the more reason to kill the Gods. However as elsewhere in Love and Thunder there’s humour undercutting dramatic moments and drastic tonal shifts it feels like it’s part of a wider issue.

One of my biggest problems with Thor: Love and Thunder is Thor as a character. In films of all genres, I can kind of forgive a weaker plot if the character work is good. Especially in franchise films, if I like a character, I just enjoy seeing them and how they’ve grown and adapted to whatever situation they’re in and what’s going on around them isn’t such a big deal for me. With Thor: Love and Thunder the plot isn’t great and neither is the character work. Thor seems like he has regressed as a character and is back to being the arrogant man-child he was at the start of Thor. The whole point of the first film his him learning some humility, that actions have consequences and you can’t always go charging in like a bull in a China shop. Over the past however many Thor and Avengers movies Thor has learnt the smashing things without first attempting diplomacy isn’t the answer. In Love and Thunder, he doesn’t seem to care about anyone, including the Asgardian people he’s supposed to love and protect; summoning the Bifrost in buildings, destroying sacred temples as he stops bad guys, and just generally acting like an irresponsible buffoon.

Though she’s now King, Valkyrie gets no real development, any hints at a genuine friendship between her and Jane are few and far between and she is regulated to Thor’s sidekick once again. Jane and her heavy origin story and rise as the Mighty Thor feels shafted due to it being surrounded by flat jokes doing wrong by her as a character and what she’s going through. Plus, as it’s been a while since we’ve seen the character, the Jane/Thor romance feels underdeveloped even as the film gives a copious number of flashbacks to try and make you care about it.

Thor: Love and Thunder relies on the (unfunny) banter between characters rather than any real meaningful dialogue or emotion and does a disservice to all of its character. It definitely feels like Thor: Love and Thunder didn’t work when the thing that got the biggest reaction from me was an actor’s appearance in the midcredits scene. The rest of the film didn’t particularly make me feel happy or sad and I may have smiled a couple of times or chuckled but never full on laughed at anything that happened on screen. 2/5.

Perhaps I’m being generous with a 2/5 rating but that’s what I’ve settled on. I liked Gorr and the Shadow Realm sequence but everything else, not so much. As someone who tends to have mixed to positive feelings about Thor: Ragnarok, Thor: Love and Thunder is a serious step down.

REVIEW: Jurassic World Dominion (2022)

Four years after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom humans and dinosaurs are struggling to coexist. Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) are trying to keep under the radar, even as they help dinosaurs in need, to keep their adoptive clone daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) safe but when velociraptor Blue’s baby is taken by poachers they set out to save it. Meanwhile Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) are reunited as they investigate the shady goings on at genetics company Biosyn.

Considering the premise of dinosaurs living with humans in the modern world is an interesting one and not one we’ve seen before in the Jurassic Park/World franchise, it’s kind of a shame that Jurassic World Dominion mostly glosses over that. Sure, there’s scenes towards the beginning of the film of dinosaurs clashing with humans and the bad side of humanity as of course humans would set up a black market for dinosaur sales and illegal breeding facilities, but people are for the most part just living with dinosaurs and all the chaos and danger that might cause. Almost feels like an allegory for how people/governments have dealt with and are living with a pandemic.

Like Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Jurassic World Dominion kind of feels like two genres of films in one. There’s the kidnapped child plot that the Jurassic World characters are in and the corporate espionage plot that the Jurassic Park characters are in. Eventually all the characters end up crossing paths and it at least ends more cohesively than Fallen Kingdom did.

The action sequences with dinosaurs are generally good. Some are well shot and exciting, others are poorly edited and are hard to follow. The last act of the film when characters are reuniting and teaming up against the dinosaurs and the evil corporation is the best as that’s when there’s a lot of good dino action happening almost continuously.

Having the original trilogy heroes back and seeing Dern, Neill, and Jeff Goldblum (because Dr Ian Malcolm is here too) all together on screen again is a delight. Sattler and Grant are still both fond of and exasperated by Malcolm’s whole persona and his swagger adds some much-needed levity to a film that at times can verge on being a bit dull. Having these three actors back, who all have great chemistry, playing three characters that still feel familiar even if they’ve evolved since the last time we’ve seen them, does make Pratt’s and Dallas Howard’s characters feel even more one-note than before. They are so generic that it’s a running joke on the internet that people can’t remember their characters names but in Jurassic World Dominion they both feel really flat. The fact that Dallas Howard and Pratt have negative chemistry is also abundantly clear when you have Dern and Neill’s characters just oozing longing and quick glances and you realise you’ve been waiting for almost thirty years for them to kiss.

Jurassic World Dominion is perhaps a bit overlong and disjointed to begin with but chase scenes with dinosaurs almost never get old and having Drs Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm back is what elevates this film. The other newer characters from the Jurassic World franchise are mostly forgettable – except DeWanda Wise’s Kayla Watts, she’s also a great source of energy and charm in this film. 3/5.

REVIEW: Red Seas, Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

Audiobook narrated by Michael Page.

This is the second book in the Gentlemen’s Bastard series, the first being The Lies of Locke Lamora, so there may be vague spoilers for the first book.

After barely making it out of Camorr alive, Lock Lamora and Jean Tannen arrive in the city state of Tal Varrar where they are soon planning to take on the legendary gaming house The Sinspire. No-one has ever taken even a single coin from the Sinspire that wasn’t won on the tables or in the other games of chance on offer there but Locke and Jean plan to change that. The course of crime rarely runs smooth and soon Locke and Jean find themselves entangled in the politics of the city and are coerced into setting sail in order to find some pirates

Red Seas, Under Red Skies is almost a book of two halves and I very much enjoyed both of them. The first follows Locke and Jean about two years after the events of The Lies of Locke Lamora as they are putting the final touches to the long con they’ve been pulling. In that half there’s also flashback chapters to see what happened to them in the first few months after they left Camorr. I’m always impressed by the flashbacks in this series. They never bore me and do a good job of actually adding to the characters and their newly changed dynamic as Locke and Jean have been affected by what happened to them in the first book. The second half is the seafaring adventure as they’re forced to learn how to be passable sailors and go searching for pirates to bring back to the city. It’s like the first half is a city book and while the setting is different to where they grew up, Locke, Jean and you as the reader know what they’re up against and how to rig the system. When it becomes a sea/pirate adventure book, that’s when Locke, Jean and the reader are on uncertain ground as no matter how much charisma and smarts they have, there’s things out to sea that you can’t talk your way out of.

It was fun seeing Locke and Jean out of their element when they’re out to see, but really through the flashbacks you see that they haven’t really been 100% themselves since they left Camorr. They relationship has shifted a but and while they still definitely trust and care about each other (don’t think I’ve read about such ride or die best friends like them for a long time) they aren’t always quite on the same wavelength anymore. Locke especially is unsettled and doesn’t always believe in himself and his schemes and it’s interesting to see him doubt himself and work to overcome that.

There’s a lot going on in Red Seas, Under Red Skies with various outside forces having their own schemes that attempt to ensnare Locke and Jean, but I never felt lost or confused when reading it. There are schemes within schemes and it’s fun to see how things unfold and while there’s certainly surprises, when you think back, the groundwork for them was there and pretty much everything was meretriciously planned.

I love the blend of magic and science in this series. You get to see more of Locke’s bag of tricks and how a pack of playing cards can be more than what they seem. Alchemy is the main sort of “magic” but there’s a few instances where mind control and telepathy may come to play, and when they’re out to see there’s clearly some large, deadly and fantastical creatures in the water.

I love the characters, the world, and the whole vibe of Red Seas, Under Red Skies and this series as a whole. It’s a series I want to take my time with as there’s only three books released but even though it’s been a couple of years since I read the first book, I soon found myself immersed in this world again. Locke and Jean’s character development was so good and interesting and the new characters, especially the new lady pirates, were great too. 5/5.