Ocean's Eleven story in a fantasy setting. That's arguably how that book begins, but unlike Ocean's 11, you never really get to see a plan develop past its fledgling stages, much less come to fruition. While things hardly could be said to go according to plan in this story, I think the Ocean's Eleven descriptor fits Red Seas Under Red Skies far better. Locke and Jean spend two years planning an enormous heist, and you get to follow along as they ride by the seat of their pants, somehow navigating death trap after death trap as they work toward their goal. If anything, much of this story is even more light-hearted than the first novel. It no doubt helps that, by now, I am firmly in Locke and Jean's camp, and revel in their witty banter and outrageous hi-jinks, whereas it took me a while to warm up to the characters in the first novel.
That's not to say that there aren't poignant scenes. As the novel's great twists and turns throw Locke and Jean into ever more dangerous situations, they make friends--and those friends are thrust into those same dangers. The book somehow managed to keep a smirk on my face for most of it, but still created deep, heartfelt emotion; that's quite a feat by the author.
If there's a criticism to levy at the novel, it's that the story is a bit convoluted. There are major swings in the narrative that require entire plot lines to be suspended for major parts of the book. Nevertheless, it does all come together by the end, in one form or another, even if not exactly as one might expect or hope.
But...the characters! Gods, the characters! It's not just Locke and Jean, who have risen in my view to one of the best duos in fantasy history. But their companions in this tale are original, vividly realized, and yet somehow do not pander to the reader. Even the chief villains of the story, for the most part, have multiple sides to their personalities, and motivations that seem clear, relate-able, and justifiable.
It's one of the faster 700+ page books I've read, and manages to be deeply engrossing throughout most of the tale. These two Locke Lamora novels have quickly risen to be among my all-time favorite fantasy series. 5/5