Early review: The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch
Posted September 24, 2013on:
The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch
Available Oct 8th in the US, Oct 10th in the UK
where I got it: Netgalley
I assume if you are reading this review that you have read the first two books in this series. You’ll find minor spoilers for the first two books in this review, but this is a spoiler-free review for The Republic of Thieves (plot points mentioned in the review take place in the first 100 pages of the book, or have already been revealed on the authors website). It is very important to me that the surprises not be spoiled, so I’ve changed commenting to full moderation to keep anyone from posting spoilers in the comments. The first rule of the end of The Republic of Thieves is that you do not talk about the end of The Republic of Thieves. catch my drift?
When last we saw Locke Lamora at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies, he was dying of poison. The Republic of Thieves picks up a few months later, and if Locke was anyone else, he’d be dead by now. He’s just too damn stubborn to die. Good thing, or this would be a really short, really boring book. Scott Lynch does a lot of things, and boring will never be among them. Another thing Lynch doesn’t do is give us more of the same. When Red Seas under Red Skies came out, there was plenty of “this is nothing like the first book! what the hell!”. You’re right. It was nothing like the first book. With characters like Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, a rich and complex world, and an author as talented as Scott Lynch, why in the hell would you want more of the same? Aren’t you itching to see what everyone is really capable of?
What I’m getting at is don’t freak out that The Republic of Thieves has a very different feel than the two previous books.
The main plot starts up fairly quickly, with Locke and Jean being approached by Patience, a high ranking Bondsmage. She has a job for them, quite literally an offer they can not refuse. If they agree to the contract, she will save Locke’s life by removing the poison from his body. Remember their last experience with the Bondsmagi? Yeah, so do they, and it’s the gun on the table that the Bondsmagi know Jean’s true name, and that Jean knows Locke’s true name. Locke faces down his deathwish, and they take the job. It’s a gig to fix an election and make sure Patience’s faction wins. If that doesn’t sound interesting to you, just remember what I said a bit ago about Lynch not doing boring.
As he’s done in the previous novels, Lynch jumps back and forth between present day and flashbacks to Locke’s youth. We witness the first time he meets Sabetha, their initiation into the rites of the Crooked Warden, Locke even experiences a Kobayashi Maru of sorts. Like every awkward teenager in the history of ever, Sabetha and Locke start to bounce off of each other, miscommunicating through looks and gestures and failed attempts at being charming. Come on, you remember being fifteen, right? The sexual tension between them is absolutely delicious, and I love that Sabetha is not only smarter, but more sexually aggressive that Locke. The flashback sequences eventually focus on one particular summer when Father Chains sends his particularly obnoxious teenaged wards to the country to be in an acting troupe for the summer.
There’s a lot more complexity here than just your standard awkward teenage romance. Sabetha is determined not to be charmed by Locke, with reasoning that shows she’s wise beyond her years. He’s beyond smitten with her, and keeps saying he’ll do anything to make her happy. Her response is that if he’d only pay attention he’d figure it out on his own. If only Locke wasn’t so fucking smug all the damn time. He really is going to pay dearly for being so dimwitted towards the fairer sex, isn’t he?
Back in the present day timeline, in Karthain, homeland of the Bondsmagi, Locke and Jean have only a few weeks to fix this election. They are out of familiar territory, with no time at all to scope the place out or plan or bribe or figure out escape routes. Other than “don’t kill anyone” they don’t even know the rules of the game. Karthain is a brilliantly strange place, this is our first opportunity to see a populace permanently living under the effect of the Bondsmagi.
Of course the other faction in the election has also hired an election fixer as well. They’ve found the only other person who knows all of Locke’s tricks, all of his secrets, all his tells. Someone capable of out smarting, out tricking, and out bastarding everyone’s favorite Gentleman Bastard. They’ve found Sabetha Belacoros.
All this time the reader has been dependent on Locke’s memories of Sabetha. We’ve never gotten her side of the story. What really happened between the two of them? On a night with no moon, what does a wise bondsmagi fear?
All will be revealed.
This isn’t just any reveal. You know how Lynch likes to end chapters on a cliffhanger and then jump to a different time period? This time he’s taken cliffhanger chapter endings to a whole new level, one much more akin to cockblocking.
There’s a lot of really fun poking of the fourth wall in The Republic of Thieves. Don’t we want our (anti)hero to be smug and self confident, a natural born leader, someone we’d follow into a hare brained scheme? As a fan, is there anything I’d really, truly, want changed about Locke’s character? Lynch has said more than once that many of the characters in these books are about wish fulfillment. Even wish fulfillment can be a double edged sword.
With all the flashbacks and Sabetha talk, Republic of Thieves has more of a connection to Lies than to Red Seas, showing us all the more that Lynch favors the long game. Fans of Calo and Galdo Sanza can rejoice in knowing our favorite foul mouthed twins play a huge part in the flashback plotline. There’s plenty of the dirty tricks, con-artistry and creative insults readers have come to love from this series. Conspicuously missing, however, is a traditional villain. The surviving bastards are fighting against time, and as the climax nears they are fighting a dangerous secret, something that sheds light of a completely different color on everything we thought we knew about the Gentleman Bastards.
Placing the main story in Karthain, Lynch gives us yet another fully developed city for Locke to explore and exploit. I do love that each novel (so far) in this series takes place in a different city in the world, and they are each quite different – different cultures, beliefs, government systems, style of dress, cuisines, languages, and social expectations.
My love for this series borders on obsession, but I did have one major gripe about Republic of Thieves. There is a character who is new to this novel who seems to exist solely as someone who shows up to give information and move the plot forward. You know when you’re playing a fantasy adventure video game and there’s a village elder or someone you can always go to when you’re stuck and do the “May I ask you some questions?” conversations, and eventually you hit on answer that gives you a hint of where to go? This character seemed to primarily serve that purpose, and I found the person to be increasingly annoying. Yes, the person does some very important things, but there has got to be a better way to move the plot forward and/or confer information other than an info-dumping conversation. After a while I just nicknamed the character “plot-device”. I think you will know who I’m talking about when you get to this person.
To make up for my gripe, Lynch has peppered the book with buckets of funny and clever lines of dialog, in-jokes for readers who have been paying attention, and unexpectedly hilarious moments that I think many readers will find oddly relatable. I could easily type another thousand words just on my favorite scenes. And another thousand words on what happens with the acting troupe (they play they are performing, by the way, is called The Republic of Thieves), and the parallels between the flashbacks and the present day plot lines. Not to mention the other thousand words I could easily type about my reaction to the big reveal, in which there was much brick shitting for both this reader and the characters.
But you know what? I’m going to save all of that for November. When I co-host a Republic of Thieves read-along. Stay tuned my bastardy friends, stay tuned.
In the meantime, all you need to know is that The Republic of Thieves is a more than worthy addition to the series. Lynch pulls out all the stops, unveils a much larger multi-novel story arc, and really shows you what both he and these characters are really capable of. I even owe a debt of gratitude to the character who annoyed me the most for guaranteeing this won’t just be a trilogy.