The Republic of Thieves review

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Republic of Thieves, book 3 of the Gentleman Bastards sequence by Scott Lynch, is finally upon us. The series started with The Lies of Locke Lamora back in 2006 and was followed not long after by Red Seas Under Red Skies in 2007. While for some readers, the second book wasn't as stellar as Lynch's debut, I found it as entertaining and engaging as TLoLL. Is third time's the charm? I think that it's mostly a yes, but not without some setbacks.
With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all. 
Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body - though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean's imploring - and the Bondsmage's mention of a woman from Locke's past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival. 
Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha - or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.
Right from the start of the book, even if her consequence as a character isn't immediate and her appearances temporarily sporadic, I was eager to finally meet with the mystical Sabetha. As I'm writing this, I realize that as much as the hype and expectation (even if the book was postponed for quite a while) for this novel wasn't totally fair, it was the same for the rival, ex-partner and obsession of Locke. At first glance, Sabetha's introduction is kind of underwhelming but it was difficult to live up to Locke's idealization and here lies the intricacy of the thing, we heard of her from the perspective of someone completely infatuated. I'll come back to her later.

In accordance with Lynch's two previous novels, the narrative is split between the present day and interludes. The tale is kind of slow paced in comparison to the previous books but Lynch's engaging writing is still entertaining and clever (even if it's still occasionally trashy). Following the events that transpired in Tal Verrar, Locke's predicament is dire and I was anxious to find out how Jean and he could pull it off this time. Between a lengthy kind of prologue delivering the bastards into the hands of their nemeses, the infamous Bondsmagi, the author takes us back to the beginnings of Locke's life in the world of larceny, under Shade's Hill and the arguable tutelage of the Thiefmaker. Locke's origin story still offers plenty of material and with Sabetha as an inclusion, we find ourselves right in the mist of our beloved Father Chains, the Sanza twins and Jean.

From that point, we find out what the girl is all about.  Sabetha is a stubborn ambitious perfectionist with a knack for reading between the lines and talking back, mostly so when Locke's involved. She's a worthy adversary for Locke, a more organized player in the establishment of creative heists while his number one fan is relying on his instincts. However, she lacks some of his natural leadership and outgoing personality and it clearly leads to the difficulties in their relationship. The duel they have with the rigging of the election of Karthain is an awkward reunion story but, to a certain degree, it serves as a catalyst to instill some fire to a flat account.

Back to the interludes, when the namesake of the book is presented as a play the students of Chains will have to perform for a friend of their mentor, the real skills of Lynch as a writer of intricate, witty and colorful con stories find their home. The team of Camorri youngsters are fun to watch while the whole production process of that play is presented and above all during the complicated pre-show and aftermath. Although the focus on the rehearsal of the play itself is less interesting and several pages were unnecessary, the exploration of Locke and Sabetha slowly growing liaison felt much more natural when blended into one of their operation. The mocking tone of the Bastards together is a blast.

By now, you might ask yourself why I am constantly coming back to Sabetha and her relationship with Locke. That's because it's mostly what this book is all about aside from expanding the foundation story of the Gentleman Bastards and migrating a sub plot to the status of meta story for the whole series. A huge revelation for Locke was kind of a deception for me but we'll see what the author will make of it. I wouldn't have thought that Lynch would have gone into that direction but anyway, that's not where the crunchy side of things stands in this novel.

All things considered, the entire present day events with the election to rig, the five year game of the Bondsmagi, is simply a background for the would be couple to spar on a somewhat even ground where the actual politics are thrown out of the window.  Sadly, that endeavor hardly feels like one. There's no sense of emergency, danger or even trepidation. Some tricks or pranks offer enjoyable scenes but in the end, it felt like a good chunk of it was simply a mean to an end, pushing the characters toward their next enterprise and opponent.

Hopefully, the interlude more than make up for the craving I had of watching these outstanding characters diving into their element and finding kick-ass moments around many corners. The weird thing about it is that I really love Jean's perspective and his part in this segment of the story is less significant. This is a proof that even if I felt that Karthain was kind of a letdown, I still enjoyed the ride.

In conclusion, I don't think that The Republic of Thieves is the best novel from Lynch but it's definitely worth reading and a lot of fun (I had a hard time putting it down).  With the Sabetha enigma now out of the way and a new world of possibilities to explore, I'm confident that the author can come up with another great sword and deception story. His writing is sufficiently accomplished and his voice unique enough so that if he can focus on the adventurous machinations Locke and Jean can come up with, we should be in for a threat more than once in the future.

Technically, the Gollancz and Del Rey books cover is simply amazing, one of favorite of the last years. The hardcover edition of the book stands at 608 pages and the beautiful map of Karthain is included (also available at the maps index).

The Republic of Thieves review rating :

World building
Magic system 

Overall (not an average)


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