Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for the first two books of the series. If you have not read them, please only read forward at your own peril.
“’Damn it, when will you learn that refusing to admit you’ve lost isn’t the same as winning?’
‘Sort of depends on how long one keeps refusing, doesn’t it?’”
Well, the wait is over. The book is here, after a long six years. Are you ready for your next dose of Scott Lynch? Have you finished your rereads of Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies? Are you ready to be reunited with your favorite Gentlemen Bastards, and meet one very special Gentlewoman Bastard? Maybe you’re just looking for something good to read this weekend.
In any case, The Republic of Thieves will blow you away.
Told in a similar fashion to the first two books, Republic of Thieves has two plotlines: A flashback, and a “main” plot. The flashback takes place in the pre-Lies of Locke Lamora years, with all the Bastards still, well, intact. We are once again treated to the constantly clever and witty dialogue that Lynch seems able to pull out of a hat. We see some signs of character growth, as Calo and Galdo begin to drift apart from each other. Chains is, as always, and integral part of the group, even the scenes he is not present for. Despite having a more minimal role to play in this book than in previous ones, he still holds my vote for best mentor character ever. Despite all this, the flashback is mainly the story of Locke and Sabetha: how they met, how they interacted, and their slow, highly awkward transition to becoming lovers. The plotline about all the bastards putting on a play is mostly unimportant, even if the play itself does title the book. The play Republic of Thieves is magnificent, by the way. From the few snippets we get, I’d gladly read it for any English class.
The main plotline sees Locke (and Jean) go head-to-head with Sabetha in a battle of wits and cunning, as each seeks to achieve victory for their respective political party in the elections. These elections happen to take place in Karthain, home of the Bondsmagi, Locke’s old enemies. The only way they get him and Sabetha to take the job is by giving each of them something they could otherwise not have received. Much of the story is the three Bastards playing practical jokes on each other, and very little campaigning seems to get done, or need doing. The biggest point of this plotline is the interesting questions the Bondsmage Patience asks of Locke, and his true nature. As of the end of the book, these questions are far from resolved.
Lynch’s prose is, as always, beautiful. There is no expansive description, no frilly bells and whistles on his writing. But it is not a hard-boiled, dirt-and-bones approach to writing, either. It is a fully fleshed out, fluid style that perfectly suits the story being told. To see words flow together so effortlessly and seamlessly is a skill that makes people like me want to tear our hair out with envy.
No one characterizes like Scott Lynch. Not J.K. Rowling, not Tolkien, the only comparison I can really give is Martin. Lynch’s main characters are among the best described, most entertaining in the world of speculative fiction. Though they may not be the most flawed, I for one (and I know I am not alone in this) consider Locke among my favorite characters of all time. Unfortunately, Lynch seems to have dug himself a hole even he cannot dig himself out of; that hole is Sabetha. After all the references and mentions of her in the first two books, the vision of Sabetha is far more powerful than any character Lynch could have created, and she inevitably falls short. She felt like a less witty, more direct version of Locke, and I completely failed to understand Locke’s dewy-eyed obsession with her. That being said, had she not had a reputation to live up to, she would have been an excellent character, at the very least near Lynch’s usual standards.
Supporting characters are few and far between in the main plot — only Patience and Nikoros really count. Nikoros was always a bit-part player, and Patience never seemed right to me. Her motivations seemed skewed; I was never quite sure what she was trying to accomplish. In the flashback plot, though, there is a whole slew of them. Moncraine, Boulidazi, Sylvanus, Alondo… even the parts in the play develop their own personalities. For the most part, these characters play a certain role, and do it fine. Rarely are they fleshed out more than that, but when they are, I found the characters very well done. Moncraine and Boulidazi especially.
Of course, the area in which Lynch truly excels in is the interactions between his characters. The verbal sparring is ever-present, and I’m sure that Lynch has a fountain of witty and clever dialogue in his house that he turns on whenever he needs inspiration. Jean, Locke, and Sabetha are masters of this in the main plotline, and the repartee among all the Bastards in the flashbacks is often the best part of a section.
The plot of this book, unfortunately, is not quite what we’ve come to expect. Rather than the elaborate heist of Lies of Locke Lamora, or the dramatic naval warfare of Red Seas Under Red Skies, Republic of Thieves often seems a bit lackadaisical in its plot structure. I can’t help but feel this is on purpose, though, as Lynch seems to be using this book mostly to introduce the character of Sabetha. And though there are rarely any stakes, and if they are, they are rarely too high, Lynch does a superlative job of adding tension and suspense into these scenes. It makes what could have been a fairly pedestrian novel into a well-paced, entertaining book. The only real problem I had with the pacing is that the main plot drags a little in the beginning, and the flashback plot around the beginning of the middle. Luckily, both are aided by the fact that the other plot is actually very entertaining right as they slump.
Most fans of Scott Lynch will be eagerly awaiting word of the setting. Unfortunately, neither Karthain nor Espara have the genius of Camorr or Tal Verrar. They are settings, like most places, not particularly embellished upon, and certainly no simple stories of their history, as is relatively commonplace in Lies. It is regrettable, but mostly unnoticeable. I feel that where the addition of the city as a supporting character in the first two books was an added bonus, nothing is lost by not having it that way.
Republic of Thieves is a great book. It is (nearly) everything we’ve come to know and love from Scott Lynch, and he took a big risk in revealing Sabetha to us. Though her character may have fallen a little flat, and elements of the plot feel a little off, I would still consider this book outstanding. A warning before you begin: There are an enormous amount of cliffhangers in this book. You will grow to both admire them for what they are, and despise them for what they do to you.
Seriously though. Read this book. I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting The Thorn of Emberlain.
Final Rating: 8/10
Note: A digital copy of this book was provided for review by the publisher via NetGalley.