Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch

This book has the dubious distinction of being on the most anticipated titles of the year for several years running. Lynch's first novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora, appeared in 2006 and was a huge success. It was quickly followed by Red Seas Under Red Skies in 2007. The pressure was on to deliver the third book  in what is to be a seven volume series, but Lynch struggled with mental problems that kept him from finishing it. The Republic of Thieves was postponed, and then postponed again until finally earlier this year it was announced that a complete manuscript had been delivered. I've been sitting on an advance copy of this book for quite a while now but with the October release date rapidly approaching, I could no longer contain my curiosity. I finished earlier this week and I have to say, Lynch returns in style.

The Gentleman Bastards are in serious trouble after their botched confidence game in Tal Verrar. Locke is dying from a slow-acting poising after tricking Jean into taking the only vial of antidote. He has given up while Jean is frantically trying to save his life. None of Jean's attempts are successful and he is getting desperate when the Bondsmagi once again interfere. For reasons of her own, a magus using the name Patience offers her assistance in curing Locke. For a price. The Gentlemen Bastards are to travel to the city of Karthain, current residence of the Bondsmagi, and rig an election for them. Problem is that the opposing side has also hired someone to run their campaign for them. Locke and Jean will face their old friend Sabetha, once member of the Gentleman Bastards and the love of Locke's life. With the Bondsmagi looking over their shoulder, business and private affairs become a lethal tangle.

Structurally, Lynch chooses more or less the same approach as he did in the previous novels. Story lines set in Locke's formative years are intertwined with events in the present. Where in previous books Lynch abandoned the scenes set in the past, he keeps it up all the way to the end of the novel in The Republic of Thieves. There is something to be said for the structure Lynch chose in the previous book, there is no point in taking a those story lines past the point where they cease to be relevant, but the more balanced story presented in this novel does make for a smoother read. Personally, I also enjoy the chapters on Locke's youth a lot.

The Gentleman Bastards get involved in all manner of complicated schemes of course, they can hardly avoid it, but what the book is really about is the relationship between Locke and Sabetha. Lynch has hinted at their history in previous books but other than that is was a painful subject for Locke, not much was really revealed. A lot of the story line set in the past lays out their developing relationship and the complications that arise along the way. Although Locke has been the main character for two novels now, this book reveals a new layer to his character. It is, as you might imagine, all very dramatic. Lynch captures the desperation of the teenage Locke and Sabetha quite well.

Like all of Chain's students, Sabetha is quite a formidable young lady. In fact, until Locke's arrival she is probably the most talented member of the gang. Something that will cause problems for them in later years. Lynch always plays for high stakes in his writing. He's been hinting at this character for two books and raising expectations. Personally, I liked the way he portrays her. She's as complicated a person as Locke. The way they attract and repel each other worked very well for me.

The title from the novel is taken from a (fictional) play the Gentleman Bastards get sent to perform in by Chains. It's a drama that Shakespeare wouldn't have been ashamed of an it mirrors the drama that unfolds in the story perfectly. The chaotic preparation for their first performance also adds a comical element to the novel that is needed to break the constant strain Locke and Jean find themselves under in other parts of the novel. I guess I do like the Gentleman Bastards in their teenage years best. Reading these sequences do make me wonder if Lynch has enough material to keep these dual story lines going for four more books.

I had already been apparent that the Bondsmagi still had a bone to pick with Locke after his encounter with the Falconer. The fallout from this conflict is the basis for the story line set in the present. Lynch is expanding this a lot further, connecting the motivations and apparent restraint in controlling the world of the Bondsmagi with the attitude of the gods and of course the mystery of Locke's origins. It is a complex puzzle, especially since not all information the Bondsmagi provide can be taken at face value. They are not entirely omnipotent as Locke has already convincingly proven. Lynch is clearly laying the foundations for future novels here.

The Republic of Thieves is a novel that turned out to be worth the wait. As usual, Lynch plays for high stakes, constantly setting up situations that appear almost impossible to get out of (or write yourself out of from the perspective of the author). He manages to do just that every time. One may wonder, as fellow blogger Kenneth has already pointed out, to what extent these high stakes combined even higher expectations from readers have contributed to Lynch's mental problems. A bit more self confidence is warranted I think. Lynch delivered a book fans will love. Structurally it is stronger than the previous volume. Some of the novelty of The Lies of Locke Lamora has worn off of course, but the book is nevertheless great fun to read. Lynch is a very talented author, I already look forward to reading The Thorn of Emberlain.

Book Details
Title: The Republic of Thieves
Author: Scott Lynch
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: 672
Year: 2013
Language: English
Format: E-book
ISBN: 978-0-553-90558-8
First published: 2013


  1. I can't wait to read this book and have already pre-ordered my copy!

  2. It certainly was a lot of fun. I was surprised to see a lot of blogs having liked it significantly less than I did. Nice to see someone else who appreciates a fun story, even if it is a little different than the initial outings.

    1. I get the feeling that if you wait six years to put out a highly anticipated sequel you've lost a lot of people before they turned the first page. I've seen a lot of critiques that come down to 'this book was not The Lies of Locke Lamora'. I don't think you can expect an author to repeat himself. Writing such a high profile debut may not be that good a thing for a writer all things considered.

    2. I suppose I lucked out in that I read the first two books not too long ago. My reading habit tends to ebb and flow. You'd think fantasy readers would get used to long waits... I'm looking at you George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss.

    3. Hmm, for every Martin and Rothfuss there is a Sanderson or Bear who write more than one a year. At the moment some of the high profile names have been slow writers but I wouldn't say that is the norm in Fantasy.