The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
19 December, 2013
Oh Locke, how I have missed you.
Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves, the third volume in his majestic Gentleman Bastards series, is one of two books I have been waiting eagerly for years. Starting with The Lies of Locke Lamora which shook my reading mojo when I was feeling the fantasy genre was a little lacklustre and tired, Lynch’s beautifully realised, faux-quattrocento world introduced a new sophistication into world-building. Not only was it visually stunning but the prose was beautiful, the pace supersonic and page after page brought twists and turns that the reader couldn’t possible envisage for Locke and his crew. Lynch’s ambitious novel stunned the sff world and readers couldn’t get enough. This was followed by Red Seas Under Red Skies as Locke and his friend Jean Tannen take to the high seas for even wilder adventures as they con their way across their world. For Locke and Jean are part of the Gentleman Bastards, thieves with finesse. As this is the third in Lynch’s projected series of seven books, there will be some spoilers. If you haven’t read any of the books, I suggest you go and get yourself a copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora immediately.
In The Republic of Thieves, we finally meet Sabetha Belacora, Locke and Jean’s childhood friend and fellow Gentleman Bastard who stole Locke’s heart and vanished leaving him heartbroken almost five years ago. We’ve heard of Sabetha in the previous books but only through Locke’s lovelorn memories and I couldn’t wait to find out more about this mysterious woman. Interspersed with Locke’s childhood memories, where we learn of their meeting as orphans in an underground children’s gang in Camorr, is the precarious present in which we find Locke fighting for his life against a deadly poison without an antidote. Jean is desperate to find a cure and won’t countenance Locke’s pleas to let him go when they are granted salvation in the form of Archedama Patience, a powerful five-ringed bondsmagi who offers them an employment contract in exchange for Locke’s life.
And so they sail to Karthain where a political game is beginning and in which Locke and Jean are tasked to ensure the political victory of the Deep Roots party. But theirs is game of many layers and the other party of bondsmagi who control Karthain have hired a formidable opponent to advise the Black Iris party; one who knows everything about Locke and Jean and how their minds work. As Locke is given the chance he has been craving and meets Sabetha, he realises that not only must he win her back but he must win the game and save all their lives. For Patience is as dangerous as she is helpful and is playing a completely different game.
Lynch is back on form and as soon as I dipped into The Republic of Thieves, I was sucked into his opulent, Dickension world full of tricks and counter-moves. Like the previous two novels, it’s clever, rich in detail and what really makes the novel is the wonderfully realised characters which he draws with such depth; they’re funny, conflicted, clever and feel things. Friendship, loyalty, love and sorrow mean something to them just as much as pride in their work. The only weak part, which I presume is also one of the highlights, was the bits about the play, The Republic of Thieves, which the Gentleman Bastards had to perform one summer when they were younger. In Locke’s recollections, we are re-acquainted with the Sanza twins, Callo and Gallo, who once formed part of their family and this was both bittersweet and funny. Although the play was relevant in that it formed the backdrop to their summer job as a traveling group of Camorri actors, I don’t think it would have harmed the novel if most of it was edited out.
The ending of The Republic of Thieves hints at more darkness in store for Locke and his friends. Will he ever get it together with Sabetha or is she lost to him forever? And what is the secret behind Locke’s orphan past? With so many twists in the tale, I can’t wait to find out more. Although The Republic of Thieves may not be as strong or substantial as the previous two books, it’s a welcome return to Lynch’s fabulous world. The next in the series is The Thorn of Emberlain – it’ll be another long wait but totally worth it.
Together with Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series is, in my opinion, one of the best and original series in the fantasy genre in the last ten years. I kid you not. Seriously, go and read them.