Republic of Thieves

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.

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Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

One of my favourite books is the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Narnia and Nancy Drew were the staples of my childhood reading. And ever since then I have been fascinated by stories set in other worlds. And that probably also fed my fascination of other physical worlds and led me to get a degree in astrophysics. Funny how one thing leads to another.

At school I read The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Wizard of Oz (every book I could find in the series and there were a lot) and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragons of Pern series recommended by one of my friends. I also loved reading mythology and remember being wowed by the story of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung during my music classes when I was nine. The Norse gods, the Roman gods, the Greek gods, the Egyptian gods all enthralled me. And as I’ve said in previous posts, I looooove vampires and werewolves and went through a phase where I only read them, which really worried my sister. I’ll post about them later as I think they deserve a post of their own.

Here are some of the writers and books that I think are incredible:

Science fiction and fantasy
Terry Pratchett (Discworld novels)
Scott Lynch (The Gentleman Bastards series)
Steven Erickson (Malazan Book of the Fallen series)
Steven Donaldson (Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series, The Gap series)
Jasper Fforde (Thursday Next series)
Neil Gaiman (Sandman graphic novels, American Gods)
Iain M. Banks (The Culture series)
Anne Rice (The Vampire Lestat, Queen of the Damned, The Witching Hour)
Katherine Kerr (Deverry series)
Janny Wurts (The Wars of Light and Shadow series)

I’m sure I’ve missed out loads of my favourite books, but the writers I’ve listed above I’ll buy without even having to think twice. Try them if you haven’t, you’ll be impressed with the quality of writing.

There’s so much written about how sff books aren’t taken seriouly by the literati and major awards panels and I have to agree. There’s so many really well written books, a lot which are better written and more substantial than some of the literary novels out there, and I do feel that sff writers get a bum deal. Just because a story isn’t set in the real world doesn’t mean the story has no substance. Fiction is fiction after all. Realist novels are also figments of the writers’ imagination. So what’s the difference? It’s just something that annoys me whenever I start reading about it in the papers. Look at Ian Banks, he can write both literary and science fiction. And both are brilliant. Here’s a recent article about this in the Guardian.

What do you think?

Yesterday I wandered over to Wertzone and Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and discovered news of Scott Lynch’s eagerly awaited The Republic of Thieves. I’m not being over excessive when I say that Lynch’s debut The Lies of Locke Lamora is probably one of the best fantasy/speculative fiction books I have read in a long time. His world building is truly breathtaking. I gobbled it up on holiday two years ago, then raced back to London to get it’s sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies and cannot wait to read the next. Lynch has planned an ambitious series of seven books in the Gentleman Bastard sequence. Only Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, a ten book sequence starting with Gardens of the Moon comes close.

If you want to know more you can check out Lynch’s website here. News about his forthcoming book in 2010 and a preview can be read here.

For my part, I have waited this long and can wait a little longer to read the whole thing in one go. Happy news!