J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Book review: The Republic of Thieves.

Yeah, I know. I need to write more. And write more than book reviews. But few things excite me more than writing about books, so here we are, once again!

Today I want to discuss Scott Lynch’s latest book in his fantastic Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, The Republic of Thieves.

Scott Lynch is, in my opinion, one of the more talented fantasy writers in the genre today. His two previous works, The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, told amazingly unconventional fantasy stories that defied plot conventions, and whose character arcs were dramatically different from what most of today’s popular literature has conditioned us to expect out of a fantasy story.

His two lead characters aren’t heroes, you see; indeed, they’re the exact opposite of that. They’re thieves, they’re thugs. They’re con men, trained since a young age to hustle and steal their way to success. In any other author’s hands, it’d be easy to see Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen as mid-bosses of a more conventional story. After all, they’re built like the classic duo that’s been around forever: the scrawny mastermind who wins with his wits, and his brutish sidekick who throws his weight around. Except that Locke sometimes gets fooled, and Jean is far from dumb.

And the plots? Locke and Jean aren’t out to save the world from some sinister bad guys. They’re out to line their own pockets, simply because they’re Gentlemen Bastards. When Lynch is at his best, his plots basically feel like an Ocean’s Eleven heist plot with fantasy elements to spice it up. It’s pure greatness.

It’s funny for me to admit, but I discovered him purely by accident browsing in a bookstore one day. I liked to play a game with my brother where I picked out good covers on the shelves, and made fun of the terrible ones. While I was walking by the new releases, this book caught my eye.

Now that… is an eye catching cover.

I’ve been a fan of his ever since. And so has any reader friend of mine that I’ve recommended him to. Which makes it all the more frustrating that we’ve had to wait for his newest book for 6 years. Granted, for totally understandable reasons (depression and losing a loved one will stop anyone cold for a while), but it’s left me eager and awaiting what he would do next.

So, was this book worth the wait?

What I liked:

– You get two stories in one novel. This book deviates from Lynch’s winning formula in a few ways, chiefly in its focus. There is no major heist or revenge plot to be had here. No, the focus of the story is something that has been hinted at in the first two books, but never really addressed: Sabetha, the only woman that Locke has ever loved, and the complex relationship that he has with her.

So you get a plotline set in the past, specifically designed to show you how their relationship budded to what it was, and perhaps why things went sour by the time the events of the first book happened. And then of course, you get a plotline set after Red Seas, where, naturally, she shows up again. This technique can be frustrating at times, because you’ll want to know what happens next in one facet of the story, and then BOOM, time warp back to the other plotline. But that’s really more of a commendation of Lynch’s ability to make nice cliffhangers than it is actual frustration.

The nice part is that the flashback storyline most definitely has a point for being there, and is anything but fluff. That being said, I found the present-day storyline to be much more interesting, as the “Let’s be actors in a play” past storyline with faux Shakespeare lines was a bit shaky at times.

– Locke and Jean’s bromance. To be honest, this aspect of Lynch’s stories is probably my favorite part. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but the camaraderie between Locke and Jean feels so much more genuine than the friendship between close friends in most any other novel I’ve ever read. Jean’s speech to Locke when the latter is dying in bed, moping about how he just wants to die and be left alone, sums it all up so well:

“You see this?” Jean took the tightly bound lock of dark, curly hair out of his coat pocket and held it up. “You see this, you bloody bastard? You know where it came from. I’m done losing. Do you fucking hear me? I am done losing. Spare me your precious self pity, because this isn’t a stage and I didn’t pay two coppers to cry my eyes out over anyone’s death speech. You don’t fucking get one, you understand? I don’t care if you cough up buckets of blood. Buckets I can carry. I don’t care if you howl like a dog for months. You’re going to eat and drink and keep fighting.”

Something about how they bicker and swear at each other makes it feel so much more real than the melodramatic stuff we typically get from the genre. That’s probably my favorite bit of dialogue I’ve read in a novel this year, right up there with Ringil’s epic speech in The Steel Remains.

– Sabetha. It was really nice to meet a character that had been hyped literally since we were introduced to Camorr and the Gentlemen Bastards for the first time. While predictable in some ways… she reminded me a lot of the way most modern takes on Sherlock Holmes like to write Irene Adler (this is especially true of the Robert Downey Jr. version)… she still made quite an enjoyable foil for Locke and Jean, with the understanding that at the end of the day, they all loved and cared about each other.

 

What I didn’t like:

– Some of the narrative. This book simply isn’t edited as carefully as its predecessors. It has numerous cases where it uses words that are common colloquialisms in modern language that just take me out of the story a little bit. Not a huge issue, but I’m a big immersion guy when it comes to my reading and writing.

-The plot. The plot about Locke and Jean being enlisted to help rig an election in a neighboring city state sounded like a ton of fun to read about. But with so much emphasis being on Locke wooing Sabetha all over again, I felt like it was mostly wasted. The slight twist at the end was good, but still. I’d have liked to have seen what it could have been if it didn’t have to carry all of the romantic subplot with it.

—- The reveal of some of Locke’s past. I’m sorry, but I was completely appalled by this aspect of the story. I liked Locke better when he was just some random orphan that clawed his way up the streets by being that much cleverer than anyone else, and not some freaking child of destiny. I sincerely hope that this was just manipulation by an unreliable narrator, and not his canon origin.

 

All in all, this was a good book. But I view that as kind of a disappointment. Lynch’s first two book are freaking classics, whereas this one is simply above average. I think it was probably just a case where real life distracted him from reaching the book’s true potential, and therefore I think the next book will be much better. That being said, it’s still much better than most books in the genre. Go read them from the start, if you haven’t already.

Rating: ****

The Lies of Locke Lamora:*****

Red Seas Under Red Skies: *****

 

 

 

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One comment on “Book review: The Republic of Thieves.

  1. Daniel Ionson
    December 5, 2013

    Good to find a balanced reviewer. Thanks.

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