Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. Y’all should be aware, too, that this is less a review than me thinking out loud.

I thought I’d penned my last review1. Not to dump my problems on y’all, but I was burned out and dissatisfied and downright grumpy about ye olde blog. I figured the best thing to do was cut and run, sans dramatic announcements to that effect.

So I did.

Then THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES appeared on NetGalley.

It had been four months since I last blogged, but I couldn’t hit "request" fast enough. Some things are worth coming out of retirement for.

Some background, now: I read THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA in late 2007. It promptly joined my itty bitty list of Books I’ve Loved From the First Word to the Last. I had no choice but to rush to the library the moment I finished it, there to snatch RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES from the Express Bestsellers shelf2.

The end result of that literary excursion was, I needed THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES and I needed it bad. It became my most anticipated book of 2008.

Then it was my most anticipated book of 2009. And 2010. And 2011. And 2012. And 20133.

I totally understand the delay. As much as I wanted the book, Scott Lynch’s emotional wellbeing was (and is) more important. It was a long wait, but a most worthwhile one.

That was a bloated lead-in, I know, but I figured I should explain where I’m coming from before I got down to any opinionish stuff. I loved the first two books. I’ve pined after this one for many a year. And y’all, I’m so, so pleased to say that I loved it, too.

Understand, it’s a different sort of book from either THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA or RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES. Lynch adjusts his tone with each new offering, shifting from a twisty caper with rich folks to a twisty caper with pirates to a twisty caper with politics and personal revelations. He forces his characters outside their usual comfort zones in each installment, all whilst making them carry the fuckton of emotional baggage they picked up during their previous adventures.

It’s great stuff. Really, really great.

THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES gives us two storylines: one present day and one flashback. In the present day, Locke and Jean set out to rig an election at the not-so-much-a request-as-an-order-with-blackmail-in-the-mix of the Bondsmagi, while their old confidant, Sabetha, does the same for the rival political party. In the flashbacks, the young Gentlemen Bastards set out to revive a failing acting troupe at the not-so-much-a request-as-an-order of their mentor, who’s sick of them being stroppy teenagers and figures they need to coalesce into a team.

I suppose there are three main reasons I loved THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES so much. To begin with, I was predisposed to like it simply because of how long I waited for it. Nobody likes to be disappointed, least of all me, so I went in expecting something I’d enjoy. I’m sure that coloured my reaction.

Second, I love the characters. I had a great deal invested in Locke and Jean going in, and you’d better believe I wanted to meet Sabetha. I was eager to wallow in their adventures for a few hundred pages.

Third--and this is highly personal, now--the book played to a ton of my biases. The theatre! Tricky dealings! Political shenanigans! Lots of ideas, shared at lightning speed and put into action with varying results!

I’m also more than a little partial to stories where lovers (former or current) attempt to screw one another over at every turn, because rivalry is fun. My enjoyment escalates when said rivalry comes with plenty of fast talking and a weighty measure of menace hanging over the proceedings.

(Speaking of menace: Lynch hints at some seriously epic shit to come in future volumes. Like, Elder Gods-level epic shit. To be perfectly honest with you, I’ve never read H.P. Lovecraft, and yet I’m still hella excited at the merest chance of Elder Gods in the mix. I blame Neil Gaiman.4)

As I mentioned above (and as everybody who’s remotely interested in this book no doubt knows), we finally get to meet Sabetha, the love of Locke's life--and she’s pretty durned wonderful. Sabetha doesn’t put up with gendered crap. She’s not interested in being anyone’s prize or destiny, and she demands that Locke treat her as a person above all else. In the flashbacks, in particular, Sabetha immediately shuts down any and all of Locke’s attempts to couch their relationship in their society’s standard male/female terms. They have a person/person dynamic, through and through; she’ll accept nothing less.

Sabetha wants to live on her terms, as a complete partner, and she does not want to be manipulated. Charm, she’ll maybe allow; anything else is off the table from the get-go. If there’s the slightest hit of something being intended or predestined, she’s out. She’ll make her own choices, thanks.

I say to you again: it’s great.

If I have one major complaint with the book, it’s that I wish Jean had had a larger emotional stake in things. He has quite a lot to worry about in the early chapters, but he rather fades into the background after that. Perhaps Lynch intended to give the poor guy a break, what with everything he dealt with at the end of RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES, but I missed him nonetheless and wish he’d been a bit more present. He’s a member of my tiny list of favourite literary characters, after all. I can’t help but want more of the guy.

I also wish Lynch had expanded on two particular elements which I expected to tie together: a ghost Locke sees in the opening chapters, and the reason he became a priest of the Crooked Warden. I hope these were seeds for later books. I expected them to come together in some awesomely painful ways, and I was disappointed when they kind of fizzled out.

On the whole, though: awesome stuff. Totally worth waiting for. I finished it, sat back, squeed a little bit at the joy of having finally read it--and realized I’d traded the wait for THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES for the wait for THE THORN OF EMBERLAIN.

A girl just can’t win with an ongoing series, but if the rest of the books are as good as this, I'll deal.


While I always advocate your local library as the absolute best source for books, I recognize this may not be an option for everyone where every book is concerned. If you're in search of another way to read THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES, you can try:

I receive a small percentage of the purchase price if you buy the book through one of the links above.

  1. That would be DROWNED AMMET, which I shared with y’all last week.
  2. I’m immensely grateful to my library for their Express Bestsellers program. When they figure a book is set to be wicked popular, they set a few copies aside. These books can only be borrowed for a week at a time, and nobody can request them. If you find an Express Bestseller on the shelf, you can jump the massive holds list. If not, you’ve gotta wait.
  3. It did share the honours with a few other books along the way. In 2009, I was also rabid for CORAMBIS by Sarah Monette. In 2012, it was THE MASTER OF HEATHCREST HALL by Galen Beckett. But THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES was always there; my constant desire.
  4. Sort of (but okay not really) on the topic of Elder Gods and their role in the story: I once heard the Gentlemen Bastards books referred to as science fiction because they take place on another planet. I found this... well, absurd. Doesn’t all secondary world fantasy take place on another planet? Is my view of the situation wildly divergent from the rest of fandom? Do y’all assume all secondary worlds are, in fact, simply a version of our world with the continents in different shapes? I mean, I’m happy to entertain the notion that these Elder Gods might’ve been aliens, but I still feel like the world and the society that’s developed within it are distinctly fantastical. The whole other-planet thing doesn’t change that (though the Elder Gods’ return could render the series more of a science-fantasy somewhere down the line).

1 comment:

  1. Loved this book. It was a great addition to the series. I'm hoping to learn more about the Eldren in the upcoming books. I think RoT was interesting because up until this point, Locke and Jean's adventures were insular and contained. They were adventures, but not changing-the-face-of-world-politics-and-getting-into-hero shit. Since RoT ended the way it did, I think we're going to see a lot more of the impact that Locke and Jeans actions have on the whole world, and I think they're gonna be a lot more important than they wanna be.