The third installment of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series proves that some writers get better with each passing project. While the first two novels – The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies – introduced and hooked me into Lynch’s gritty fantasy world, this installment feels like something special… Here is my review for The Republic of Thieves.
- Title: The Republic of Thieves
- Author: Scott Lynch
- Genre: Fantasy/Intrigue
- Audiobook Reader: Michael Page
- Series: The Gentlemen Bastards (Book 3)
- Publisher: Gollancz (UK), 2013
Warning: Spoilers for the first three books of the series! You have been warned.
Following Locke and Jean’s near-fatal escape from their exploits in the city state of Tal Verrar and it’s despotic Archon, we join the duo as they search for a cure for Locke’s condition. It’s a long story, but suffice to say that a specially crafted poison is slowly killing our hero. Jean goes from doctor to doctor (some more legitimate than others) in a desperate race against time to save his best friend’s life. All is in vain.
Enter Patience – a mysterious Bondsmage who offers to purge the poison from Locke’s body in exchange for the duo rigging an election. Jean is hesitant to accept as they’ve had – shall we say – less than friendly encounters with the Bondsmagi in the past. But in the end, the love for his friend wins out. They agree.
The duo head for Karthain – the oft-mentioned the home of the magi – where they are to lead the disorganized Deep Roots party to a dirty triumph. This ought to be easy for members of the Gentleman Bastards to pull off – they’ve duped master spies, robbed high security vaults, and made the least gullible targets believe that they are royalty. Rigging an election is child’s play.
Only… There’s a catch…
The opposition have also hired a member of the Gentleman Bastards: Sabetha, Locke Lamora’s only weakness. She has only been mentioned in the preceding installments, but in The Republic of Thieves we get to see what she is capable of.
“You’re my favourite complication.”– (Locke to Sabetha) Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves
This novel (similar to the first two novels) tells two intertwined narratives: the past (the history of Locke and Sabetha as they grew up in Camorr) and the present (the events in Karthain). Both story-lines show us just how formidable Sabetha really is and makes us understand just how much trouble Locke and Jean are in.
Collaboration or collusion would lead to the swift and horrible demise of all three of them and simply conceding to the other side would mean a fate worse than death. As such, Locke is forced to outwit someone who not only knows all of his tricks, but someone he is infatuated with.
This is my favourite novel in the series. I believed that nothing could top the intricacy of the first book, but I felt like Lynch has once again surpassed himself. Not only was it entertaining reading, it was clever and engaging. The tangled mess of a plot is executed with precision, culminating in a resolution that only an evil genius could have come up with.
Sabetha entirely lives up to the hype and she’s certainly more than a match for Locke. Their to-and-froing and one-upmanship can get tiring (especially towards the middle of the book), but luckily all of this pays off brilliantly in the end.
I enjoyed the ‘past’ story in this installment as it illustrates how Locke and Sabetha’s dysfunctional romance flickered in and out of existence. That, and the sheer comical joy that is the Sanza twins mangling a Shakespeare-esque stage drama. Plus, they are infinitely quotable.
“My disinterest in your bullshit is so tangible you could make bricks out of it.”– Scott Lynch, The Republic of Theives
I highly recommend The Republic of Thieves, but note that you need to have read the first two novels to get the full benefit of this one.
Unlike in Red Skies Over Red Seas, the novel does not suffer from a whiplash-inducing change of setting and purpose. It is tightly focused on the relationships between Locke, Jean, and Sabetha.
That being said the tug-of-war between Locke and Sabetha does become a tad much towards the middle. While their childish competition is a plot point for the novel, this can be draining, especially when you start expecting a rebuttal from other party. This is not enough to be a deal-breaker as far as the novel is concerned, but it’s worth bringing up.
Another slight con is that the novel is heavily dependent on the previous two installments. While there are brief sections of explanation and exposition, Lynch relies on your memory of the exploits of the Gentleman Bastards to build moments of revelation and surprise. As such, readers who start with this novel will not get the full benefit of it.
Again, this isn’t a major downside for me (on the contrary, I prefer not having long sections of recap), but it is worth noting.
Potentially Offensive Content
“What’s the never-fail universal apology?“
“‘I was badly misinformed, I deeply regret the error, go fuck yourself with this bag of money.‘”– Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves
The novel is filled with violence and expletives – just as the previous installments. This certainly isn’t something to recommend to young or sensitive readers. There are descriptions of gratuitous violence and the odd hanky-panky.
“I’m a little overdressed for this, but I think I can compensate by toning down my manners.” “Overdressed for what?” said Jean. “Insulting complete strangers,” said Locke, loosening his neck-cloth. “Got to mind the delicate social nuances when you inform some poor fellow that he’s a dumb motherfucker.”– Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves
This novel – as you can see – is great for learning insults and ways of being rude that you’ve never dreamed of.
This is a fun novel. It is a clever novel too. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I never felt like it wasted my time.
If you are looking for a novel that builds on the lore and characters that came before – a novel where character relationships are just as important as clever schemes and plot – this is the book you’ve been looking for.
The character interactions are meaningful and layered in subtext. The prose is strong and witty – it can make you understand the gravity of a situation, what the characters are feeling, and slip in a zinger of a one-liner all in one page. Every part of the book is rewarding.
The two biggest pros for me are: Sabetha and the ending. Sabetha certainly lives up to the lofty expectations set for her by the first two novels. She is smart, cunning, and – most of all – believable. She is strong-willed and independent and anyone who can out-think Locke is a worthy ally/foe.
“A boy may be as disagreeable as he pleases, but when a girl refuses to crap sunshine on command, the world mutters darkly about her moods.”– Scott Lynch, The Republic of Thieves
The ending is strong. I really don’t want to spoil anything, but there is a clever twist and a major revelation that may change how you see the first novel… I love this kind of thing.