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Thursday, October 3, 2013

“The Republic of Thieves” by Scott Lynch (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo, Casey Blair and Liviu Suciu)

Order “The Republic of ThievesHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Red Seas Under Red Skies

ABOUT SCOTT LYNCH: Scott Lynch is the author of The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. He lives in Wisconsin and frequently visits Massachusetts, the home of his partner, SF/F writer Elizabeth Bear. He moonlights as a volunteer firefighter.

FORMAT/INFO: The Republic of Thieves is 650 pages long divided over a Prologue, twelve chapters and an Epilogue. It is the third volume in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence after The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. The Republic of Thieves will be published in North America on October 8, 2013 via Del Rey. The UK edition will be published by Gollancz on October 10, 2013. Cover art is provided by Benjamin Carre.

OFFICIAL PLOT SYSNOPSIS: With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body—though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring—and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha—or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend…

MIHIR’S ANALYSIS: This is a tough review for me as I had a lot of expectations for The Republic of Thieves. First, there was the delay in finishing the book, for which Scott Lynch has my utmost sympathies for. Next, The Republic of Thieves was the long-awaited introduction of Sabetha and the tale of why Locke is so besotted with her and how it all came to be between them. And finally, there was the climax to Red Seas Under Red Skies, which left readers wondering nearly seven years as to how it would all turn out for Locke and Jean in terms of survival.

All of those things are a tall order to overcome and in some ways Scott Lynch performed admirably as was expected, but in other ways, the resolutions offered were cumbersome IMHO. Let’s begin with the story, which, like the last two books, takes readers to new locales, specifically Lashain where Jean is trying to keep Locke alive and the Bondsmagi-controlled city of Karthain, which is the site of the Gentleman Bastard’s “job”: a political election. Specifically, Locke and Jean are tasked with making sure the faction “Deep Roots” wins the maximum number of seats, thereby controlling the city, while Sabetha, the love of Locke’s life, is bolstering the opposing faction “Black Iris”. Lastly, the author mentioned that the odd numbered books in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence would be exploring Locke’s past and in this volume, Father Chains sends his gang of teenagers (Locke, Sabetha, Jean, Calo & Sanzo) to Espara to study theatrics. However, things are never quite as simple as they seem, and Locke and company soon learn that even with all of their training, it might not be enough for them to leave Espara unharmed & alive…

That’s the broad gist of the dual storylines inherent in this long-awaited volume. What else can fans can expect from The Republic of Thieves? How about Locke & Sabetha, more details about the world of the Camorri, detailed revelations about Locke’s past and the bondsmagi ,and of course Scott Lynch’s signature plot twists and dark humor.

Regarding the world-building, readers are again presented with a deep look into a new culture, this time the world of the bondsmagi as well as that of Karthain politics. While the bondsmagi have been the main nemesis through the first two books, The Republic of Thieves actually gives them a face as we get to learn more about their ways and methods. For me though, the political drama that unfolds between the factions led by Sabetha & Locke/Jean was the biggest draw. Scott Lynch cleverly juxtaposes the personal struggle between the two headstrong people that Sabetha and Locke are, with the professional skullduggery that unfolds across the political landscape of Karthain. In this regard, I was reminded a lot of the Ides Of March.

Unfortunately, like A Dance With Dragons and The Wise Man’s Fear, The Republic of Thieves did not quite fulfill its potential to my mind. For starters, the author tried to portray an epic love story between Locke & Sabetha, but it just didn’t seem quite that exciting, in either the past or present storylines. Yes, Locke’s definition of love goes beyond simple obsession (and the reason revealed for it seemed more than ludicrous to me), while Sabetha as a character was disappointing. Scott Lynch tries to purposefully subvert the reader’s expectations by presenting a gritty, cunning and savage character that basically does her best to beat Locke at every interaction and we are then supposed to love this character and her interactions with Locke?

Admittedly, the interactions between Locke & Sabetha were darkly funny the first couple of times, with the author alternating between past and present threads, but we get this same rinse & repeat pattern for the rest of the book, resulting in a love story that felt forced and wooden while ending on a rather disappointing note. Plus, I couldn’t fathom how Jean was so quiet during this whole courtship between Locke & Sabetha even though he could predict Sabetha’ actions and knew that she was Locke’s weakness.

Another aspect of The Republic of Thieves that disappointed me was an alternate explanation to Locke’s origins and his attraction to Sabetha, which felt unnatural to me and reversed the series’ earlier presentation of Locke’s commonality and bastardness. Then there’s the Epilogue, which basically resurrects someone from the past without much ado, even though the person’s current condition is considered irreversible, all of which just seemed a bit too clichéd for a writer of Lynch's caliber. As a result, all of these factors together made The Republic of Thieves a three star read for me. So while I read and partially enjoyed the novel, it was a bit of a letdown, especially compared to the highs of The Lies of Locke Lamora, and I’m wary now as to where Scott Lynch will take the story & characters in book four and beyond.

CASEY’S ANALYSIS: I might have squeed when an ARC of The Republic of Thieves showed up in my inbox.

We've known that Sabetha would make her first on-stage appearance, so to speak, in this book, but I didn't realize quite how central she was going to be to, well, everything. I should have, though, because she's central to everything for our protagonist Locke, and this book dives into that dynamic headfirst.

It's a shift. Since Sabetha wasn't physically present in the previous two books, Locke was able to operate with only the shadows of Sabetha's memory to distract him. This book makes it clear that while it's still the same Locke, there's a huge part of him we've only just glimpsed before, and there will be no going back.

I loved the relationship between the two of them. I love how they're both clever in different ways and how they push each other. I love how Scott Lynch is able to bring in issues of gender equality issues without the women being stereotyped as weaker, bringing in matters of privilege and entitlement that I haven't seen addressed in such a nuanced way in our genre.

In The Republic of Thieves, the framework of the past operates around Locke and Sabetha's shared history, while the present is a competition over elections in a foreign country, the Bondsmagi's backyard. And it really is a competition, an utterly hilarious one as Locke and Sabetha strive against and with each other, smacking you in the face with how ridiculous politics in elections become.

We get more of the mysterious creepers that are the Bondsmagi with alarming implications of what's to come in future books. We get more of Jean Tannen, and he keeps pushing Locke, too. We get horrifying situations and the characters' wit has me snickering through them. We get an ending that is bittersweet and perfect.

The Republic of Thieves packs a punch or three, and it's fun besides. It's not what I was expecting, but I'm delighted with what we got.

LIVIU'S ANALYSIS: The fault of The Republic of Thieves in a word is “filler”; a strong ending raised it one notch but the middle two thirds of the book is just lots of stuff that is not that important. The beginning of the novel would be pretty good and promising except that the suspense on which it is predicated—Locke dying—is obviously missing (see the blurb) and then comes a very strong set-up.

Sadly, the main action is just repetitive and while the book is entertaining enough to turn pages and some fun moments are sprinkled throughout, The Republic of Thieves is otherwise pretty boring and far from the fresh breath of air The Lies of Locke Lamora was when everything was new and interesting.

There is no real suspense until the final moments when revelations start, while the implied love story is just by the numbers, lacking any chemistry on page. If one puts together the first 100 pages, the last 50 pages, some parts of the interludes—those go a bit too long as well, and while fun and interesting as they were in the first book of the series, here they kind of lose their magic and drag on after a while—that would have been the core of an awesome book, but sadly it is not the one we got.

On the other hand, the ending made me want to see what happens next, so I will take a look if/when the fourth book is published, but the desire to see more asap has completely disappeared. Overall, The Republic of Thieves is one of the most disappointing books I have been waiting for these years.


Unknown said...

You're all right on the button with this one. Each of you had an exact facet of why I found the book to fall flat. While I share your hesitation for the rest of the series, I do hope Lynch looks carefully at our criticisms and tailors a suitable return to form in the next installment.

Great review as alway.

Douglas said...

I thought this book was a lot of fun.

Lynch isn't shy about taking characters to a place completely different than his previous works. So, there's no overarching con in this one. It's still fun in a feeling a little juvenile and I like it kind of way.

I also agree about the "origin" of Locke being a little disappointing... if it's true.

But, I still rate it very well. A good fast read.

Saurabh Sharma said...

I really enjoyed reading this book. But I do agree that the book had a lot of filler pages. Some things are too illogical to understand:
1. Why was Locke required for winning the election in the first place? It is revealed in the end of book that the election was just a diversion for something else. In reality, patience didn't even care if they won or lost. The election would have stayed a diversion even if Locke Lamora wasn't involved in it. I think someone needs to explain this.

2. Sabetha is an odd character. Why is she so sensitive about her red hair? She does explain the reason but it just seems implausible. She just acts silly all the time.

My guess for the next book:
Falconer is already back in this book. So in the next book he is going to wreck havoc. So we have the most important component of a very good story--an evil and powerful villain. My guess is that the Bondsmage who have gone in to exile will come to the rescue of Locke Lamora and remind him about his hidden power as a bondsmage himself. I would love to read the chapter where Falconer learns what he is up against.
Locke won't even try to look for Sabetha since he has promised to give her lots of space in TROT. So she might disappear for a couple of books (for the better).
My expectations from the next one:
More tricks, more cleverness. And please don't keep making Locke a puppet.


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