Friday, October 25, 2013
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
Before I actually get into the review I need to say a few things.
Firstly this does not mean that the blog will morph into a review blog. I'll do the occasional review when I read something that I really like that I want to tell people about, but it's not going to be the focus of the blog.
Secondly I should explain about my relationship with Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series. I am HUGE fan of these. The first book in the series (The Republic of Thieves is the third), The Lies of Locke Lamora is my favourite (I hesitate to use the word best as that is a very subjective term) book of any genre.
Thirdly this probably won't be a standard review. It as much about me and my experience reading the books as it is about the book itself.
The Lies of Locke Lamora came out in 2006. I wasn't an early adopter. It took me until 2008 to pick up a copy. Why? Especially considering that at the time I loved epic fantasy. I was probably falling a little bit out of love with the genre by then. I was also over the long waits between books, and The Lies of Locke Lamora was meant to be the first of seven books. I liked the alliterative title and the cover, so I did pick it up a few times, but the blurb I read on the back made it sound rather like lit fic and I wasn't in the mood for that, so back on the shelf it went.
Given all that why did I eventually read and love the book? Sometime in 2008 I saw the sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies appear, so thought that maybe Lynch was the real deal and wouldn't take forever and a day to produce new books in the series. I needed something to read and the hype about The Lies of Locke Lamora had not abated, if anything it had grown.
From this point on we're entering SPOILER territory for all three books. Before reading on, if you haven't already read them read The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves (why haven't you read them?) then come back. You have been warned.
I often used to give myself a little preview of a book when I bought it by reading the start on the tram while travelling back to work from the book shop. I did that with The Lies of Locke Lamora and by the end of the first page...no the first paragraph I was hooked.
Once in a great while you read a book that just grabs you right from the start and won't let go until you finish it. The Lies of Locke Lamora was for me such a book. From the Renaissance Venice inspired city of Camorr to the straight out of Goodfellas language, every post was a winner.
It was packed with great characters with cool names. The Faginesque Thiefmaker. Locke's mentor Father Chains. His partners in crime, Calo and Galdo the fast talking, wise cracking Sanza's, best friend Jean Tannen and his young protege Bug. There was the Duke's shadowy master of spies; The Spider (and the identity of that person was a great reveal). The boss of the Camorr underworld: Capa Barsavi. The villain of the piece: the Gray King and his pet bondsmage The Falconer.
Another bonus character in The Lies of Locke Lamora was the city of Camorr itself. It wasn't just a setting. It lived and breathed. It gave the book added depth and it made you understand why Locke loved the place that had nurtured him and made him what he was.
The Lies of Locke Lamora packed more into it than any single book had a right to, and it really was two books in the one. One story was the long con, the Salvara Game that Locke and his gang of Gentleman Bastards were trying to pull on one of the city's nobles, as well as how the Gray King inserted himself into that game and forced Locke to save the city of Camorr and himself at great personal cost. Then there were the Interludes, stories that told the reader how Locke got to where he was and filled in some of the history of Camorr itself, which explained why the people were the way they were.
In fact I liked The Lies of Locke Lamora so much that I did something I hadn't done since I was a kid, and that was reread it immediately afterwards. I've actually read it thirteen times and I still find something fresh and new about it every time I do so.
Red Seas Under Red Skies picked up two years after the end of The Lies of Locke Lamora, with Locke and his loyal best friend Jean trying to pull off an audacious heist on Tal Verrar's Sinspire. A gaming house that was reputable to impossible to rob. For Locke a claim like that is like a red rag to a bull. If you say it can't be done, then Locke is damn sure to try and prove that it can.
The Interludes in Red Seas Under Red Skies mostly served to explain what Locke and Jean had been doing in between leaving Camorr and putting their plan for the Sinspire into place and how they had done it.
As with it's predecessor Red Seas Under Red Skies had more than one story happening. This one concerned pirates. Now who doesn't love pirates? (unless of course they're robbing you, which would be a downer) Pirates do tend to improve things on the whole and while the pirate story was a lot of fun and had a nice love story for Jean as part of it, it felt a little out of place and the book as a whole wasn't as focussed as The Lies of Locke Lamora had been.
Like with The Lies of Locke Lamora, things didn't turn out as Locke had hoped and he and Jean were lucky to escape Tal Verrar with their lives and enough money to live for a while. Locke had been poisoned and would die a slow and painful death if a cure could not be found. As the concocter of the poison had been killed this was going to prove rather difficult.
I didn't anticipate a huge wait between books. In fact by the time I read Red Seas Under Red Skies, the third book: The Republic of Thieves was due out sometime in 2009.
The author's life got in the way and the end result was that The Republic of Thieves was published in October 2013.
I preordered The Republic of Thieves from Amazon, because I wasn't taking a chance on missing out and because it was a good deal cheaper for me to do so. Unfortunately that also meant I was at the mercy of their schedule. The result of that was that a bunch of people read ARCs (Netgalley was generous there) and got copies well before I did.
Just the other day I heard a knock on the door followed by a thump of something hitting the step. I opened the door and saw the delivery guy driving away, then looked down and my breath caught in my throat. There was a package there, it had roughly the dimensions of a good sized hardback book and it was from Amazon. Could it be? Yes, it could! I'm not ashamed to say I squeed. I then picked it up and did a quick victory lap around the house. Then I opened it and gazed at it lovingly for a moment or two before starting to read.
Yes, that is how into these books I am. During the wait I'd actually read nearly fifty pages of the book with the material that was posted on the author's website and various other places online, although they do appear to have been altered in the editing process and they're just as enjoyable this time round, probably more, because they're part of the whole book rather than just disconnected excerpts.
Was it worth the wait? I don't know if anything is worth obsessing over, but yes it's damn good and I loved every single line of it.
One character that has overshadowed Locke's life and the stories before is Sabetha Belacoros. Sabetha is the love of Locke's life. Readers have heard stories of her and we know about the indelible mark she's left on Locke's heart but The Republic of Thieves was her introduction.
There are two stories in The Republic of Thieves. One concerns Locke and Jean as they are forced into an alliance with a Bondsmage in order to save Locke's life, and once they take the deal find that their opponent will be Sabetha.
The other is told in the Interludes, and it is the story of Locke and Sabetha. How they met. How they fell in love and why they can't coexist.
Exotic new locales appear. The status obessed Lashain and the forbidding home of the feared Bondsmages; Karthain. The Interludes take readers from Camorr to Espara. Espara reminded me of Milan and Naples. A dangerous city that loves it's culture and entertainment.
To be honest I thought Lynch did something extraordinary with the Interludes. Chains sends his gang of delinquents off to Espara to learn how to act. They will spend the season as players in the Espara based troupe of Jasmer Moncraine. The chosen play is by the legendary Lucarno and is called aptly enough The Republic of Thieves.
Jean has been shown in the books to be a lover of the works of Lucarno and can easily quote from them. It was one of the things over which he and Ezri bonded in Red Seas Under Red Skies. Locke makes mention that they once trod the boards. I had always assumed Jean was the better actor when it came to acting, as opposed to 'false facing' as part of a job. This shows where his love affair with Lucarno began, but he is no actor. From the way it's written it appears that Sabetha is the best of the Gentlemen Bastards at acting. Jean is however at heart a romantic and this may be why the works of Lucarno affect him the way they do, it may also be because a Lucarno play is really where and how the fires of Locke and Sabetha's relationship was kindled.
Lynch shows quite a way with words in writing large parts of The Republic of Thieves in a rather Shakespearean style (the large slabs of the work that the characters quote probably could have been edited out, but I do have ti admire the author's skill), borrowing from Elizabethan theatre, Greek theatre and the Commedia Dell'Arte to concoct his own fictional acting style and tradition. In fact the pompous drunken lead actor has been used many times before. I suspect a viewing of My Favourite Year may have taken place before writing the character. He matches the fictional play up with a series of events in Espara that could only take place and be believable in one of Shakespeare's broadest farces.
The 'current' story in Karthain which centres around the efforts of Locke and Jean to fix an election in favour of the Deep Roots party and Sabetha's attempts to stymie them for the opposing Black Irises, is highly entertaining with cross and double cross as Locke and Sabetha duel and try to come to terms with their feelings for each other. I didn't see Locke and Jean's final gambit coming and that was a thing of beauty. It also reinforces my long held vow to not piss off the Gentleman Bastards ever.
The big revelation in this is Locke's real name and what it means for the characters and the series going forward. I enjoyed this and it explains a lot about the character and why he is what he is. I've seen someone else disappointed by this and complaining that it detracts from Locke's commonality. I beg to differ there. Locke comes from humble beginnings; the son of a seamstress and an unknown father, orphaned at a young age and turned to a life of crime, but he is not ordinary or common. In fact something I've wondered up until the revelation in The Republic of Thieves was exactly why Locke is extraordinary. This is why.
The ominous ending is a killer. Creepy and atmospheric. It sets the scene beautifully for book four: The Thorn of Emberlain.
Do I have criticisms or complaints? I do. Not many, but I have some. While I appreciated the skill of the faux Shakespearean play, as much of it as was included in the final product was a little self indulgent and could have been edited out without affecting the book overall.
At times Sabetha and Locke's relationship doesn't actually ring true. There are some clumsy scenes with them as teens and later on they do occasionally act out of character. Like many characters in books smart people are sometimes very dumb as the plot requires and there was some of that in this.
Karthain, while it is well drawn, does not have the impact or depth that Camorr did (I don't know that any new setting will) and that makes the events of the end have less impact than maybe they should.
It's less standalone than the other two, although it ends on less of a cliff than Red Seas Under Red Skies did.
I felt the battle between Locke and Sabetha for their two political factions was a little tame for the series. With something involving the Bondsmages I thought things could have gotten a good deal nastier. While I don't necessarily hold to the more bodies the better the story, this one could have used some more down and dirty.
There's not enough Jean in this. Because it's all about Locke and Sabetha I felt Jean got pushed to the side sometimes and he deserves better than that, both as a character and a person.
To be honest with the references and the story at the heart of it, this one is one for the fans, and maybe after the wait we deserve it.
I don't generally give stars and I'm not going to start here, but if you need a recommendation this one gets 5 out of 5.