The Republic of Thieves


I'm a big Scott Lynch fan. Been one since before The Lies of Locke Lamora was ever published, as I was one of the first bloggers to read and review it. To this day, I still consider The Lies of Locke Lamora to be one of the very best fantasy debuts to ever see the light. No one could know that the wait between Red Seas Under Red Skies and the series' third installment would be this long. And at last, after so many years, when the it was confirmed that The Republic of Thieves would be released this fall, I don't think that anyone could be happier than me.

Understandably, fans' expectations are through the roof regarding this title. And the quality of its two predecessors seemed to all but guarantee that this eagerly anticipated third volume would be nothing short of awesome. True, the bar has been set pretty high. And yet, in the past Scott Lynch was always able to rise to the occasion and kick some serious literary butt. The Republic of Thieves was the most highly expected novel of the last few years for me. Only Martin's A Dance With Dragons and Erikson's The Crippled God made me more giddy with excitement at the thought of reading a book.

Could my expectations have been too lofty? Possibly. Unfortunately, I'm sad to report that The Republic of Thieves was pretty much a failure to launch that was unable to deliver on basically all fronts. Truth to tell, it took everything I've got to get to the end of the novel. Had it been anyone but Lynch, I would have quit reading before even reaching the halfway point. After a strong start, the book rapidly loses steam and becomes kind of a chore to go through. By the time you reach the middle, the absence of depth, the silliness of the plotlines, and the snail's pace all but killed it for me. I kept hoping, keeping my fingers crossed as I plodded on, because you know, it's Scott Lynch after all. But alas, the ending is by no means spectacular, thus making The Republic of Thieves the weakest volume by far in The Gentleman Bastards sequence to date. I waited nearly three weeks to finally write this review, hoping that my disappointment would somehow abate to a certain extent in the meantime. But no. . . It doesn't matter from which angle I approach this SFF title. It remains a major disappointment for me. . .

Here's the blurb:

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. But 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.

As was the case with its two predecessors, worldbuilding doesn't play much of a role in The Republic of Thieves. Even though the action was more or less restricted to the city of Camorr in Lynch's debut, the author created a veritable living and breathing locale as the backdrop for his story. As such, Camorr sort of became a character in and of itself. The imagery wasn't quite the same with Karthain and the other locations where the action takes place in this third installment. Revelations about the Bondsmagi, as well as some hints that a force/race which may have destroyed or made the Eldren flee this world could be part of a bigger overall story arc which could play an important role in future volumes of The Gentleman Bastards series were quite interesting in an of themselves. Sadly, the entire premise upon which the Karthani election is founded doesn't make a whole lot of sense, nor does the troupe of actors's plotline in Espara.

The structure of the book is the same as that of its two predecessors. Indeed, it's split into "real time" action and flashback scences, with a number of interludes thrown into the mix along the way. The Republic of Thieves begins where Red Seas Under Red Skies ended, and for about one hundred page it is as good as what Lynch has accustomed to in the past. Patience's identity and the Bondsmage's offer keep things rolling smoothly. Going back into time, the genesis of Locke's infatuation for Sabetha should satisfy all Lynch fans out there. And then, everything abruptly goes downhill. As I mentioned, the entire premise behind the election and its factions in Karthain is a bucket that doesn't hold any water. For the better part of the book, it becomes an ensemble of silly pranks and dirty tricks as Locke and Jean attempt to thwart Sabetha's own attempts to undermine them, and vice versa. These chapters are devoid of any depth and at times it feels as though the action takes place in a Benny Hill or a Mr. Bean episode. Meanwhile, the flashback sequences offer more of the same, with the Boulidazi-Moncraine Company storyline just petering on on its merry way. It is at times funny, I suppose, and Locke and Jean will make you chuckle from time to time. But the absence of a compelling and multilayered plot makes it well nigh impossible to ever get into this novel.

The characterization is uneven throughout the book. As a matter of course, the back-and-forth between Locke and Jean remains a highlight of this work. Once more, the relationship between both characters is further fleshed out, making them even more endearing. It was nice to see the Sanzas in the chapters occurring in the past, yet the supporting cast is particularly weak. Understandably, I must elaborate a bit about Sabetha. To be honest, I believe that us Lynch fans have built her up to such a degree that this character never truly had a chance to live up to those expectations. I believe that the long gap between books hasn't helped either. In light of all this, perhaps that's why she failed so miserably to make an impression on me. Maybe she was meant to be a some sort of craftier version of Arya Stark, but in the end she's more of a Nynaeve al'Meara, if that braid-tugging girl had elected to become a thief instead of a village wisdom. I kept hoping for her to die, to no avail. She's kind of a female version of Locke, in many ways. I also feel that the pathetic/lovesick puppy Locke angle may have been overdone. Overall, I've always felt that characterization was Scott Lynch's bread and butter. But even though the witty dialogue and the entertaining misadventures are there, the absence of an absorbing story arc sort of puts a damper on everything.

The pace is atrocious. I'd like to be able to put a more positive spin on this aspect of the novel, but it is just awful. The first hundred pages or so flow quite well. But as soon as the Karthani election and the Espara acting gig take center stage, the rhythm slows to a crawl and The Republic of Thieves becomes a veritable chore to go through. Both past and present plotlines end in lackluster fashion that can be nothing but a major letdown. Even the revelation of Locke Lamora's true identity at the end can't save this book. It does set the stage for what could be an interesting fourth volume, yet only time will tell. Robert Jordan had Crossroads of Twilight, George R. R. Martin had A Feast for Crows, and Steven Erikson had Toll the Hounds (which at least had an unbelievable ending), and Scott Lynch now has The Republic of Thieves. Which proves that he is human after all. Still, based on the quality of both The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies, I'm persuaded that he can bounce back and that The Thorn of Emberlain will be a return to form for the author.

I'm well aware that this is not what most of you wanted to hear. As I said above, no one wanted to love this book as much as I did. And sadly, most of the facets of this novel didn't work for me at all. The revelations about the Bondsmagi, the political situation in Emberlain, what may have led to the Eldren's disappearance, Locke's secret identity, and the never-ending back-and-forth between Locke and Jean were all positive points in the book's favor. Unfortunately, the better part of the novel turned out to be a failure to launch.

A major disappointment. . .

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

29 commentaires:

Anonymous said...

Christ Pat, too many freakin spoilers

Brandon said...

Pat, this kind of review shows just how important you are in the SFF blogosphere. With the disappearance of people like Gabe Chouinard, Jay Tomyo, and William Lexner in the last couple of years, you are one of the only "old" ones left, those who started it all.

Who else is hard but fair like that? Even if you love their work, you gave 5/10 scores to authors like Sanderson, Erikson, and now Lynch when you felt that their books deserved it. You're not trying to sugarcoat it to please fans and publishers.

With you, we always get the straight dope. Been a fan since the beginning and that won't change any time soon!

Hope you're not thinking of quitting anymore!

Jean-François said...

Still going to read it and get my own opinions about this book. But reading your review, i'm pretty sure i'll lower my expectations :)

Rob said...

Ugh. 25% of my way into lies as part of my first reread since the series even came out. This review is making me reconsider my use of book reading time.

Tyson Mauermann said...

Well, it looks like you and I had the same issues with this one, then again I recall us having the conversation on FB and reaching this conclusion.

Anonymous said...

Why the fuck do I still read your reviews? Seriously.

Anonymous said...

You also gave A Memory of Light 5/10 and called that a disappointment. The only real disappointment is your blog.

Anonymous said...

Could not disagree more. Loved the book, had an absolute blast reading it. Tore through its 860 pages in just a few days, which is really fast for me. It was the furthest thing from a chore I could imagine, and I found the plotting to be completely adequate. I mean, I had too had issues with Sabetha, but it wasn't for lack of character development, but rather her choices and actions regarding her relationship with Locke. The ending wasn't mind-blowing, true, but it was pretty awesome and certainly whets one's appetite for what's to come. Aside from some blatant padding, especially in the Lashain sections, the book fires on all cylinders. I would rate it an easy 8/10. 5/10 is just so ridiculously harsh as to border on a temper tantrum. However, my tastes have been diverging from yours for quite some time now, and I can't remember the last time I truly agreed with you %100. Your favorite books are often ones I loathe -- especially those god-awful Beaulieu novels you tout so highly.

Kai Mundwiler said...

Will I still read it? Yes.
Does this review sadden me? Also yes.

Do I appreciate honesty in a review? Yes.

It'll be interesting to read it and see if my reaction is the same as Pats

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous (3:40, 7:12, 8:05)

Pat is the only honest reviewer in the fantasy sphere. The only one.

L. Settembrini said...

xD
Good one!

And Pat, according to your rather inexplicable ranking system, this novel must be one of the worst you ever 'reviewed'. Even without having read it yet, I doubt that very much. ;)

Dragonfail said...

Interesting review, but there's no way that Toll the Hounds is worse than Midnight Tides. I've only read a fifth or so, but it already sucked the fun of ten other fantasy novels out of me.

Jeff said...

Pat,

I'm disappointed to read your review, but heartened to read Neth's review on his website.

http://www.nethspace.blogspot.com/2013/08/review-republic-of-thieves-by-scott.html

I'll buy this as soon as I can and hope for the best. I found I agreed with Neth more than you on Memory of Light, so here's hoping I'm more Neth on this one as well. Keep reviewing. I appreciate your efforts. Thanks,

Jeff

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the review, Pat. Since you rated "A Dance with Dragons" 9/10 (and I hated it); this one must be excellent! I'll buy it now.

Blend said...

I feel like Pat has just moved on from good Fantasy books. In the last little while, he's said that A Memory of Light and Blood and Bone are atrocious / bad novels that no one would ever want to read and blah blah blah...

Blood and Bone is easily Esslemont's best book, and A Memory of Light was a better final novel than Jordan would/could have written.

And then to compare this to Toll the Hounds? That's so ridiculous. Toll the Hounds is the best book in the latter half of the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

I guess what I'm saying is that I used to agree with Pat's reviews, but since Blood and Bone, he seems to have lost interest in books that he previously would have liked. There's nothing wrong with that, but to call a book atrocious just because you personally don't like it? That's silly.

I'm quite looking forward to reading this book, and I think if you're going into ANY book with expectations about what kind of story it's going to be, or what kind of person a character is going to be, that's your first damn mistake. Why would you deliberately set yourself up for disappointment?

I can say that I've barely actually read any of your articles (bar those for books I am highly anticipating) in a long time, you're just not relevant anymore.

Anonymous said...

To be sure, the analogy of weak books in other series is valid, regardless of whether one agrees with the picking or how bad they are. As it happens, I think all SoIaF books are pretty even, and that some ideas in Dance with Dragons are intriguing, even the Dany-part, which Pat criticized in particular. But I can see that the series as a whole has its lengths and drearinesses, only that I see them as more integral and part of its nature, and being part of the bargain to some extent.

As for Republic of Thieves, there seems to be some departure from the previous books, and the craft and execution of ideas seem to get challenged. I can't get a clearer impression from Neth's review. It just seems generally accepting and more concerned with the pure plot-level. And that's normally something I would expect Pat to be most concerned with as well.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Thanks for review.

I have been keeping my eye on early reviews of this book.

I recently reread LIES OF LOCKE LAMORRA and RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES, and I could not finish RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES.

The ideas were there, but the execution was not.

Scott Lynch is a well-known and well-regarded author, and REPUBIC OF THIEVES is a highly-anticipated novel that many want to read.

I am not sure I am one of them.

I also agreed with Pat's review of MEMORY OF LIGHT.

Henderson

HPStrangelove said...

Good review although I would have preferred to find out for myself how Locke overcomes the poison. A bit too spoilerish for me with that detail. The rest I can live with.

oracleofdoom said...

Well, based on your opinion of Dance with Dragons, your reviews have zero credibility. Sorry to say it. I can't wait to read this book.

oracleofdoom said...

Well, based on your opinion of Dance with Dragons, your reviews have zero credibility. Sorry to say it. I can't wait to read this book.

Eilonwy said...

I got my hands on an advanced copy (because I, too, was rabidly awaiting this release) and I'm as disappointed as Pat and have to agreed with everything written here. :(

Anonymous said...

Pat. Dude. I read your review because I like reading both positive and negative opinions of things I'm about to read, but did you have to spoil so damn much? I'm really annoyed I read your review, because I'm now aware of the existence of half the content in the book. You can speak about plotlines far more anonymously then you did, and you didn't need to be so specific about some details we are given. I get that you didn't like the book, but please, don't spoil so much. Anyway, thanks for the honesty of the review (and for reminding me to temper my expectations).

tolman cotton said...

I read your review. I read it days before the actual release of the book (thanks for the spoilers, by the way). Then, since I don't like giving a book no chances because of a single review, especially when it shows as faults things that I don't really care about, I bought an e-copy, even if with reservations. You said that, except for the first hundred pages, the book was "a chore". At page 223 I began wondering what did you mean. The same at page 335 and 532, then I simply was too engrossed by the tale to care. Now, after reading, I wonder what did you expect from this book. A new Enlightenment? The Second Coming? Fire from the heavens? Because mr. Lynch gave me everything I asked for and something more.

Loki said...

I though the work was less than great. Those of you who could not handle Dance with Dragons are desperately confused. It is very sad

Anonymous said...

Just finished Republic of Thieves. Sorry, but did we even read the same book? It would be impossible for me to disagree more with every major complaint.

As for likening Sabetha to Nyneave - oh please...

Anyone wavering should take heart, ignore this review and go read the book because it's bloody good!

The Amazing Buttcrack said...

And sadly I pretty much agree with everything mentioned in this review...:(

After a strong start, the book does putter out as we read on. Spot on about the worldbuilding, the characterization, the love story, the pace, the dialogue, everything. Sabetha wasn't as bad as the review made her out to be, but I agree that TRoT is a major disappointment.

I'm glad that Scott made it to the NYT list with this one, but this clearly wasn't worth such a long wait...:(

Locke's true identity opens up the door for a lot of cool stuff down the line, so I'm still looking forward to what comes next!

Szever (The Dork Portal) said...

I thought this book was a lot of fun. Lynch doesn't shy away from taking his characters to story lines that are far different than his previous books... so there is no overarching con in this one...

I suppose my biggest complaint (and I didn't even mention this in my post on it) would be that the book is really a 600 page setup for the next book. I'm looking forward to the fallout of this book.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree more with this review. So terribly wrong I think Pat may have read the wrong book.

Anonymous said...

100% agree. I waited for this book for so long, and this is what Scott gives me, I am waaaay disappointed. I'm glad at least one reviewer knows what quality is on the Internet.