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