The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves is the latest released in the planned seven book Gentlemen Bastard series and has left me with yet another epic fantasy series to await new instalments of with impatience. The Republic of Thieves shifts the focus of the first two books towards something else and isn’t entirely successful, but it does represent a game changer for the series which leaves me desperate for the next novel.
This book picks up not long after Red Seas Under Red Skies left off, with Locke poisoned by the Archon of Tel Verrar and near death. Jean has been desperately searching for a cure but Locke is fading fast. Locke is saved from an unlikely source; Patience, one of the Bondsgmagi of Kathain whose enmity Locke had earned back in The Lies of Locke Lamora. She will heal him, but in exchange he and Jean must rig an election in Karthain. However, the other side have hired help too, in the form of Sabetha, the much heard about never before seen love of Locke’s life, and former Gentlemen Bastard herself. We also spend a lot of time in a flashback story, which sees the teenaged Gentlemen Bastards sent to the city of Espara to launch a con as actors in a renowned play known as ‘The Republic of Thieves.’
The flashback element of The Lies of Locke Lamora was extensive, but it could be argued that the main narrative of The Republic of Thieves is the flashback, with the present day Karthain storyline feeling curiously shunted to the side. That’s not to say that it wasn’t entertaining, it certainly was, but the joy of Locke and Jean’s ingenuity feels absent, with the whole plot feeling somewhat light weight. The reunion of Locke and Sabetha is very well handled though and there’s some interesting world building and light shone on long term mysteries. Karthain was a place built up significantly in the first two books, but the reality doesn’t quite reach what was suggested. The flashback story is actually better and it was a real joy to see deceased characters like Chains, Calo and Galdo again. The supporting cast in Espara are likeable and well developed, with the romp tone of much of the first two books to be found here rather than the present day storyline. I wonder is Lynch bit off more than he could chew here; he has two essentially separate stories, but by cramming both into one book each is somewhat diminished. This all sounds quite negative, but I want to make clear that I really did enjoy this book a lot. The wit and humour are still abundantly present, with the dialogue between Locke and Jean remaining a joy. Lynch does banter better than anyone else.
Locke and Jean remain a strong core for the series, with the addition of the mysterious and acerbic Sabetha living up to the two books of misdirection. None of the new characters in Karthain make much of an impact, particularly compared to the awesome piratical cast of the previous book. It was fantastic seeing some old friends in the flashback story and I actually grew rather fond of the well-drawn and likeable supporting cast in the Esparan storyline.
The Republic of Thieves doesn’t necessarily push the same buttons as the previous two books, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It tries to do too much and faces diminishing returns but is a damn enjoyable read regardless. Although I’ll miss the heist shenanigans of the first two books, I really cannot wait for whatever is coming next.