THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES by Scott Lynch, the third book in the Gentlemen Bastards series, comes out today, with a great deal of anticipation and excitement. For the most part, these feelings stem from Lynch’s ability to regale readers with picaresque tales of charming rogues, rapier-sharp and witty dialogue, colorful and dangerous cities, and plots that race forward like a lit fuse. THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES has all of this and more–much more–yet it is not without its faults. Although I enjoyed the book, I wonder if it can meet the high expectations readers have.
WARNING: MILD, MINIMUM SPOILERS FOR RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES AND THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES BELOW.
When we last left Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, they were beaten, not nearly as wealthy as they had hoped, and wondering how they might find an antidote to the vicious poison killing Locke. And just when Locke is at his weakest, his most powerful enemy comes knocking: the Bondsmagi. Only they are have not come for revenge, but with an offer: a cure for the poison and a chance for Locke to reunite with his long-absent love, Sabetha. In return, the Bondsmagi wish to hire Locke and Jean to perform their artistry on Karthanian elections on behalf of one faction–plots, pranks, lies, and skullduggery of all kinds.
But there’s a catch. Of course there’s a catch. You see, the rival faction has hired Sabetha to do the same. And should the Bondsmagi decide Locke is shirking his duties and instead getting close to Sabetha, punishment will be swift and violent. But threats of death and physical violence are never enough to dissuade the Gentlemen Bastards.
As in previous volumes, Lynch interweaves the main plot with a second plot line from the Gentlemen Bastard’s past. In this case, the Bastards have been sent abroad to work as a troupe of actors and perform Lucarno’s play, “The Republic of Thieves.” Not only is it a time of growth and self-education, but it’s also the time when Locke and Sabetha’s love blossomed.
But unlike previous books, this flashback plot line outshines the major plot line. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so eager to learn more about Sabetha and her relationship with Locke. Or perhaps it’s because I enjoyed seeing a young Locke grow in confidence and skill and charm. Or perhaps it’s because Karthain is populated by people whose minds are so bent by the Bondsmagi’s magic that they become puppets and pawns instead of real people (the campaign plot played out more like a chess game between Locke and Sabetha instead of tense caper). Or perhaps it’s because the Bondsmagi are largely absent from the story (although for good reason, and to say more would be a major spoiler, I wished I could have read more about what they were doing “off screen”).
I enjoyed this book. Lynch’s skill continues to improve. Locke and Jean are as enjoyable as ever, and I enjoyed Sabetha’s ability to bounce Locke back and forth from charming to clumsy. But I thought I would enjoy the election plot more. Instead, the stakes were so minimized that I didn’t really care who won. I was more focused on what the Bondsmagi said and hinted at, but I will have to wait for future books for those story elements to play out. And I thoroughly enjoyed the flashback plot for it’s apt descriptions of adolescence, as seen through the eyes of young thieves. Fans of the Gentlemen Bastards will undoubtedly enjoy this book, but I didn’t find it as compelling as the previous volumes. The story wasn’t as tightly woven, and the danger was less apparent.
Then again, it may just be a question of too-high expectations. Call it the “Wheel of Time” syndrome–wait too long for a story and hope for too much, and it can only disappoint on some level.