28 January 2014

Republic of Thieves: Review

Republic of Thieves is the long-awaited third volume of Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series. It has been years in the making because of the author’s personal problems, but it is very welcome now that it is here.

Republic begins with a prologue that puts the story in context by detailing Locke Lamora’s first encounter with the love of his life, Sabetha. It then jumps forward in time to a point shortly after the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies: Locke is dying of an illness concocted by a group of Bondsmagi he has antagonized. This gives another faction of Bondsmagi the opportunity to make him an offer he can’t refuse: his life as part payment for rigging an election.

The bulk of the story is essentially an account of Locke and Jean’s efforts to rig the election. However, Sabetha has been recruited by another faction to rig the election in their favour, so it becomes a tale of the difficult relationship between Locke and Sabetha interspersed with flashbacks to their time with the Gentleman Bastards.

In the end, Locke’s faction win the election, the Bondsmagi apparently vanish, and Locke and Sabetha learn something unpalatable about his background. In the wake of that revelation, Sabetha leaves. Locke and Jean are left penniless but alive.

Lynch has created a set of strong, likeable central characters. Locke and Jean are already familiar from the earlier novels, but this story develops their characters further. Locke is more vulnerable here than in earlier novels, and we are given fresh insights into Jean as he is forced to become Locke’s protector. And, of course, we are at last introduced to Sabetha who has been well foreshadowed in previous novels by Locke’s brooding over her absence. In the course of the story, we gradually discover that the hints in the earlier novels have more to do with Locke’s idealized vision of her than the reality.

The tone of Republic is reminiscent of the amorality of the recent grim dark tendency in fantasy. But this is leavened by touches of humour, thoroughly enjoyable prose, and Locke’s sense of fairness.

An election campaign is not the most obvious setting for an action-packed novel, but Lynch marries the (dodgy) politics and the action very successfully. As a result, the pacing of the novel is every bit as good as its predecessors making it very hard to put down.

Republic is the third volume of a projected series of seven, but there is no sign of the loss of direction that so often plagues mid-series books. Lynch has deftly avoided this by shifting the emphasis to Locke’s relationship with Sabetha. And he has dropped some tantalizing hints about what may be yet to come with the (not entirely convincing) escape of the Falconer – Locke’s enemy from the first volume – and the suggestion that there is something out there that the Bondsmagi are afraid of.

In summary, this was by far the best fantasy novel I read in 2013. Like its predecessors, it is essential reading for anyone who enjoys fantasy literature.

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