There’s always a moment of worry when you go to finally open up a book that you have eagerly anticipated, and that worry’s size correlates directly to how much you loved its sequels or its author’s previous works, and how long you’ve been waiting for its release. The Republic of Thieves isn’t my most anticipated book ever, or even the one I’ve waited the longest for, but I waited long enough for that worry to surface. What if it’s not as good? What if something really bad happens to these characters? What if everything I’ve waited for is a lie?
Glad to report that my worry was unfounded.
The Republic of Thieves (the third book in Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards sequence) picks up several weeks after Red Seas Under Red Skies. Locke has been poisoned, and there doesn’t seem to be a cure of any kind, magical or otherwise, though as Locke grows weaker, his best mate Jean’s efforts to find one for him grow even more desperate. Their only way out is with a deal sure to go wrong from the start, with the bondsmagi or Karthain. Said bondsmagi made Locke’s life a living hell in The Lies of Locke Lamora, so he is understandably reluctant to take the deal, but it’s either that or die. And, well, if the bondsmagi are planning to kill him after they’re done with him, what’s the difference, really, if he dies now or later?
But really that’s just the set-up. The real meat of the story is two-fold: First, the story of what the bondsmagi want Locke and Jean to do for them in exchange for curing Locke, and second, the parallel narrative of a con that went wrong back when the Gentleman Bastards were teenagers and still in training. How are these two narratives connected, exactly? Well, the first is that Locke and Jean are being paid to make sure that a particular side wins the most seats in an election in Karthain (the ‘election’ is too complicated for me to explain further) by almost any means necessary, and their political opposite (not by coincidence) just so happens to be one Sabetha Belacoros, she of the Gentleman Bastards and she of being loved by Locke Lamora for their entire lives. So the parallel story tells us the history of Locke and Sabetha, with a focus on the earlier mentioned con, which involves the GBs learning how to act while apprenticing in a theater company. All the while in the present narrative, Sabetha and Locke clash furiously over an election that neither one of them really care about. It is glorious.
I’m not going to go too far into detail about the plot because the twists and turns of the Gentleman Bastards’ plans are a large majority of the fun of these books (the other fun parts being the bromance between Locke and Jean, and the witty and profane dialogue). I will say that it is incredibly refreshing that each book in this series essentially tries out a new sub-genre (or two), instead of dragging the same old harried plots through the mud over and over again. The first book was essentially a long con, the second was a hybrid heist novel and swashbuckler, and this one tries on political games for size as well as being an ode to renaissance drama in the vein of Shakespeare and Marlowe. In this respect, my respect for Scott Lynch actually increased, which I didn’t know was possible. He really knows his shit when it comes to the theater, especially in regards to the play the Bastards perform (the titular Republic of Thieves), of which we actually get to see large bits of dialogue and action. Frankly, it’s unnerving how great he is at replicating the structure, the syntax, and mechanics of 16th/17th century drama. I had a total nerdgasm while reading those parts.
On top of all that, it was really satisfying to finally meet Sabetha. I felt she was a great match for Locke, in addition to being a fleshed out character in her own right, and the dynamic between the two of them was like, whiz-bang fantastic.
Also, the ending was frakkin’ NUTS, and if book four doesn’t come out next year like Lynch has promised, I’m going to have to bash in some heads.