|Insert heavenly light and angelic choir here|
Series: The Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, #3
Publisher: Del Rey (US), Gollancz (UK)
Where I got it: NetGalley request (huge thanks to the publishers for approving it!)
Publication date(s): October 8th (US); October 10th (UK)
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.
I will not squee.
I will not squee.
I will be calm. I will use my words. I will be sensible.
I will not…
Okay, it can’t be helped. I have to squee. Just a little bit. Well, a lot bit, but really? In all honesty?
I am perfectly justified.
The Republic Of Thieves is one of, if not The Most, eagerly anticipated book releases of this year. Certainly, in my little corner of the genre-reading community, the reaction to the final, official release date announcement earlier this year was an explosion of delighted flailing, my own included. That gif up there? Spot on. I don’t think there’s anyone I talked to about this book who wasn’t looking forward to getting their hands on it. People really, really want this book.
And oh, how well you all should.
I’m still long overdue for a reread of books 1 and 2 in this series, but if I remember anything from first discovering them, it is how utterly blown away I was – not just by the world, or the cleverness of the plot and/or characters, but simply by how well Scott Lynch writes this stuff. Action, dialogue, character development, plot twists and turns (and sweet deity, the emotional gut-wrenches!) – I was hooked from the very beginning. I wanted more, and apparently like so many others, I was willing – nay, happy, to take on faith that the wait for the next book would ultimately be worth it.
The Republic Of Thieves is utterly worth it. If Goodreads reviews had a six-star rating option, it still might not be enough. Let’s see if I can explain why…
The story told in this book is something of a two-fer. There’s the present-timeline story, in which Locke is offered a cure for the poison that’s slowly but surely killing him when the book begins – in exchange for a favour done for the Bondsmagi in Karthain, which is where they hold most of their power. Then there’s the dovetailing story of a past adventure undertaken by the Gentlemen Bastards, back when they were still a gang taking orders from Father Chains. The whole gang – minus Bug, who came along later – is back for this one, and this is where the book’s title comes from – ‘The Republic Of Thieves’ is the name of a play that the Bastards must perform in, passing themselves off as actors in a country village for a few months. No thievery, no cons, save the pretense of their faked identities. The then-teenaged thieves have been driving each other – and Chains – mad, as wilful teenagers will do, and he’s gotten tired of it. So the aim is to get themselves back to the cohesive unit that they once were, before they end up killing each other (or Chains kills them). If they can’t, well, they needn’t bother coming home. So they go – and yes, of course it all goes horribly wrong for them…
The drama of Locke and Jean’s deal with the Bondsmagi would certainly have been enough to keep me hooked on this book from beginning to end. This being Scott Lynch, however, he goes one further, because the flashback story was every bit as gripping for me to read – and, if possible, even more entertaining. To put it simply, I missed the hell out of the Sanza twins when I read the second book (Red Seas Under Red Skies). While I loved that book as much as the first, I did feel that empty space. Here, I got to revel in their return, even if it was only for half the time spent reading – and in a well-deserved nod to Lynch, the flips from one story to the other never became a nuisance. I loved the chance to revisit the Gentlemen Bastards as they were, and get more of their story with which to fill in a few more puzzle pieces, mostly where Sabetha was concerned.
Then there’s the entertainment value. The escapades of this little gang of thieves still sizzles with lively action and humour, right down to the dialogue. The banter between them is flawlessly timed and wonderfully funny, and gives us not just laugh-out-loud moments, but genuine glimpses into just how tightly-knit this group is/was. No one fights like family, and for all of their fallouts previously, the Gentlemen Bastards are eventually reminded that this is what they are.
Here is where the dovetailing stories begin to come together, thematically if not chronologically. The favour promised by Locke and Jean in exchange for Locke’s cure (not that they had much of a choice, of course) is that they will turn the tide of an upcoming Karthani election in favour of the party ‘supported’ (read: puppeted) by a faction within the Bondsmagi. A party which hasn’t won the elections in a few years. And to make matters more complicated (because come on), the opposing party, puppeted by an opposing faction of Bondsmagi, have themselves a similar opponent for Locke and Jean to get the better of, if they can. It’s none other than their previously missing, and only remaining, fellow Bastard, Sabetha Belacoros.
This being our beloved Bastards, it’s not as simple for Locke and Sabetha as just opposing one another, or being together. They have a history, and they had a deeply intimate love affair, all of which was only previously hinted at. Here, their story is finally properly told – and throughout the Karthani election, there’s not only the question of ‘who will win?’ but of ‘what will happen when…?’. Oh, there’s plenty of competition between them, and because this is Locke Lamora we’re talking about, that competition is fierce, inventive and at times pretty darn funny – Sabetha truly is his equal, in all of these ways and more. However, it’s also a complication, and one that colours the real struggle between these two. They’ve been apart for five years, and so much has happened to Locke and Jean in that time. There are still desires, there are still resentments – and there’s the question of trust. Political opposition aside, can Locke still trust Sabetha after her decision to leave them? And can Sabetha set aside whatever issues are preventing her from trusting Locke? (Hint: there are plenty, and boy are they serious.)
Naturally, this being the dangerously deceptive Bondsmagi, there is much more at stake in their ‘Five Year Game’ than just winning or losing an election. Locke, Jean and Sabetha are every bit as much their puppets in this as any Party member, even if they have their own crafty ways of tugging back against those metaphorical leashes. The real question, however, is how much tugging can they really do? If there is a larger game afoot, if the Bondsmagi really can control them or their destinies as completely as they’re led to believe, then is there any point in fighting them? Or is all of this consternation yet another note in the tune that the Bondsmagi are making them dance to?
What I love about this half of the story is not only the height of drama that’s achieved, the wire-taut tension that threads it throughout, but the motivations behind it all, at least from a certain personal perspective. Patience, the Bondsmage who deals hands-on with Locke and Jean, is in this for more than just the Magi’s collective purposes. I won’t go into spoilers here, but let’s just say she’s worth keeping a very paranoid eye on …
As with the flashback half of the story, there’s plenty to love about the interactions between Locke, Jean and Sabetha in this half. When I say Sabetha is easily Locke’s equal, I mean just that. She’s every bit as clever, as devious – and just as book-clenchingly stubborn as our hero, too. Though to be fair to her, as I noted above she’s had plenty of good reasons to be hesitant about letting anybody get close to her, let alone Locke. The complications hanging over them both thanks to the Bondsmagi is only the beginning.
But again, that way lies spoilerness. I won’t say more about the plot here, but I will (indeed, my inner screaming fangirl MUST) say that the finale it all leads to is one epic, mindblowing exercise in How To Torture Your Readers. Seriously. I was literally left speechless. Scott Lynch has upped his game in every sense, and any epic fantasy I read after this is going to have a damned difficult act to follow.
Translation: I wanted to shake him/swear at him/curl up and weep/go back and read this again*.
And I think you will too.
*And will, in November! There will be a readalong, and you can bet I’m not missing it.