Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards books have received the type of acclaim you expect for some of the best known fantasy authors — for good reason. Lynch has a strong, fun voice that keeps the pages breezing past. His latest, the long-overdue Republic of Thieves, is a more complicated, but no less fun book than its predecessors.
Some spoilers for the series...
Picking up after the events of Red Seas Under Red Skies, Republic finds us alongside Locke and Jean once again. Locke, still poisoned, is working through various schemes to find a cure. A cure is at hand: a mysterious group offers to cure Locke completely, provided he's up for a new job: oversee an election and win. Rigging the political field would be an easy job, had they not brought in Locke's greatest equal and love, Sabetha, to run the campaign of his opponent.
This is really two books in one: as the events unfold in the election cycle, Lynch plays out a second story in flashbacks, one in which Locke, Jean, Sabetha and company go out on the road for a job, delving into the relationship between Sabetha and Locke. The two stories come together nicely as the book plays out, with one set of revelations complementing the events of the other. It's a complicated trick to play out in a novel, but Lynch plays it off masterfully, and it becomes increasingly clear that the two stories really couldn't stand alone on their own. It's an ambitious novel, and Lynch pulls it off well.
The main thrust of this novel is the political intrigue. Here, the rigging of a Bondsmagi political match isn't something one thinks of when you hear the words 'Epic Fantasy', but Lynch does an admirable job porting over The West Wing into his world. Throughout the book, I could imagine Locke moving about in a Sorkin-esque walk and talk sequence as he works political connections to accomplish his mission. His trademark snappy dialogue fits well with how we think politics should run: full of people with answers, directing others as they deftly move the chess pieces back and forth until they reach their objective.
Locke meets his greatest rival as he manipulates his side of the board: Sabethia is a red-haired flame from his past, and more than a match for his tricks. As the book lumbers on, the story between Locke and Sabethia unfolds with great care. Their relationship is complicated in the present: they're keenly aware of how they've each been selected for their roles, and just how their pasts come together to make things extra exciting.
Sabethia isn't willing to pull punches, either. There's a delightful scene early on when she uses Locke's affections against him, drugging him when he kisses her and placing him on a boat that's taking the scenic route to somewhere that's not the election. Locke and Jean escape, as one expects, but the encounter is at a cost: the level of playful tricks between one another cools, and ultimately it's clear that one's affections for each other isn't going to keep one another from holding back. There's a darker pall that plays between the interactions of Locke and Sabethia, and it's interesting to see the differences between the before and after sections, as each character grows.
The elections in Karthain play out, with each of their strategies playing out, and Locke, Jean and Sabethia are able to escape the city, but not before they learn that there's some very dark things potentially lurking in Locke's past, the sorts of things that play into a much larger story, and which allow The Republic of Thieves to push the series plot forward just a little more.
The Republic of Thieves has some serious flaws, however: throughout the book, it feels as though Locke falls into the same arguments with Sabetha over and over, in the present and past. While their relationship is really the core of the novel, the repetition gets old, fast. It's like watching a cring-worthy juvenile crush, one that gets uncomfortable at points. Locke isn't the type of person that gives up something he's after, and while Sabetha is more than up for dealing with Locke, I have to wonder why the game goes on for so long. As their banter goes back and forth, the book really drags, and there's points where I simply had to put the book aside so that I could read something else, something that moved forward at a reasonable pace. Your mileage may vary (I tend to be an impatient fantasy reader), but it leaves the book in a weird quandary: I enjoyed it greatly, especially Lynch's writing, but at the same time, I found myself reluctant to continue forward, simply because of the pacing.
The Republic of Thieves had been a hotly anticipated book when it was released last year, and it lives up to the hype: it's an excellent (if sometimes flawed) addition to the series, and it's really a book that stands well alongside its predecessors. Hopefully, it won't be too long before the next, The Thorn of Emberlain, is out in stores. So far, it looks like it'll be out in early 2015.