Review: The Republic of Thieves

Posted: December 13, 2013 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Scott Lynch, Fantasy

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? If you are like me, you’ve read Scott Lynch’s first two novels several times while eagerly awaiting his THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES (Amazon). There have been very few novels that I, personally, had anticipated as much as this one. I guess the real question is whether or not the wait was worth it?

For me, yes. I’m a patient sort for the most part. There are so many amazing novels to read that waiting doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. That, combined with the knowledge that Lynch was facing some pretty severe personal issues, made me not care too much at the oft delayed 3rd novel in the Gentlemen Bastard Sequence. It’s been five years since RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES, but now that the novel is here, I find I hardly care about that wait.

Here is my one and only warning. If you haven’t read both THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA (EBR Review) and RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES (Amazon), don’t read this review. I can’t help but spoil a few things from those terrific novels here. That’s it. You’ve been warned.

THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is a very different novel from the previous two. It picks up pretty much right where RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES leaves off with Locke being poisoned. He has very little time to live, and Jean is doing his best to find a way to cure his friend. This leave Locke ripe for the manipulating, which the Bondsmagi of Karthain promptly do. They want Locke and Jean to rig an election for a certain political party in Karthain. Their opponent is none other than Sabetha, Locke’s ex-lover whom he still loves.

What is promised here is a story of politics, manipulation and corruption on a massive scale. I was definitely intrigued. Except we really don’t get much of this.

THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES really isn’t about manipulating an election (though some of that comes into play). This is the Locke and Sabetha story. They story of how they met. How their relationship grew. How they finally became lovers. How they react to each other after not seeing each other for five years. Buried under everything, this is a love story and a tragedy. If you can’t accept that, this novel will be a disappointment to you. I figured out this piece rather quickly, so I was able to enjoy the novel for what it was, and enjoy it I did. Immensely.

The questions that have always plagued me since first reading THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA centered over who Locke really was, and who Sabetha really was. They have always been more than just normal people, and I wanted some answers to those questions. They way this is all told is through a series of flashbacks (as usual in a Scott Lynch novel) to the time before Sabetha left the Gentlemen Bastards, and then the current political events in Karthain. The flashbacks cover a time when the whole of the Gentlemen Bastards are packed off by Father Chains to learn stagecraft. As usual, it all goes wrong.

The previous novels in this series have all had some grand scheme that Locke and Jean were trying to execute. THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is a bit different in this regard. The big scheme is actually fairly limited to the flashbacks, and the political machinations devolve mostly into elaborate pranks (with the exception of a beautifully maneuvered finale). As such, the tone of the novel feels more like the main characters are just reacting to events rather than proactively setting and enacting large-scale schemes.

I don’t want you to think I didn’t like the novel. I did. In the end I loved it. It was paced far better, and was infinitely more cohesive than RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES. It just didn’t go into the politics as much as I would have liked, and the characters were less active than in prior novels.

That said, I have come to the conclusion that Lynch is one of the most engaging wordsmiths in the business. His writing is captivating. I loved just reading the words, and the way he structures his chapters. It is extremely hard to pull of meaningful flashbacks in a novel, and this novel is half flashback–indeed I would say the flashback story is of far more importance than the current story.

THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is a far more personal novel, and I really appreciated that tone. Whether or not you will like the book will depend entirely on you.

The other thing I love is how consistent the characters are from book to book. This isn’t to say they are stagnant, because they do learn. The Locke Lamora from THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA is a radically different character from the one he is in the REPUBLIC OF THIEVES. It’s the logical reactions that Jean, Locke and Sabetha have that make them real. It’s how their progression is consistent and, again, logical. They are never out of character, and that takes tremendous skill as an author.

I should also mention that within the flashbacks Lynch even created an original play. The play–titled The Republic of Thieves, of course–obviously is a window into the Gentlemen Bastards, and into the Locke/Sabetha relationship. It’s awesome, but you can see how everything in the novel is focused on those two.

So what does this novel accomplish for the series? It’s a question I asked myself frequently after finishing the book. In reality, it’s pure setup. It sets up a super-villain of sorts. It sets up Locke and Sabetha with very real context. It moves Locke and Jean from the mess and tragedy at the end of RES SEAS UNDER RED SKIES into the next phase of the series. It gives us teases as to how bad things are going to get for Locke. In some ways the novel accomplishes little, while in other ways it accomplishes a ton.

Whether or not you will like the book will depend–wait for it–entirely on you. I loved it. The novel is a far more personal novel, and I really appreciated that tone. There aren’t many novels out there that can compete with THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES.

  • Recommended Age: 18+
  • Language: Tons. Just like the last novels.
  • Violence: When it happens, it is brutal. But this novel has far less than previous volumes.
  • Sex: There are actually a few scenes in this book. They don't get too explicit, but there is some detail. Additionally there are a lot of vulgar references throughout the novel.

Stop screwing around and buy this series.


  • ritika says:

    I loved it.. there was too much information in the end of the book but I don't care I loved the book.. I seriously cannot imagine where this story will go next.. hope we get to read the next one soon and not after a five year wait..

  • Face says:

    This novel was absolutely stunning in every way. I think the review, glowing as it is, fails to do this story justice. It may very well be my favorite fantasy novel of all time (not the series mind you, but stand alone novel). Lynch is a master writer. He blows everyone else out of the water. If you mixed Tolkein and Hemingway with the funniest/wittiest comedian of our age, you would get Lynch. Literally, his words are as evocative and beautiful as a poem but infinitely more accessible.

    And no fantasy I have ever read made me laugh out loud as consistently as this, yet I was surprised every time I did. The dialogue is beyond good, I literally want to hang out with these Bastards and trade some barbs, upon which I would be thoroughly impaled.

    This one is my favorite of the series. I didn't think he would be able to top Lies, but he did, big time. The political games in the present time were excellent, funny, clever etc. Obviously not overly complicated stuff, but the parallels to modern dirty politics kept the antics fresh and funny (I wish RNC and DNC would have their headquarters filled up with [I won't spoil it here]!). Further, it was so nice to see how awesome Locke and Jean can be even when constantly on the defensive from Sabetha, clearly the smartest of the group. In any case, my biggest qualm with the last novel was that what could have been an incredibly cool part of the story (robbing the casino) ended up being completely derailed and unimportant to the greater novel. I felt like the political battle was much more fleshed out here than the casino heist in Red.

    As for the flashbacks, simply brilliant. How Lynch can retain the tension in the story even though you know everyone makes it out ok is beyond me. I was engrossed, it was an awesome setup and really seemed like it would be impossible to get out of, but of course Bastards always win. Also, it was amazing that much of the time something that happens in the flashback directly informs something happening in the present in the chapter immediately following that flashback. It was a great way to illuminate why characters act or think the way they do without spelling it out in a ham handed way. Nothing in this novel was remotely awkward.

    This should have been on the Best of 2013 list. I have read five of the books/series listed in the Best of and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this book is more “fun” than any of them, even if not as deep/interesting/provocative/informative as some of them (Lawrence, Tregellis and Pinborough for example). However, one book that most certainly should not have beaten this one on the list is Graveyard Child. I really don't understand EBR's fascination with the Black Sun Daughter series. It is entertaining for sure, but the writing is elementary, the story and action OK – mildly satisfying when something is actually happening – but awfully thin when compared with some of the other fiction on that list, and the supporting cast is pretty damn boring (Ex hella sux). And the dialogue, OMG! Comparing the dialogue in Graveyard to Emperor is like comparing Sean Hannity to Bill Moyers, or a mildly mentally retarded eight year old's talent show stand up routine with Bill Hicks or George Carlin at their finest.

    Anyway, thanks EBR for bringing this (and many other) series to my attention in the first place. Keep up the good work!

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