Review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

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Published: July 2014 by Gollancz
Format reviewed: Paperback, 726 pages
Series: The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence #3
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Dymocks Online
Available: Publisher (print, e-book & audiobook) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: This review may contain spoilers for previous books.

Locke and Jean barely escaped with their lives from what should have been the greatest heist of their career, in the port city of Tal Verrar. Now they head north, looking for sanctuary and an alchemist who can cure the poison that is slowly killing Locke. They find neither, but with their luck, money and hope exhausted, they receive an offer from a power that has never had their best interests at heart: the Bondsmagi of Karthain.

In exchange for the chance that Locke might be saved, the Bondsmagi expect the two Gentlemen Bastards to rig an election in their home city of Karthain. They will be opposed. The other side has already hired the services of Sabetha Belacoros, the one person in the world who might match Locke’s criminal skill, and the one person in the world who absolutely rules his heart.

Now it will be con artist against con artist in an election that couldn’t be more crooked, all for the benefit of the mysterious Bondsmagi, who have plans within plans and secrets they’re not telling…

I confess my love for this series has waned a little with The Republic of Thieves. While there was a lot I enjoyed about it and I ripped through it in no time, it was a bit of a different beast to the first two books. That should come as no surprise when we’re stepping from pirates to politics. However, it means the story lacked the same made-it-by-the-skin-of-their-teeth feel. I could see there were attempts to build that, but I found them a little flat–at least in terms of the present-day story.

The Republic of Thieves keeps the same structure as previous books in the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence: chapters set in the present are broken up by interludes set in the past. In this book, the interludes give us the backstory of Locke and Sabetha’s relationship. The bulk of this takes place one summer when the Gentlemen Bastards are sent away to apprentice as actors, only to find their intended mentor brings trouble of his own. Previously, I’ve found the interludes an entertaining way of providing context. In The Republic of Thieves I actually found the interludes becoming more interesting than the main story. The action is more dynamic and the stakes more immediate. In contrast, the present day action moves slowly, despite the ticking clock. Even early on, when the stakes are arguably at their highest and most immediate, the pace is slowed by extensive dialogue.

I enjoyed meeting Sabetha for the first time. Her younger self tended to be prickly and somewhat emotionally volatile, but that seemed appropriate for a teenager. Her adult self had more poise and polish. On the whole she felt like an equal match for Locke and I appreciated that she explicitly calls out Locke on his privilege and the way he assumes leadership. Despite that, I think The Republic of Thieves still has a way to go with its treatment of female characters. In particular, I felt the ending undermined Sabetha’s character and thus fell somewhat flat for me.

In general, I found The Republic of Thieves to be an entertaining read and one which frequently made me laugh out loud. At over 700 pages, it is definitely within the realm of Big Fat Fantasy; readers with wrist trouble might want to consider picking it up as an e-book.

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