“The Republic of Thieves,” by Scott Lynch, is the 3rd book in his Gentlemen Bastards series. From the time it was first scheduled to be published to the time it was actually published, I managed to conceive a child, birth him, and celebrate 4 birthdays. Was this book worth the wait… and the numerous times I pre-ordered it only to have the pre-order cancelled?
In a word, yes.
You may note the 5 star rating and assume that I’m just a Scott Lynch fan and I’m already primed to like this book, would give it 5 stars no matter what. Without going too deep into spoiler town, I’m going to justify the 5 star review with one sentence.
We get to meet Sabetha.
Teased throughout the first two books, she’s defined more by her absence and the silence around her than her presence or actions. We know she’s pretty (or at least Locke Lamora thinks so), that she’s graceful, she has red hair, she’s good at what she does (thieving), she left their gang. As with far too many books by dudes and about dudes, Sabetha existed not as a character in her own right but as motivation and history for Lamora.
The Gentlemen Bastards series is one thickly populated with women. They are smart, resourceful, powerful, flawed, rich, beautiful, ugly, tall, short, gullible, young, middle aged, old, young, thin, fat, virgins, mothers, spy masters, thieves, police officers, scribes, alchemists, mages, and more. They have different skill sets and personalities and motivations and appearances. They exist in large numbers and they’re glorious and they talk about stuff other than dudes, and they are still secondary and tertiary characters with the main focus of the book firmly on Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen. And it’s frustrating in a way to get so close to really good, well written books featuring awesome women… and still have ultimately exist to aid and succor (or foil) men.
And in the first two books, it’s easy to dismiss Sabetha as just an old crush, just a love interest, just a bitch.
And suddenly, in this book, she draws breath and speaks and a lot of what she says is frustrating (and applicable to our own world) and some of what she says is really horrific as it applies to the world she lives in.
There’s antagonism between Locke and Sabetha in their youth, and while we’ve been set up to see the antagonism as her simply not appreciating his skinny charms, the actualfact reason is that he moved in on her territory and took over her leadership position. He is Yet Another Dude who usurped her, Yet Another Dude joining the gang and outnumbering her. And it’s hard to be the only woman in a gang of dudes, hard to be taken seriously, hard to gain respect. Because the default, even among thieves, even among thieves who know that their future Capa will probably be a woman, is to dismiss a woman’s concerns and a woman’s words because whatever she’s a girl. And she resents that. And Locke tumbles into that same trap and doesn’t give her words weight even though she’s older, faster, better trained, and more clever than he is. Because he’s a guy and he doesn’t have to, and that’s wrong. And she tells him that. And he listens to her and tries to do better but frequently fails, and she’s willing and able to hold out for something better than yet another dude content to support the same old regime.
I read a lot of fantasy and it’s really rare to have characters give voice to actual problems in the actual world at all, let alone in a way that isn’t preachy or condescending. Sabetha has a problem. Sabetha wants a good life. She isn’t sure she can have that with Locke Lamora, and she’s willing and able to hold out for something better. He’s the protagonist but she exists for more than just him. I mean, over all, it’s still rare in general to see women characters let alone well written, well rounded women characters. Well written, well rounded women characters who directly address misogyny and how it impacts them? Come into my arms, book. Let me hold you and love you.
Other than Sabetha, is the book good?
Yes, yes. A hundred times, yes.
As it turns out, the previous poisoning was NOT a bluff, and Locke Lamora is suffering dreadfully. Salvation comes from an unexpected quarter, and Locke and Jean find themselves drafted into a political game that is equal parts politics and game among their old enemies of the Bondsmages of Karthain. Things, of course, are not what they seem (are they ever?) and Locke and Jean have to deal with PERSONAL REVELATIONS!!!(that might be lies), BIG HISTORIC REVEALS!!!!(that might be ditto), WORKING WITH SABETHA!!!!!(who is MUCH more strategic than they are), and more. Lynch drops more hints about the history and creation of the world, including a shivery suggestion that something might be gearing up to menace those living on it– that whatever caused the Eldren to disappear might just come back again.
Lynch continues to be a master of the mini cliffhanger, weaving current events and flashbacks from various times together, ending chapters at delicately arranged stressful times. It’s a hard book to put down because every break is tense, leaving the reader wanting more.
A lot of dangling background threads from the first two books come to fruition, still in the background but affecting things, and one very big dangling plot thread comes to the fore in a big old cliffhanger.
Most of the threat of the story is emotional. Will Locke resolve things with Sabetha? Will she trounce them soundly? There doesn’t seem to be a huge, looming threat if they lose the contest, so the pressure is definitely lessened. The action isn’t as rushed and intense, either. I expect that some people will consider this book not as good as the previous two for those reasons, but I really enjoyed it. We get to dip much more deeply into Father Chains’ gang’s history; into Locke, Jean, and Sabetha’s past and working history; into the world and history and politics they live in. This book is slightly more slower paced than the previous two, but it feels like quite a bit is being set up for the next book, which I already eagerly await.
Mirrored from Thoughtful Consumption.