Scott Lynch – The Republic of Thieves

Six long years we have waited and now it is finally here. The last time I was this excited about a new book in a series was when Dance With Dragons was published (and I still haven’t finished that one). Scott Lynch didn’t let us down and I am now more hooked than ever on the Gentlemen Bastards.

republic of thievesTHE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES
by Scott Lynch

Published by: Spectra, October 2013
ISBN: 0553804693
ebook: 800 pages
Series: The Gentleman Bastard #3
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Place ten dozen hungry orphan thieves in a dank burrow of vaults and tunnels beneath what used to be a graveyard, put them under the supervision of one partly crippled old man, and you will soon find that governing them becomes a delicate business.

***WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR BOOKS 1 AND 2***

Having pulled off the greatest heist of their career, Locke and his trusted partner in thievery, Jean, have escaped with a tidy fortune. But Locke’s body is paying the price. Poisoned by an enemy from his past, he is slowly dying. And no physiker or alchemist can help him. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmagi 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 Bondsmagi’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past . . . Sabetha. 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.

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I am a sensible reader. The Lies of Locke Lamora was so incredibly good that I knew I would die if I read the second book right away. So I waited, knowing that Red Seas Under Red Skies was sitting comfortably on my shelf, ready to be picked up at any moment. When I did (last year), I was glad I had waited. Because that cliffhanger was EVIL! Needless to say, it was the first thing that needed to be resolved in this third volume of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence.

Locke and Jean are neck-deep in shit – again. Only this time, it’s serious. Once the first and biggest obstacle of Locke’s imminent death is overcome, they find themselves drawn into a dangerous game of politics that doesn’t only involve the Bondsmagi but also a certain red-head we’ve heard a lot about in the previous book. If this were a friends episode it would be called “The One With Sabetha”.

republic of thieves part-cover

As with the previous books, there are two major story arcs going on, one in the present and one in the past. This grants us a much-needed reunion with the Sanza twins (oh how I miss them) and, what’s more interesting, finally lets us meet the legendary Sabetha in the flesh. I loved the new glimpses into Locke’s childhood and training under Master Chains but I must say that I didn’t buy the love story. At all. Sabetha, most of the time, was a rather shallow and very difficult person. I do like that she’s a complicated person with severe mood swings but it seemed to be her one defining quality. Locke’s obsession with her may make more sense at the end of the book – and I’m very much on the fence about that – but I truly didn’t understand their teenage romance. There was no chemistry, there were no sparks, and the whole thing felt incredibly one-sided, even when Sabetha finally comes around.  I’m not sure if this is just my reading of it or if she has simply been overhyped as a character, but Sabetha, as a person, was a grave disappointment to me.

Much more intriguing was the plot. As usual, Locke and Jean set out to achieve a certain goal and everything goes to shit. Do not fear (too much) for our Gentlemen Bastards, we all know by now they find some way or another to get out of trouble alive, if not always completely intact. Their third big adventure takes them to Karthain, home of the Bondsmagi, and deep into the magicians’ schemes. Charged with manipulating, by legal means only, the upcoming election, and given a very clever opponent, Locke and Jean need to come up with new ways to apply what Chains has taught them.

In the past, once you get through all the childhood drama and teenage tantrums, the entire troupe is sent to the city of Espara, to act in a play. The eponymous Republic of Thieves proves to be more difficult to put on the stage than you can possibly imagine.

republic of thieves1Both storylines combine what Lynch does best. There are heart-stopping moments of suspense, intricate plans, political intrigue, banter, and lots of cursing. By showing us a very young Locke juxtaposed with Locke at present, the author highlights his development as a character and a master thief. The last third of the book was so good, you will not want to put it down, while the beginning can be enjoyed at a more leisurely pace with lots of setting up the new adventure and flash-backs into Locke’s early childhood – as far back as his time before the Gentlemen Bastards.

It did feel quite slow at the beginning and frequently, I found myself in one timeline when I’d rather be in the other one. Around the middle, both plots pick up so much pace that I didn’t care anymore because either story line had stopped on a cliffhanger and I needed to know what happened next. As a part of the series, this was the weakest one for me, but Scott Lynch being Scott Lynch, it’s still a damn good book that did not feel like it was 800 pages thick. If you have read the previous books, it’s a no-brainer: Pick this one up, too, if only for the shocking revelations about Locke Lamora himself. If you haven’t read The Lies of Locke Lamora, what are doing reading this review? I said there were spoilers! Go and pick up the first book now. If you like fantasy and heist stories, you really can’t go wrong.

RATING: 8/10  – Excellent

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The Gentleman Bastard Sequence:

Review: Scott Lynch – Red Seas Under Red Skies

Damnation! Now I have to pray to the Crooked Warden that the next book truly does come out in 2013, or else, I’m afraid, I shall die of suspense. Writing a sequel or a continuation of a story such as The Lies of Locke Lamora is difficult. I fell in love with these characters so much and couldn’t help but fall for the author’s tricks and plot twists. But can one be that awesome twice? One can. If one’s name is Scott Lynch.
I will not spoil the plot of this book but there may be minors spoilers for book 1 that may slip in by necessity.

RED SEAS UNDER RED SKIES
by Scott Lynch

Published by: Gollancz, 2007
Pages: 584
ISBN: 0575079258
Copy: trade aperback
Series: Gentleman Bastard #2

My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: Locke Lamora stood on the pier in Tal Verrar with the hot wind of a burning ship at his back and the cold bite of a loaded crossbow’s bolt at his neck.

Thief and con-man extraordinaire, Locke Lamora, and the ever lethal Jean Tannen have fled their home city and the wreckage of their lives. But they can’t run forever and when they stop they decide to head for the richest, and most difficult, target on the horizon. The city state of Tal Verarr. And the Sinspire.The Sinspire is the ultimate gambling house. No-one has stolen so much as a single coin from it and lived. It’s the sort of challenge Locke simply can’t resist . . .
. . . but Locke’s perfect crime is going to have to wait.
someone else in Tal Verarr wants the Gentleman Bastards’ expertise and is quite prepared to kill them to get it. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy. Fine work for thieves who don’t know one end of a galley from another.

I was highly critical of this book before I started. One of the reasons I waited until now was the deep impact Scott Lynch’s debut novel had had on me. I didn’t feel like I could continue right away. I still had to wrap my head around certain events, remember who lived and who died, and how brilliantly Scott Lynch has spun me along. But my yearning for these beloved characters prevailed and I dared to pick this one up.

To say I was as blown away as I was by its predecessor would be a lie. There was a certain element of novelty to Locke Lamora that is not present anymore. A fantasy story where the fate of the entire world does not depend on one young (chosen) boy’s actions. Just a bunch of con men who trick rich bastards out of everything they got. Thank you, Scott Lynch, for giving us more of everything you do best. Locke and Jean are in the middle of another elaborate con as we meet them again. Two years have passed – two years which we catch up on in flashback chapters and which I found to me among the most impressive bits of the book. After an adventure like theirs, you don’t just happily run off to the next city and steal from noblemen. Clearly, Locke had to get over the first book, too.

As the blurb promises, our boys take up piracy in this truly swashbuckling adventure. As things go from worse to worst and everything planned goes utterly wrong, Locke and Jean find themselves on a pirate ship – and everything goes wrong yet again. I just loved how these character got into ever more trouble to the point where I thought, they would never get out of all of it, and then slowly, Locke’s mind (or rather Lynch’s mind) comes up with intricate plans to save their hides.

Crooked Warden, give me a golden line of bullshit, and the wisdom to know when to stop spinning it, he thought.

I could fill entire pages with reasons this was another great book by Scott Lynch. Let me just say that the charm’s in the details. Little things he does make the world come to life. All characters are three-dimensional – even if we don’t get to see a lot of them – the places are vibrant and full of believable people. Plus, the humor was totally up my alley and the relationships between the Gentlemen Bastards bring tears to my eyes. What more can you want?

“Mew,” the kitten retorted, locking gazes with him. It had the expression common to all kittens, that of a tyrant in the becoming. I was comfortable, and you dared to move, those jade eyes said. For that you must die.

THE GOOD: A fantastically quick-paced, clever adventure, with quippy dialogue, endearing characters and cons within cons within cons. It’s a heist lover’s dream.
THE BAD: I can’t really find anything negative. Other than the evil sort-of-cliffhanger ending.
THE VERDICT: If you liked the first book, you will enjoy this one just as much. Maybe even more, depending on if you have a soft spot in your heart for pirates and the microcosm of a ship. I loved it.
BONUS: Any journey on a ship requires women and cats – for safety and so as not to piss off the gods.

RATING: 9,5/10  Very close to perfection

The Gentleman Bastard Sequence:

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora
  2. Red Seas under Red Skes
  3. The Republic of Thieves (2013)

Review: Scott Lynch – The Lies of Locke Lamora

In light of my most recent literary crush (or re-crush, I’m reading book 2 right now), I thought I should finally post a review of one of my all-time favorite fantasy books. If you haven’t read Scott Lynch and you enjoy fantasy (or anything fun for that matter), you are really missing out.

THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA
by Scott Lynch

Published: Gollancz, 2006
ISBN: 0575078022
Pages: 505
Copy: paperback
Series: Gentleman Bastard #1

My rating: 9,5/10

First sentence: At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.

An orphan’s life is harsh–and often short–in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. Born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora dodges both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains, neither blind nor a priest. A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected family of orphans “Gentlemen Bastards”. Locke grows to lead, delightedly pulling off one outrageous trick after another, infamous as the Thorn of Camorr – no wealthy noble is safe from his sting. But the Gray King is slowly killing Capa Barsavi’s most trusted men and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr’s underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game–or die trying.

So… con men in a magical alternate Venice? That pitch already got my attention and I was ready to fall in love. But Locke Lamora combines a whole lot of things I go for in a fantasy book – in any book, for that matter. It gives you snappy, witty prose, a tightly-knit group of friends who happen to be criminal more-or-less masterminds, swear a lot, and get into so much shit that you think it’s impossible for them to ever get out again. Scott Lynch also surprised me with a fair amount of plot twists that took this story to places I really wouldn’t have expected. And he pulls all of that off in a world that comes to life from the pages and that feels consistant and believable every second of the way. Yep, you could call this book a particular crush of mine (not just because I have a thing for Locke…).

What got to me most was probably the language. Combining classic fantasy with characters who use modern swear words, who are extremely quick-witted and offer hilarious and snarky conversations, is quite a feat. But the author manages to do it while using a voice for the narrator that is both clever and literary. This is not pulpy or cheap – it’s simply engaging and bounces you between being amused, scared for the characters and utterly thrilled. There is so much detail and so many things to discover, and I won’t mention any of them. Slowly unraveling the truth is half the fun of this book.

You know how I am with characters. If I like them, I’m already half-sold on the book. Now Locke Lamora and his fellow Gentlemen Bastards are easy to love. Flawed and idiotic as they sometimes are, I couldn’t pick my least favorite if you held a gun to my head. I loved them all and that made the story all the more interesting. My reviews are all spoiler-free but I will say this: In Scott Lynch’s universe, nobody is safe!

If you like heist-movies, if you like quippy banter and great world building, if you’re tired of the same old fantasy tropes, then pick this up. Hell, even if you like all of these things, pick it up. The Lies of Locke Lamora was one of the highlights of my last decade in reading fantasy novels. And the only reason I waited two years to start the second novel is because it leaves you with a sense of post-book-withdrawal. You want to immediately erase your memory of the book and start reading it again, knowing nothing about it. It’s that good. And – halfway through book 2 – I can say that the follow up is even better.

THE GOOD: Great language, fantastic world-building, and characters you can’t help but love.
THE BAD: Starts off a tiny bit slow (although this wasn’t true for my re-read).
THE VERDICT: A fresh new wind in the fantasy genre, combining modern elements with a fantasy world and – did I mention it’s about con men?
BONUS: Cons and plot twist all the way.

RATING: 9,5/10  Very close to perfection

THE GENTLEMAN BASTARD:

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora
  2. Red Seas Under Red Skies
  3. The Republic of Thieves (coming 2013)