Okay. So let me be clear, I dig me some Scott Lynch books. I really liked his debut, The Lies of Locke Lamora, and I think I might find myself in the minority when I say I enjoyed the follow-up in his Gentlemen Bastard cycle, Red Seas Under Red Skies, even more. I go back when it comes to reading about the exploits of the Thorn of Camorr. I was on this probably just after choice frameshifters were after hearing about it from other authors I was interviewing who had read early drafts/manuscripts and were telling me behind the scenes that Scott Lynch was what was next. I have documentation.
I also interviewed Scott Lynch. Vintage style.
I also think it’s odd that we don’t have Locke Lamora on TV or in film. Lynch has always been kinetic and cinematic, the dialogue would transition, there’s not an incredible amount of special effects needed, and the characters sing. In an era where big money is being thrown at content, especially content with any base, I need Locke Lamora on TV. That and The Malazan Book of the Fallen would make my day.
For some months now my partner in a former book review site — another Lynch fan — I co-own has been asking me during conference calls if I’ve read The Republic of Thieves, a book I’ve had loaded up to read for a long while but I just had not got to because of life, and after you get through running a book review site, the last thing you want to do is a read a book in a timely matter.
I knew something must have gone down though, because he kept on mentioning it over the course of a year, and he’s not the type to harp about a book and knows we don’t really have similar tastes so I wouldn’t be a natural person for him to look to for affirmation on literary issues.
So I read The Republic of Thieves.
If you are looking for a review you are not going to get one (even though the post slug says it). This is Thought Balloon, which is going to feel like saying “no offense” before saying something, but it’s actually just random, from the gut, thoughts, and hey we are just talking fantasy books here. You either have already read it, or haven’t started the series yet and should, because the first two entries are great, quintessential page turners. Instead, I found myself compelled to scribble shit down. This is alarming for at least two reasons.
1. I am a former owner of a book review site. Why am I taking notes?
2. I literally couldn’t remember the last time I wrote something by hand.
Before I get to my notes I do want to first put out there that I’m totally buying the next Scott Lynch book. I get down with the Gentlemen Bastards and I role with Scott Lynch lit against all comers everywhere no matter how strange the horizons. Okay here we go.
– what do these 2 threads have to do with each other?
– Chewie is losing a lot of screen time to Sabetha.
– Poll | More lame when around each other: Sabetha or Locke?
– Luk… Locke Lamora sees former Gentlemen bastard who have become one with the force?
– Locke is a created by a vergence in the forc… by bondsmagi Dark Lord midichlorians voodoo?????
– the woman who couldn’t possible fuck them over because Lynch knew that we knew that she was going to but couldn’t because it would be dumb and anticlimactic did anyway? That’s the opposite of a twist.
– a tsiwt.
– poll inconclusive.
– Mara Jade ran away because of a picture?
– that guy is back? Why???? He was the only thing lame about the first book
You know how you watch the new Star Trek films and you kind of don’t have the time to be mad in the moment about what’s happening because what’s happening on screen is incredibly well paced and eye candy? Republic of Thieves was like that minus the candy and pace. This is surprising because The Lies of Locke Lamora is exceedingly well paced. Republic of Thieves is bloated, so much so I could almost feel its own discomfort, like someone used to being fit carrying some extra pounds due to inactivity caused by injury. Page turners burn through fat.
The story taking place in the past, the Gentlemen Bastards in their or on their way to their prime and at full strength with the two prodigies in Locke and Sabetha is the ground we want to cover. It pays off and adds to the Sabetha build-up, and more importantly what we liked about The Lies of Locke Lamora is still there. What we loved is still ahead, the world we were introduced to and fell for is still coming. That good shit still exists in this world and is on the way.
The current story doesn’t give us much. Beyond the really baffling political machination that never makes sense to begin with, it also involves these godawful Bondsmagi who I thought were better left remained as a plot element, invisible invincible boogeymen chasing Locke and Jean through future exciting adventures that have nothing to do with them beyond that. While I really didn’t like the Falconer in The Lies of Locke Lamora because he was pretty much just that plot element who was needed to make the impossible occur to create and sustain the mystery, I thought Lynch quite masterfully identified this and tied up that loose end, making the Falconer effectively “dumb”, which seemed too perfect and poetic not to be purposeful.
I think you take out the the entire Bondsmagi coup plot and the return of the Falconer and not only do you lose nothing, but the book is actually better — we still get all of that good Sabetha stuff all while still knowing our boy is messed up at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies. We get the joy, even while we remain fully conscious that we are in danger. This bliss we are experiencing is at risk. I get that the flashback thread is used as character development, and Lynch uses this quite effectively in previous books, but the danger when combined with a lackluster current story is this danger of the past stories being significantly more worthwhile to the reader than what’s coming ahead. It’s like we are currently watching the decline of the Gentlemen Bastards and not their height, thus these flashbacks come off as “do you remember when these stories would have been interesting?”. If you don’t I’m going to put it right next to one that isn’t so you can.
This makes the end of Republic of Thieves was even more grating because of the way Lynch wrote and structured the end chapters with the Falconer’s return it’s clear we are supposed to think that’s awesome.
BUT Because Lynch is so good at cleaning up messes, because you know he is aware and has this connection with his readers — a classic and all too rare writer who writes what he would want to read, not merely says it — you continue on just to watch him do it, but instead of tying up loose ends he unwraps the one perfectly (best left) boxed up one from The Lies of Locke Lamora. You ever play those old school video games and you have an elf with you who can naturally identify trapped loot boxes? This one is glowing red, takes your HP down to 1, drops your favorite weapon that you grinded a week for, and even…
I guess I get that Locke and Sabetha are supposed to be this familiar idea of being each other’s weaknesses though actually being each other’s strength but the idea that these two specific people would fall into that throwback semi-nerd stereotype where they are great at everything, or at least anything these set their mind do except each other just never feels justified, and I think Lynch knew that because of the lengths he took to separate the two, but still not being able to come up with a separation that passes the sniff test at the end. It’s like that Angel and Buffy plot device except there is no magical drawback to perpetual boot knockin’ for Locke and Sabetha. I get that their ability to maneuver through people and society at will highlights and furthers the idea that to each other they are “real”, not just what are supposed to be part of a game, to be moved and disposed of. Indeed, I think Lynch putting them in that flashback story as actors was very purposeful even beyond the idea of a thieving troupe is something that fans of RPG fantasy have a soft spot for. I think Lynch inserts Samwise Flick Jean into this showing us that, the real person telling and reminding two game masters that they are real and what matters: each other. The Gentlemen Bastards. It’s anathema for them to play each other. They are the most real stakes because it’s not a game. There’s meaning here, which is why Sabetha is even threatened by what she knows is the epitome of loyalty: Jean. Locke has had that reminder with Jean at his side, while Sabetha (assumingly) has been soloing it. I really like this part and if anything Lynch does perfectly create this awkward atmosphere of two people trying really hard, but even in admiration of the author’s faculty in this regard it cannot escape the premise which never jives with me.
When I next called my friend it was the first time in a couple of years I talked about a book with passion with someone else — I typically ponder Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen exclusively in seclusion. For that, The Republic of Thieves gets a pass. The Gentlemen Bastards merits discussion in somewhat of a rare fashion when it comes to reading. It’s not about endless digging into every sentence and examining every name, location, hair color, and turn of phrase ala the particular joy of reading George R.R. Martin, but it’s an equally, perhaps more, important discussion: “Why is this not as cool as it’s supposed to be?” It’s like getting to Ice Cube’s War & Peace Vol. 1. It would be like finding out Lando Calrissian was for one second of his life not suave. I can’t have that.
Bring on The Thorn of Emberlain. Hopefully tighter, slimmer, and sharper. More heist, less geopolitical. Micro-epic, not macro. Let’s get back to them capers. The Fast and Furious plot escalation (love those movies) formula didn’t work here. Locke is not a superhero, he’s from the streets. A predator. You know how we do it. Even if he was apparently created by Darth Plagueis.
Damn it. Locke was born in the midst of a plague wasn’t he?
I just preferred the bastards when their destiny felt like their own. When they were illmatic, less it was written.