When I re-read this book, I might give it five stars. It’s that close. I just have all these … feelings.
I’ve waited a long time to read The Republic of Thieves and brought it with me as an airplane/travel book. It did not disappoint. For a third time Scott Lynch manages to deliver an incredible adventure breathtaking in the depth of its intrigue and the passionate portrayal of its characters. Without question I liked it better than Red Seas Under Red Skies—there was no heist plot derailed by a pirate plot in the middle of the book—and in some ways it is indubitably superior to The Lies of Locke Lamora. After all, Lynch finally delivers on an unspoken promise dangled before the reader since that first volume: we get to meet Sabetha!
Having heard about Sabetha for two entire books, it’s a pleasure to finally meet her in the flesh. The Republic of Thieves introduces two Sabethas: Sabetha in her youth, when Locke first meets her in Shade’s Hill, and then later when they are reunited as part of the Gentlemen Bastards; and Sabetha in adulthood, having lived and conned alone for years, reunited with Locke in Karthain to match wits and compete against each other to rig an election. Young Locke courts Sabetha for the first time while they spend a summer on stage outside Camorr. Older Locke must reconcile his lust and love for Sabetha with the obstacles put in place by their Bondsmagi employers.
This parallel structure that worked so well The Lies of Locke Lamora once more provides a satisfactory look at how both Locke and Sabetha have grown and changed (or not changed, as the case might be). The previous books all featured great depictions of women; Lynch demonstrates how it’s possible to create a cornucopia of cultures with varying traditions and attitudes and still feature women characters who are diverse and interesting individuals. But The Republic of Thieves, with its character of Sabetha, is the superlative use of this talent. She is the foil to Locke’s Magnificent Bastard personality, and boy does she know how to take him down a notch or two, in both time periods.
I love how Sabetha explains to Locke why being with him is so frustrating. She points out the deference shown to him by the other Gentlemen Bastards, and then goes on to point out how he takes it for granted. That’s right: Lynch has Sabetha talk about Locke’s privilege. And it’s great to see him sputter and at a loss for words, because he is completely prepared to declare his love and extol her virtues and protest his fidelity … but there was no way for him to anticipate those critiques. Though I don’t know from personal experience, I suspect this is typical of many relationships … all the second-guessing one does is for nought, because usually the problem is that one is totally oblivious to what the problem is….
Locke’s fallibility has always been a strength of this series. He is clever, fast to think on his feet, and ferociously loyal—yet people still manage to get the better of him at times. The fun comes from watching him take revenge or escape by the skin of his teeth by improvising upon his improvisations. Every once in a while, however, something happens that he can’t improvise his way out of, not entirely. Something blindsides him, and there are genuine moments of bewilderment. Sabetha’s critiques of him are one of those, as are Patience’s revelations about his origins.
That’s the part I’m ambivalent about. On one hand, I love that Lynch continues to expand the mythology he is building in this world. On the other hand, it’s just not a direction I expected him to go in—and maybe that should excite me, but it doesn’t. I suppose I’m worried it’s a cludge to give Locke a little more angst without actually changing too much about the formula or format of the series.
Still, at this point in the game, I guess Lynch has earned a good deal of leeway from me!
The political machinations in The Republic of Thieves are great fun. Locke’s energy, as Jean observes, has never been higher in recent memory. He inhabits the carefree character of election manager Sebastian Lazari and comes up with all manner of interesting schemes. I kind of expected the contest to end up the way it did—Lynch foreshadows the outcome, rather obliquely, in the flashbacks—but it was still well-executed.
Likewise, the theatrical subplot in the flashbacks is also great fun. Locke, Sabetha, Jean, and the Sanzas find themselves embroiled in their very first major con game—more of out necessity than avarice or ambition—and it’s so great. Complication upon complication piles up, and only their quick wits and specialized skill set allow them to escape.
If, like me, you’re a fan of this series, then there’s little that you won’t like in The Republic of Thieves. It’s once more a fun book that nevertheless has high stakes and a strong emotional arc. Lynch is a master at creating characters you care about and plots that you can sink your teeth into.
If you’re new, don’t start here. I mean you could, but that would be shooting yourself in the foot. It is so worthwhile to start at the first book. You’ll gobble them up like the richest, most filling of desserts. And then, like me, you will be stuck waiting for the next book … soon….