Friday, November 1, 2013

Book review: Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

It's Friday, and I just finished the second of two books I have been eagerly awaiting for quite some time now. Both are the third in their respective series. They came out within a week of each other, and I raced to finish the first so I could get to the second.

And for the second time in two weeks, I am muddled in confusion and very disappointed.

Let's start with Scott Lynch's Republic of Thieves, one of the most highly anticipated books of the year--or the past five, as, much like GRRM, Mr. Lynch slowed down considerably since his first two books: the fantastically inventive and genuinely charming The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies. Also much like GRRM, the first book hooks you, drags you breathlessly along to a heart-stopping finale, and drops you back in your chair, blinking and wondering what happened to the last twenty-four hours of your life.

I never expect subsequent books in a series to live up to the first. You're living a life of unmet expectations if you do, my friend. But I'd like them to be solid additions, even if they are a bit uneven in places, a bit lacking of that original luster.

I found RSURS to be just that, a solid sequel. It was quite different, but at the end of the day, it's all about the magnificently scheming Locke getting in over his head and losing nearly everything. Here's a man who lives by the adage, Nothing gained if nothing tried. And boy, does he try. In spectacular and spectacularly clever, over-the-top fashion.

So far I've left out the details of the first two books, because A) I expect if you're here wanting a review of RoT, you've already read the first two, and B) because, at the end of the day, despite my disappointment with RoT, I'm hopeful later books will rectify it, and so I'd love you to pick up Lies if you haven't read it.

But here be spoilers for Republic. Stop reading now if you haven't read it.




Okay, first issue: Sabetha has been built up for two books, a mystery woman who looms larger than life over Locke, and it's clear he worships her.

Why the fuck why?

Seriously, that's my question. Is she strong, independent, ambitious, and smart? Yes. She's also self-centered and selfish, plagued by bizarre insecurities, and incapable of considering Locke's feelings in any matters concerning her. Look, either let the guy down permanently and don't lead him on (and don't misuse his deep love for you to, I don't know, POISON HIM), or make a commitment. Have you ever seen a flightier character? The slightest reason to go running from him and she's gone. "Ack! Locke is only interested in me for my red hair! He's the least shallow person I know and has spent years devoted to me but ACK! It can only be for my hair!" Or here's another, in case you think I'm trotting out teen Sabetha unfairly: "Gasp! He may or may not have been a bondsmage in the past who lost his memory but still has some buried love for a deceased red-haired wife and, while I have no evidence but a shifty bondsmage's tale, I shall leave him after at last having passionate coitus! The ultimate sock-it-to-the-balls!"

Please insert multiple other accounts between the years Sabetha was a snotty, self-centered teenager and when she was a self-centered grown-ass woman who should have gained some perspective. If she had changed over the years, I could've gone along with her treatment of Locke when they were young, because we're all stupid between the ages of 13 and 18. But she hasn't changed, and while she constantly demands Locke see things her way and apologize for shit he hasn't even done, she never stops to consider his point of view or his feelings.

I could go on about Sabetha, but let's stop here. Sadly, I think Patience's prophecy in the final section alludes to her becoming pregnant. If so, I will be even more disappointed because two very intelligent characters who understand that their chosen lifestyles are dangerous have had unprotected sex. Come on.

Next issue: Flashbacks are somewhat annoying and almost always add nothing to the plot. So they are here. Cut all the play stuff from the flashbacks and the reader would still understand the dynamic of the Locke/Sabetha relationship. While little was said about it in earlier books, there's enough to go on. The flashbacks to their youth felt like filler.

Which means there wasn't enough meat on the bone for the current storyline.

Lies and Red Seas both had twisty plots that I scrambled to keep up with, and I marveled at the intelligence of Locke (and so, Mr. Lynch). Republic feels like two parties slinging stones at each other across a field. I never quite bought that their actions were in order to secure election wins. If you look at modern-day elections, there's quite a bit of mudslinging and bending the truth and secret deals coming to light and scandal, scandal, scandal, not to mention that it's clear what the parties stand for. I never understood the difference between the Deep Roots and the Black Iris parties; they seemed to be mostly a stage for Locke and Sabetha to work out their relationship. Which, as it turns out, never happens.

Harmless alchemical smoke bombing of party headquarters? Rousting of spies? Bureaucratic annoyances? *yawn* The closest we came to real intrigue was Sabetha's use of Nikoros's addiction to infiltrate Locke and Jean's inner circle.

Last issue: Patience's reveal of Locke (maybe, possibly, if you squint and want to believe it) as a bondsmage with extraordinary power and talent, who fucked things up and has now re-homed his soul, as it were, in another body. I adored Locke from the first book because he was nothing special at first glance: he's short, kinda thin, undistinguished brown hair and eyes. He looks like an average Joe, maybe less than an average Joe. There's no tall, strikingly handsome, broad-shoulder thief with a mouth full of blindingly white teeth here. No movie star. He's not even a Luke Skywalker, who looks like an average guy but who apparently has a midi-chlorian count that's off the charts, dude, due to his impossibly powerful parentage.

And so, any one of us could be a Locke Lamora. We can rise above our current station merely on brains alone!

But what if Locke isn't just some average guy with determination and smarts? What if he's actually a powerful bondsmage?

I liked it when Locke and Jean defeated the Falconer on their own terms. I liked their non-magical solution to, essentially, tethering the motherfucker. Good stuff. Go, Team Muggle!

Now it's like Locke just got his letter to Hogwarts, and so he isn't one of us, after all.

Le sigh.

While I have some major issues with Republic, I can say I immediately felt at home upon the first page, for Lynch has a straight-forward, engaging writing style, and one comes to the Locke books for, among many other things, the colorful banter (at which he excels) and well-drawn characters. Jean, for example, is still not just the muscle but the heart of the duo, and remains as intelligent as ever. And Lynch's worlds, so different in each books, are fascinatingly immersive.

And then there's that last part, in which we find out the Falconer is ambulatory once again.

Now we're set for a great fourth book.

Do I hope for less Sabetha and a Locke returned to form? You bet.


The second disappointing read, which I referred to many thousands of words ago above, will be deferred until tomorrow. I feel drained after having vented my frustration with Republic. But let me say this: I read a lot of books. For one to inspire me to this level of frustration, while making me desperately wish for the next book now, it can't be all bad. I still recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora to those who've never heard of it with all my heart.

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