Seven long years ago, short on reading material and desperate for something new, I picked up a book entitled The Lies Of Locke Lamora. Pitched as a tale of thieves and con-men set in a dirty fantasy world it was far from my usual bag but by the end of the first chapter I was hooked. I burned through the book in record time, duly raved about it to anyone who would listen. The tales of the Gentleman Bastards lit a fire in me and I consumed the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, with equal vigour as soon as it appeared the following year. The saga of Locke Lamora was scheduled to run for seven installments so I waited with baited breath for part three. And… nothing. Scott Lynch seemed to vanish from the face of the earth.
Were the Gentleman Bastards abandoned? Had their creator vanished into some hole, fallen foul of an insurmountable case of writer’s block or some debilitating affliction or addiction? To be honest I’d written off any chance of seeing the third in the series until, a full six years later, a chance visit to NetGalley knocked me sideways – there, in front of me, was an uncorrected proof of The Republic Of Thieves, waiting for request and subsequent download! I’ll admit it was concerning as well as exhilarating; what caused the long absence, and would it result in a lesser work, a disappointing continuation? Well here’s the tl;dr – The Republic Of Thieves is probably the most enjoyable book I have read all year, raising it above some incredible competition.
To avoid spoilers for those of you unfamiliar with the Gentleman Bastards I’ll keep the background information light. Locke Lamora is an orphaned child raised in a society of thieves to become the most accomplished trickster in all Camorr. Slight in form, he makes up for any physical disadvantage with an extraordinary intellect and cunning tempered with an impetuous streak and a knack for the most colourful of insults. Accompanied by his childhood friend Jean Tannen, Chewbacca to Locke’s Han Solo, they lie, cheat and steal their way through life in a vaguely honourable fashion along with their trusted gang, the aforementioned bastards.
The Republic Of Thieves picks up where Red Seas Under Red Skies left off with Locke at death’s door due to a wicked poisoning, Jean caring for him and grieving for his own loss and the rest of the Gentleman Bastards long gone. Things look grim until a Bondsmagi appears and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. The mysterious and deadly Bondsmagi reside in the town of Karthain and, for reasons best known to them, make a game of the five-yearly elections held by the ‘normal’ residents. Two factions of the mages play off against each other, trying to influence the outcome in favour of their own candidate through the use of imported pawns whose remit is to use any means necessary (short of outright murder) to gain victory. In exchange for a cure – not to mention a pardon for killing one of the Bondsmagi in a previous adventure – Jean and Tannen are to fight in the corner of Patience, one of the highest standing mages. Little known to them their opponent has already been selected – Sabetha, Locke’s lifelong crush whose whereabouts have been unknown or the past five years.
The result is a beautiful tale, an epic battle of wits as Locke and Sabetha run rings around each other while Locke struggles to contain his feelings for his old flame. Running parallel to the main plot is a secondary story told in flashbacks, a theatrical escapade from the Gentleman Bastards’ formative years, in which we witness the feelings between Locke and Sabetha beginning to unfold. It seems that six years away has managed to hone Lynch’s storytelling chops. Throughout the entire, and considerable, length of The Republic Of Thieves he barely puts a foot wrong. The pacing is perfect, alternating between plots at exactly the right points. His dialogue is a joy to read, particularly Locke’s biting sarcasm and Jean’s earthy retorts which I’m unfortunately not allowed to quote just yet. The tricks themselves are worth the price of admission, with the constant one-upmanship being reminiscent of Caine and Olivier’s shenanigans in Sleuth, albeit on a grander scale. And finally, I don’t know how he did it but there’s a moreishness to every chapter which actually had me disappointed when I reached the 500-page mark and realised that the end was in sight.
There’s not much left to say really, this book was all set to disappoint me but instead it blew me away. I already want to go back and re-read the first two installments just to keep me afloat until part four (The Thorn Of Emberlain) arrives. Will this book have the same effect on you? Well, if you have any love for devious tricks, creative cursing, theatre and performances and well-written fantasy with a great deal of heart then there’s a good chance it will. Get acquainted with the Gentleman Bastards from the beginning then catch up with The Republic Of Thieves. You’ll be fantasising about your alternate life as the king (or queen) of the con artists in no time.
(Thanks to Random House for providing the advance reading copy of this book.)