Sunday, March 09, 2014

Hail the Republic

It has been many long years since author Scott Lynch published his second novel in the "Gentleman Bastards Sequence," but he has finally returned to the scene with book three, The Republic of Thieves. Whether it was "worth the wait" is something of a loaded question, but I can say this: I believe this to be the best novel of the three.

The Republic of Thieves follows Lynch's antihero, Locke Lamora, as he's strong-armed into a game of political brinksmanship. He and his ever-present friend Jean are charged with rigging an election in a foreign city. As with the first two books, this setting is a well-realized departure from "generic fantasy," a place grounded in real-world history but spiced with some imagined twists. And new to the mix this time is a love interest for Locke, the equally crafty Sabetha, a figure from Locke's past.

Once again, Lynch uses a structure that interpolates an adventure from Locke's youth with the events unfolding in the present. In this case, it involves a teenaged Locke being sent undercover with his young cohorts to perform in a stage play (named for the title of the book). This story is just as engaging as the main plot, with plenty of twists and turns and fun. But it also features the one weak link in the novel, the play itself.

Just as Red Seas Under Red Skies incorporated a lot of nautical adventure, Scott Lynch wants to delve into the theater with this book. (And in his afterword, he begs indulgence from anyone who may know about the details he fudged.) The problem is, he gets a bit too involved in the play within his novel. Whole chapters deal with the rehearsal of the play, which wouldn't be bad in and of itself, but for all the long passages of dialogue we have to slog through. It tries to ape Shakespeare in style, while lacking the substance. And as near as I can tell, the plot of the play bears little or no thematic connection to the events of either plot in the novel. Reading sections of "The Republic of Thieves" is the one time that The Republic of Thieves bogs down.

Still, it's a very strong book overall, which I can heartily recommend. With one small asterisk. After my review of Red Seas Under Red Skies, I was criticized for saying it didn't end on a cliffhanger by someone who felt otherwise. (I still stand by my original statement.) In any case, this novel is much more definitive in its ending. It leaves a few open-ended questions on the table, but the story definitely resolves. That said, the epilogue just as definitely sets up the next volume of the story, and might be considered by some to be a cliffhanger. If you don't want that, then simply skip the epilogue. Read the rest, then put it on a shelf and wait for volume four to come out.

Either way, The Republic of Thieves is worth a read. I give it an A-.

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