Did you like the first two books in the Gentleman Bastard series? Do you like magic, politics, and romance? Scheming, betrayal, and murder? How about Shakespearean theater troupes?
A bit shaky on that last one? Me too, but I still loved Republic of Thieves.
Locke and Jean are back again, not as thieves, but to become political campaign managers. Lynch makes an excellent case that there’s really no difference between those two professions. As with previous books, this one is told from various points in history, though it focuses more on the past than ever before. One chapter will detail the current Bondsmagi situation, the next, a heist from childhood. As before, the past heist is integral for setting up the current situation. A situation by the name of Sabetha.
It would be hard for previous readers to forget that Locke Lamora is madly, desperately in love with a redheaded thief named Sabetha Belacoros, who stomped his heart into a billion little pieces. So who’s the PERFECT campaign manager for the other side? Got it in one.
Flashing back to their first few meetings, before settling in to tell the story of their first big score together, we get to see the relationship from both beginning and end. Unfortunately, while I can see how Locke grew from the awkward child-thief, I’m having trouble parsing Sabetha’s growth from sullen teen to criminal mastermind. Part of that is because there’s a lot of missing information. We haven’t had two books to get to know her in, and this one isn’t going to answer all of the questions of where their relationship went wrong. We never get a Sabetha point of view to tell her side. One day she loved Locke, the next she left to be her own woman.
And what a woman. Adult Sabetha is smooth. She outwits Locke again and again. She jumps out of floating restaurant. AND leaves him with the bill. She reminds me a lot of Irene Adler, though most modern interpretations wish they could be as competent as Sabetha. It’s clear that she still loves Locke, and is attracted to him, but it throws her off her game far less than it throws him.
Of the present and flashback stories, I prefered the present and I was almost always annoyed at the cliffhanger that led into the past. It gets to the point where its like an old serial, “Will Woody and Bullseye land to safety? Tune in next time for the exciting conclusion!” No Scott Lynch, I’m sure its very interesting that the kids had to pretend to be actors, but let’s go back to that prison ship and the saboteur. Not to say that the flashback chapters are bad, far from it, but after the fourth or fifth major revelation interrupted by story time, I threw the book across the room in frustration. Driving your readers to despair is an art, Scott, try not to abuse it.
Speaking of Mr. Lynch, if you’re familiar with his struggle with depression, you’ll see a lot of thoughtful insights to that regard in his characters. It’s obvious he’s working through his own issues with Locke and it makes for an effective, deeper character. He’s touched on it in previous books already, but Locke’s impulsive deathwish really comes to a head in an emotional way.
Despite focusing on two stories, I found the book less disjointed than Red Seas. The villain is memorable, the conflict with Sabetha, compelling. Revisiting some old friends, Chains and the Sanzas is something I always look forward to. I’m not sure it matches the brilliance of book one, but it’s a more than worthy addition to the series. With an epic, game-changing epilogue, I’m desperate for book four.