Monday, August 19, 2013

Review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

In 2006 the world of SFF fandom was changing. As you would expect, Fandom had already adopted the internet, however much of it was still bound up in listserves, forums and other early communities that would feel quite dated these days. There were plenty of review sources online, but they still felt like simple digital reprints of dead tree products. In 2006 blogs were coming – sure they had been around for years already, but this was the period when it was realized that pretty much anyone could start a blog (note, my blog was started in 2006). This proliferation of blogs at a time when the old listeserves, forums and other communities were still relatively vibrant created a perfect storm for viral fan mania. Enter Scott Lynch from stage left with The Lies of Locke Lamora, a fan himself quite familiar with the online world (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). The Lies of Locke Lamora was very refreshing at the time – it felt new. Not quite gritty (or do I have to use the term grimdark?), not quite humor, not quite epic fantasy, but all kinds of fun. This was a merry band of thieves that that the 21st century could get behind (ironically in a renaissance-inspired second world). It went viral, fans everywhere embraced it, and yes there was fun internet controversy as a one reviewer who was not a fan got a bit hyperbolic and fans exploded (even me).
*Note: if you follow some of those links back to posts and reviews I wrote 6 and 7 years ago, please be merciful. I’ve come a long way.*
Lynch followed in 2007 with Red Seas Under Red Skies (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), which again was wildly popular, though perhaps not as universally praised (though I found it to be much better written). It was still clear that fans loved Lynch’s writing and he was poised to become the next big name in genre. Fans eagerly awaited the next book – The Republic of Thieves (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) – for this one promised to be even bigger and better. We’d finally get to meet Locke’s long lost love and greatest rival Sabetha. Rumors were the bondsmagi would play an even bigger role. It would be the best yet.
A year passed and fans were still eager. Another year and they get restless, impatient – comparisons to George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss are made (not favorable comparisons, though it’s good company to be in). Rumors fly and the pitchforks begin to come out. Then we learn the reason – Lynch has been suffering from debilitating depression, he’s gone through a divorce and the death of close family members. People are sympathetic, Lynch’s public announcements are widely praised and quite inspirational – most of the pitchforks are put away. A couple more years go by, people are still generally accepting, growing rather cynical, a few are dusting off the pitchforks again, yet most are still eager. Now, it’s 2013. It’s been 6 years since Red Seas Under Red Skies was released and The Republic of Thieves exists in print form for release on October 8.
One may question why I’ve begun a review with a history lesson (of sorts), and my response is that it is critical to how The Republic of Thieves will be received by long-waiting fans. Expectations are simultaneously high and low, yet nearly universally hopeful. In the intervening 6 years, this blogger has played all of those fan roles I reference above. I will say this now: The Republic of Thieves exceeded my expectations and was one hell of a good read.
Looking at what I wrote above from a different point of view, that of Lynch himself, I can see pressure, anxiety, more pressure, more anxiety, holy shit how did I get myself into this… We fans only made this worse. And Lynch promised us the world – he promised us the long anticipated reunion of Locke and Sabetha. The best cons ever going head-to-head against each other. With bondsmagi. Then he promised us a Shakespearean play to mirror it all. What was he wonder he was reduced to anxiety attacks and depression.
*Note, it’s not my intent to mock Lynch or anyone else’s anxiety and depression in any way, and I apologize if it’s taken as such.*
The Republic of Thieves is very ambitious – it has stories in parallel to other stories, flashbacks, romance, treachery, and Lynch basically wrote an entire Shakespearean play in the middle of it all. This is the best of the best versus the best of the best. It’s deadly serious yet Lynch still needed to maintain that cavalier, mocking attitude that serves to lighten the load. It’s new ground and it’s setting the stage for the next 4 books in the series. It also has a major reveal, one that Locke (and his fans) simply cannot trust…or afford not to.
And Lynch pulls it off in grand fashion. The present of Lynch’s world mirrors the past which mirrors the play our favorite thieves are pretending to act in. Sabetha and Locke go head to head in a dance of cons, yet the greater dance in the romance and seduction that underlies it all (both past and present). Who wins the con? Who wins the seduction? Are there winners at all? Does he get the girl? Does she get the guy? Who dies? I throw those questions out there to entice while building up expectations to knock them down. Just as Lynch does. Because, the most important questions may not have been asked.
Lynch’s writing is his strongest yet, but that’s only the start as the way he constructs The Republic of Thieves really brings it all together. It’s the plotting, the shuffling of scenes and the emotions of those characters we already care about. It’s Locke, Sabetha and Jean. And those that have (and will) die.
The Republic of Thieves is one of the most highly anticipated books in the SFF world over the last 7 years. The biggest question is whether those high expectation will or can be met. As I’ve said in this review, in my opinion Lynch not only meets, but exceeds those expectations. Welcome back Scott – I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun reading a book. So…when’s the next one coming?
*yes, I’m an evil bastard too*


Paul Weimer said...

The Republic of Thieves is very ambitious – it has stories in parallel to other stories, flashbacks, romance, treachery, and Lynch basically wrote an entire Shakespearean play in the middle of it all.

I wonder if he got that last idea from Elizabeth Bear, who knows more than a little about Shakespeare.

Neth said...

That's a good point. I'll bet she helped him out a lot in that area.

Bob/Sally said...

Wow, I had no idea what the story was behind the delay between books. This was already a series I had penciled in for a catch-up in the Fall, but I think he's just moved up the list. Looking forward to it.

Jamie said...

Absent having read the book, I'd humbly posit that Lynch got the idea of a play-within-a-play *from* Shakespeare - Hamlet, natch.

Although I had been rather hoping that Locke's personal "antic disposition" had been and gone in the opening chapters of Red Seas...

Pallav said...

Very jealous of people who've managed to read the book. But, sigh, I think I'll wait some more...

Great review :)

Andrea J said...

Great review! I appreciate the history lesson, I discovered Lies shortly after it came out and have been an obsessed fan ever since.

I'm also one of those jerks who got to read RoT early. I'm such a bastard that I've read and reread the end like five times.

absolutely worth the wait.

Unknown said...

In my opinion, this type of writing is exactly what slows Rothfus' publications. The countless songs and poems rothfus puts in his books takes up a considerable amount of time (I bet). Same with this play in the middle of this work. I love both of their work. And years from now when (if) these works are done, I will probably rank them above everyone else. To me, Martin doesn't have these excuses. The plots are a bit more straightforward. And the quality has been falling off of a cliff since the Red Wedding. That's why I have to prefer Abercrombie at the moment. He captures the story telling of Martin, but with less POVs that just end up boring the living crap out of me. There were times in Tolkien where I'd want to jump and skip around. Same goes for Martin. Never applies to Abercrombie. While lynch avoids that problem with getting rid of POVs, he has a similar problem in this new book because he jumps around wildly early on. He gains more control after the GBs leave to go perform the play.


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