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The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Sometimes when I write a review I mention at the beginning the word “spoilers”. Guess what? This is the third book in an on-going series. If you haven’t read books one and two, I can 100% guarantee the S-word is entirely appropriate in this caseHonest, I’m not kidding… Ignore my warnings at your own peril.

Having pulled off the greatest heist of their career, Locke and his trusted partner in thievery, Jean, have escaped with a tidy fortune. But Locke’s body is paying the price. Poisoned by an enemy from his past, he is slowly dying. And no physiker or alchemist can help him. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmagi offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him – or finish him off once and for all. 

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body – though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring – and the Bondsmagi’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past . . . Sabetha. The love of his life. His equal in skill and wit. And now his greatest rival.  

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow-orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha – or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.

I spoke to a friend recently about concerns I had prior to reading The Republic of Thieves. I was extremely lucky this summer, and I received an advance copy of the book a couple of months ago. Excited doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt. I quickly realised however that part of me was more than a little apprehensive about actually cracking it open. I adore The Lies of Locke Lamora (book one) and Red Seas Under Red Skies (book two) is equally wonderful. What if The Republic of Thieves didn’t meet my higher-than-high expectations? It’s a well-publicised fact that it has been a few years since Scott Lynch’s last novel. Is the old magic still there? Are Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen still the disreputably roguish charmers that I’ve come to know and love?

The Republic of Thieves is essentially two books for the price of one.

The first follows on directly from the events of Red Seas Under Red Skies. Locke and Jean are on the run, attempting to avoid the fallout from their last scheme that went slightly awry. Becoming powerbrokers in the political arena seems a sensible idea, at least at first. The arrival of an old friend however adds an unexpected wrinkle to their latest “fool proof” plot.

The second narrative strand goes back in time and follows the teenage Gentleman Bastards as they take to the stage. Their ever-enigmatic mentor, Father Chains, demands they leave Camorr for the summer and assist an old acquaintance with his troupe of slightly deranged actors.

For a while now Mr. Lynch has lead us a delightfully merry dance. The character of Sabetha Belacoros has been mentioned in passing multiple times, but has never really been fully explored. Sabetha has been the lingering shadow that has hung over Locke’s past. She’s the one that got away, as it were. Finally meeting her has been a long time coming, and her introduction is handled wonderfully.

I’ve been trying to think of the best way to adequately describe the connection that exists between Sabetha and Locke.  The closest thing I can equate it to is the relationship that Sherlock Holmes has with Irene Adler. The verbal sparring, where they continually try to outdo one another is a joy. Locke has more than met his match and I reckon, much as he would try and deny it, in his heart he knows it. To use a more modern analogy, if I was to try and describe what was going on with them both on Facebook, the status of their relationship would be “it’s complicated“. Their interactions fill in many of those lovely little deliberate blanks that appear in previous novels. Knowing Sabetha helps the reader to better understand both Locke and also Jean.

There have also been fleeting glimpses of the Bondsmagi in the past but their murky motives have never really been revealed. In this book we finally get to learn some of the inner workings of this most secret society. Turns out that magical practitioners are a tricky bunch, who’d a thunk it?, and  the Gentleman Bastards feature heavily in their plans. Poor old Locke and Jean, they can’t catch a break.

It appears that those carrot-dangling days of teasing us aren’t over quite yet. It’s true that some of secrets we’ve longed to discover finally see something close to daylight, sort of but there are still many more mysteries that are not yet resolved. Locke’s mysterious origins and his ultimate fate are danced around but it appears that Lynch ain’t done messing with our heads.

In The Republic of Thieves, it feels like Locke, Jean and company have finally come of age. We get to see them as awkward teens and then as the more confident adult versions of themselves. Lynch’s writing excels when it comes to character evolution. It’s so fluid and natural you’re never going to question it.

I’ll happily come clean and admit overt fanboyishness when it comes to this particular series. I’ve been waiting for this novel and now that it’s here it doesn’t disappoint.  The Gentlemen Bastards have finally returned and I couldn’t be happier.

I’ll finish with a personal plea if I may – Mr. Lynch, ignore any of the haters out there. Like most readers, I’m a patient soul. You take as long as you need for your next book. All us true fans will be here waiting, because we know it’s gonna be worth it.

The Republic of Thieves is published by Gollancz and available from 10th October 2013. If you’ve read books one and two you’ll want to read this without delay. If you haven’t read books one and two, and I can’t imagine why you haven’t, I suggest you do so straight away. Scott Lynch is undoubtedly a master of the modern fantasy genre.

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