The Republic of Thieves (2013) is the third and latest installment in Scott Lynch‘s Gentleman Bastard series and picks up right where the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies ends, give or take a few months.
The start of The Republic of Thieves finds Locke and Jean in Lashain, recovering from their misadventures in Tal Verar from the hands of the city’s Archon, Maxilan Stragos, Requin, and bloody pirates. With no money, no plans, and nowhere to go, Jean and Locke hide out in Lashain while Jean consults the city’s physikers in hopes of finding an antidote to the poison that is killing Locke.
In the second book Red Seas Under Red Skies, the vengeful bondsmage of Karthian made their presence known to Jean and Locke, only enough to let them know that their every move is being watched and that they can never escape. In The Republic of Thieves, a mysterious but powerful bondsmage seek out Jean and Locke and proposes a curious exchange of services. If Jean and Locke agree to help the bondsmage win a certain upcoming election in Karthian using their skills as Gentlemen Bastards, the bondsmage will help Locke get rid of the poison in his body that is sure to kill him.
With no real choice in the matter, Jean and Locke reluctantly agree to help the bondsmage sway the votes in their favor in the upcoming Karthian election. After agreeing to the terms of the bondsmage, she surprises Locke by informing him that their opponent in the election game is none other than Sabetha, the only woman member of the Gentlemen Bastards and the love of Locke Lamora’s life.
Locke’s rocky relationship with Sabetha was hinted at in the first book, but it isn’t until The Republic of Thieves that she really makes an appearance, as their present opponent in Karthian, as well as in flashbacks. Sabetha and Locke first met as orphan thieves in Shades Hill, and though 6-year-old Locke was instantly smitten, it took Sabetha quite a while to warm up to him, or to even acknowledge his existence. Now, as adults and the only living Gentlemen Bastards, they must use their craft and skills to outsmart each other to win the election, lest they lose more than just the favor of their handlers, the bondsmagi of Karthian.
Like the first book, The Republic of Thieves is divided into chapters of the present time dealing with the rigging of the elections in Karthian, and chapters of flashbacks called Interludes, which go back to the childhood/adolescent/teenage days of Locke, Sabetha, Jean, Calo, and Galdo. Some of the events in the Interludes overlap with the Interludes in The Lies of Locke Lamora, starting with Locke’s days at Shades Hill. The Interludes describe how Locke and Sabetha first meet each other in Shades Hill, and continue to when they become members of Chains’ gang. It ultimately leads up to one fateful summer in the lives of the young Gentlemen Bastards when, due to problems arising out of over familiarity with each other and raging hormones, they are sent by Chains to Espara, more for his own good than theirs, to train as actors in the theater. Their mission in Espara was to pretend to be actors and to put on the famous play “The Republic of Thieves.” Their summer in Espara was not without incident and the young Gentlemen Bastards learned a thing or two on the value of friendship and cooperation. That summer also saw the beginnings of Locke and Sabetha’s stormy love affair, one that would span almost a decade.
Besides the rekindling romance between Locke and Sabetha, The Republic of Thieves also reveals some very strange information about Locke’s past and true identity, and the end of the novel sees the return of a formidable foe, one that is sure to wreak havoc in the lives of Jean and Locke in future books.
I liked this third book more than the second one, though I found the plot of the elections in Karthian, the role of the bondsmage in the elections and Locke’s true identity a bit confusing, so much so that I felt that the whole thing was just a staging area for the real story which is the romance between Locke and Sabetha, in the present as well as in the past.
I enjoyed the interludes because though it was focused more on the evolution of Locke’s and Sabetha’s love affair, it also featured the young Gentlemen Bastards, including Calo and Galdo. The chapters dedicated to the main plot were interesting enough, though I found the plot of the bondsmage seeking the help of the Gentlemen Bastard to sway an election, the outcome of which does not seem to serve them any useful purpose, very weak, and the penultimate fate of the bondsmage confusing. And surprising as the revelations regarding Locke may be, I found them strange because I never felt that Locke’s origins were in question and really part of the series.
Though I wish the the story made more sense, the revelations and shocking ending of The Republic of Thieves promises more interesting and bloodier books to come, and with the comeback of a most dangerous enemy and fate of the Gentlemen Bastards in question, it’s going to be a long wait until the release of the 4th book, The Thorn of Emberlain.
(Preceded by Red Seas Under Red Skies)
The Republic of Thieves (2013) – Scott Lynch
Del Rey; 690 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 3/5