After a long six years comes Del Rey’s third installment of the Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch. With his first book, Lynch was hailed as one of the new great voices in fantasy by George RR Martin himself — author of the Song of Ice and Fire series, better known as Game of Thrones.
Lynch won acclaim with his first book, and has to date published three, all in the same series. The first is named The Lies of Locke Lamora, after the main character. A dashing and daring adventure featuring gentleman thieves in the dark port city of Camorr, Lies shot onto the scene of fantasy in 2006 with a style placing it firmly at the apex of its genre. The second book takes Locke and crew conning themselves across seas and lands afar, under the banner of Red Seas Under Red Skies. In the new book, Republic of Thieves, we find Locke and Jean in the nest of their greatest enemies to date, the Bondsmagi of Karthain. Our heroes are forced to run a political game for the magi as revenge against earlier entanglements in Camorr, and which has followed them ever since. However, the gem of this book is that the female member of the Bastards, Sabetha, makes her first appearance — as Locke and Jean’s adversary.
Republic’s title comes less as an expression of the present as of the past. To existing fans of the series, we finally get to see more of the Sanza twins, albeit flashbacks, because one of the major draws of this book is the chance to see the Gentleman Bastards’ teenage years as they stage a play as part of their con, complete with Father Chains. However, be forewarned that though the Bastards’ adoptive father’s ending is foreshadowed, it still remains a mystery unresolved by book’s end — as well as Sabetha’s leaving of the group — giving readers reason to hang on to further books, and hinting at the promise of a no doubt intricate happenstance when the two elements are finally resolved.
While Lies and Seas were published within a year of each other, Republic has taken six years. This is due in part to personal issues of the author of which he is not shy to discuss, including divorce. Yet, with an author who is admittedly a geek himself, as such we find Republic cognizant of women’s issues, especially of the debate within the geeko-sphere of recent years: Sabetha throws at Locke feminist rhetoric that many readers of geek girl blogs will recognize almost verbatim, whether she knows how to use it or not. Locke, meanwhile, does everything he can to satisfy her, twisting himself in every knot except the one that will unwind hers.
Sabetha and Locke’s relationship is not Carmen Sandiego against Zack and Ivy (despite her red coat), nor Romeo and Juliet: it’s like Sherlock and Moriarty, if the two were dueling thieves. Yet, despite the familiar rhetoric, the value comes in the storytelling of their troubles as young people without role models; of a first love’s unclear moments, and Locke’s earnest honesty. It’s a story one not oft seen in fantasy, and even less so with any sort of realism: that of two people who utterly should not be together, but who cannot ever tell themselves to finally be apart.
Lynch’s books come with a sophistication of form. One of the remarkable things about the series is that each book contains duel stories: Each chapter alternates between past and present, with numbered segments within each chapter helping us tell time. However, you don’t have to be a genius to appreciate it, just one who pays attention: one of the reasons this series is great to read, is the chance to take notes on how clearly and intricately the stories are told, despite the unconventional arrangement. In book three, the parallel stories occupy distinct times in the distant past and the immediate present, while in the first book, the story of the past quickly catches up with Locke’s present and bounces around in truly creative ways.
Bastards is a solid, entertaining series with four more books to go. It shows mastery of its genre by the writer and editing team, and Republic has more real life in it than most fantasy does. It’s definitely a series worth looking at, and this newest volume promises that the best may be yet to come.