The Republic of Thieves is the compelling third volume in the Gentleman Bastards series.
When last fans saw Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, Locke was in the most dire of straits. Only that desperation could compel Locke and Jean to make a deal with the Bondsmagi, the sorcerers-for-hire with whom the Gentlemen Bastards hold a blood feud. The mages tower over their home city of Karthain, but every five years there’s a fee-for-all election for the city’s non-magical ruling council. A spectacle of corruption and dirty tricks, one faction of the Magi hire Locke and Jean to quarterback the efforts of the party they favor. The opposition’s expert just happens to be Sabetha, the long-absent love of Locke’s life. Locke and Sabetha’s complicated bond plays out against the backdrop of the danger-spiked election. Interspersed are flashbacks to the early years of the Gentlemen Bastards, filling in the gaps of Locke and Sabetha’s history. That culminates in an extended sequence that sees the teenaged Bastards apprentice with a theater troupe in a distant city, where one calamity after another threatens to bring havoc down on them.
Author Scott Lynch took several years after the second volume of the series before delivering The Republic of Thieves and the finished product demonstrates that it was time well spent. Despite its length, the book might be the most focused of the series to date. Lynch seemed to zero in on the ideal plot mix, balancing the present-day action with the extended flashbacks, without sacrificing the dramatic momentum of either part of the story. Locke and Jean’s bond remains the bedrock of the series and it’s used to good, subtle effect here. But beyond his two anti-heroes, Lynch does a nice job of developing the supporting cast around them. Patience, the Bondsmagi elder who engages the boys, is a fascinating creation with crucial ties to Locke; her revelations about his possible origins land with significant impact.
Lynch’s handling of Sabetha is even more interesting. After frequent mentions in the first two books, the character had built a certain mystique. Returning to the group’s younger days to sketch the complicated young woman was a smart move. Not only did it allow Lynch to bring back some fan favorites in a significant way, it also allowed Lynch to tie the intelligent, headstrong young woman into Locke and Jean’s history in a manner that both felt organic and set up some fertile plot fodder. Lynch avoided the trap of making Sabetha some kind of old world version of the “manic pixie dream girl” or other fantasy girlfriend trope. Sabetha came across as difficult, willful and at times nearly inscrutable. Instead of begging readers to love her by making her impossibly perfect, Lynch made Sabetha distinctly human, not always likable, but usually interesting, and did a strong job of establishing Locke’s attachment to her.
The election plot was a smart spine for the present day action. It gave Lynch room to construct several entertaining pieces of chicanery and action set pieces, while establishing some genuine stakes for Locke, Sabetha and Jean. The revelations from Patience cast the series in an intriguing new light and the climax brought real change to Locke’s world. A danger-filled coda set up the next volume quite effectively.
It would make no sense to start this series here. The first two books are necessary reading and quite enjoyable on their own merits. The Republic of Thieves consolidates the best assets of the series and sets it up to reach new heights.