The Republic of Thieves

Scott Lynch
The Republic of Thieves Cover

The Republic of Thieves


When I was at Readercon over the summer, I attended a panel where Scott Lynch introduced himself as the author of the "increasingly non-fictional" The Republic of Thieves. Knowing absolutely nothing about the Gentlemen Bastards series or the whole thing where the publication date of this book had been pushed back by a few years, I assumed that The Republic of Thieves must be some sort of political dystopian book about, like, corruption and oligarchy and banking fuckery, or something.

I was extremely confused when I first figured out what the Gentlemen Bastards series actually was.

Oddly enough, it turns out that The Republic of Thieves largely is about corruption and oligarchy and using massive amounts of money to illegally bork up elections, but simultaneously, that was the most wrong I was about anything that entire summer.

To start with the basics: The Republic of Thieves was published in October. It is the third book in the Gentlemen Bastards series. It is exactly 650 pages long; you could kill someone with the hardback. But you wouldn't want to, because the cover art is too sumptuous to get blood on. Also, my copy is personalized and autographed, so nyah nyah.

The book opens with Locke dying a horrible bleedy death due to the poison he was given in Red Seas Under Red Skies, and he's even more of a whiny, suicidally self-pitying mess than he was at the beginning of that book. Jean is again doing the If You Die I'll Kill You Myself angry caregiver thing, and does a fabulous bit of psychoanalyzing Locke (he diagnoses him with a death wish, complete with awesome German-analogue name for it).

Locke is saved from his horrible bleedy death at the dramatic last minute by a Bondsmage of Karthain, one of the terrifyingly powerful band of sorcerers who have been messing with Locke and Jean ever since they mutilated the Falconer. This Bondsmage lets us know that there are political factions within the Bondsmage society, and she is of the team that has not been the one actively fucking with Locke and Jean. She is also the Falconer's mother. She offers to unpoison Locke in exchange for Locke and Jean helping the political party backed by her faction win a majority of seats in the upcoming elections for the Konseil, Karthain's governing body.

The opposing party also has a shady campaign advisor backed by the opposing faction of Bondsmagi. The shady campaign advisor turns out to be Sabetha Belacoros, former Gentleman Bastard (or Gentlewoman Bastard), the one and only lady Locke has ever had any sort of romantic interest in. She is also the only lady who has ever been able to trounce Locke in trickery, thieving, and general rogueishness—essentially, she is his Irene Adler, but with more swearing.

The book switches back and forth between this storyline and "Interludes" from Locke's youth, mostly involving a summer when all the Bastards, now in their mid-teens, are sent off to an absolute clusterfuck of a theatrical company in Espara in order to learn ACTING. They put on a rather fabulous-sounding ancient Therin play called The Republic of Thieves, about a prince who is sent to put down a crime ring and instead falls star-crossedly in love with its fabulous lady-thief leader, Amadine the Queen of Shadows, and nearly everyone dies. During this summer, Locke and Sabetha have an awkward and bickering-filled start of a romance while working together to build like four different elaborate cons in order to keep the clusterfuck of an acting company operating.

As usual, all of the cons in both timelines are completely delightful—heavy on both fast-paced action and sneaky cleverness, with plentiful side helpings of wonderful swearing and insults. It's one of those books where the main distraction is trying to stop and memorize lines for future use. (The second main distraction is stopping to drool over the food and then go get a snack and a beer.) (In completely unrelated news, I am mysteriously out of beer.) The entire GB lineup falls squarely into the Loveable Rogues category, but they are all distinct (and distinctly fun) characters.

Especially Sabetha.

I admit that, as we've only seen Sabetha as Locke's Mysterious Red-Headed Fixation Object so far, she would turn out to be a flat or Manic Pixie Dream Girl-ish type of character. I should not have worried. Sabetha is a great character—she's courageous, but entirely aware of (and, yes, afraid of) the dangers that she and the other Bastards face. Like Locke, she's incredible clever and skilled in various kinds of shenaniganry, and, like Locke, this doesn't prevent her from getting into real, interesting conflict and trouble. She's much more socially aware than the rest of the Bastards in certain ways—she's got an excellent grasp of the GB power dynamics, for example—and, as a result, she's deeply cranky and suspicious of everyone and everything. She's incredibly bitchy and difficult in a way that speaks to me on a deep level. Some of this has to do with what is basically exhausted cranky feminism; more personally, Sabetha is extremely choice- and agency-conscious and is extremely wary of ideals of fate, inevitability, destiny, etc. in romantic love. She is unwilling to get pinned down into a relationship just because That's How It Works or The Universe Says So or whatever. The result of this is that she keeps running away from Locke and then I am sad for Locke because he is our awesome viewpoint character but at the same time I am like "I feel u, girl! Go have adventures!" Also, I think for a lot of properly socialized ladies, and particularly shy ones like me, there is an element of power fantasy in bitchy lady characters. The fantasy of freely telling people what you think of them without stopping to deflect and minimize conflict at every turn is an alluring one. (Witness the popularity of the Dowager Countess Grantham even amongst very liberal women, despite her being an archconservative entitled bigot.) (Plus, fantasizing about being an asshole is much less dangerous to one's health than, say, dating the tactless dude assholes who say all the things you're too nice to say to people.) (This is your official answer to Why Do Nice Girls Date Assholes. You can stop asking now.) ANYWAY, BACK TO SABETHA. She is not above using Feminine Wiles™ to con people if that's how they would most effectively be conned, and she doesn't apologize for it, but it's not her only trick. She curses just as delightfully as the rest of the GBs. She can apparently rig an election like nobody's business. You guys, I am like this close to making an Honest Book Copy submission for this book just because I think the current copy does a weaksauce job of wibbling about how awesome Sabetha is.

There is also a cute but sadly small cameo by Regal the ship's cat, which was still enough for my own cat to develop an absolute vendetta against this book, and she spent the better part of three days constantly maneuvering to sit on the pages so I could not read them. I have pictures.

The book ends on the OMINOUS NOTE of a deeply dangerous and complete assbag of a character being not as dead or disempowered as we had previously thought, so I'm sure The Thorn of Emberlain will contain lots of excitement in the form of creepy painful things happening to Locke and everyone around him. CAN'T WAIT.

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