Scott Lynch – The Republic Of Thieves

After a relatively long wait of 6 years Scott Lynch came with a new novel, the third book of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, a fantasy series about extraordinary thieves. Lynch ended the second novel with something of a cliffhanger and The Republic Of Thieves (2013) continues with the resolution to the predicament of the main protagonist and as usual immediately they fall into new dire straits.

However, this is where that ends, to some extent. The Republic Of Thieves actually has 2 separate storylines. They are slightly related, but one could cut them apart as separate novels. Lynch presents the second storyline as interludes, the technique he has used before to feed cliffhanger effects by switching to a different story and providing some background for later scenes. In this case the interludes are long, frequently longer than parts of the main story, and they are connected. In effect, as mentioned, they form a second story. Because of that you get an odd reading experience.

To begin with the second story, as it is of lesser importance, it records events in the past, before the first novel, and allows Lynch to revisit old characters which he had fun with. Although they are younger and less experienced there are the familiar dynamics and comedy while the characters develop themselves. It has the typical Lynch style twists and surprises. Unfortunately there is not much of a specific goal in the plot. Quite soon it is clear where things are going and this has nothing to do with what the characters are supposed to do. Lynch does a nice play of the events but I have to admit I was not really interested and put more attention to the character interaction. The plot simply did not drive me forward. This could be because of the theme of the plot. I have encountered it in a number of other novels and those did not interest me much either. It is thus hard for me to give an objective opinion.

While much of the second story thread familiar ground the first and main story, excluding the beginning, if you put it outside of the second story, actually flounders around. It is past paced, almost hyperactive, with plenty of chaotic stuff going on. Like the second story, the goal of the plot is actually not relevant. It is the journey that aims to entertain and this it does less well than the second story. There is not much real drama, no real twists or cliffhangers. The plot is basically a long dance that is chaotically choreographed. There were never any real dangerous or dark complicated situations as in the previous novels. Yes, it was entertaining but it never really grabbed my attention and hooked me in. I was simply waiting for the axe to fall and there was little of it. I could not even say there was much character development as it all rushed ahead.

So there you have it, two novels merged into one and neither of the two really delivers. They entertain and have fun, but neither has the grim and dark atmosphere of the previous novels. Only the opening sequence had that and when that was over it went into an easygoing mode. It was actually the secondary story that held the twists and the complicated situations, but as this was an old event there was little chance things could turn badly as the goal would not be sidelined as happened in the previous novels.

What I have mentioned and not talked about yet is the theme. Underneath both stories and all the different events that take place this novel is actually a story of a romance. It is on that theme that the real fireworks take place and not in the plot. One could even say it is the third story and it is this story that Lynch put his heart into. With the side effect that the other two stories get less heart. In both Lynch does a lot to compensate but in all three cases it is impossible to give each their full measure. I don’t mind a story of a romance but the plot has to support it. Now there are two plots and neither supports the romance. The romance is woven in between the plots. In the end on varying accounts the book falls short and does not deliver. It does not come anywhere close to the level of the first two books. It is still well written with many fun situations and peculiar characters but with the focus split in three there is no good foundation.

One thing that is very different from the previous novels is that we are not really following the life of the main protagonist. For the first time we are presented with a greater story arc and Lynch sets some steps toward it. There are a few major revelations which change certain perspectives. Peculiar enough the revelations have no real effect on the plot or the story. It seems they are needed for the next or later novels. There is also no grand finale. Instead there are several minor ones that are rather short. This is because there are multiple stories which are mostly unconnected and each story holds no plot that really can provide a big finale. I slightly hoped for it, but Lynch decided to go for the underwhelming one. It is not that I was disappointed because I could see most of it coming.

To me it seems as if The Republic Of Thieves is something of a middle novel. There were matters to resolved and things to be set up for the next stage (I hope). What did made me cringe was that Lynch suddenly added some prophecies into the story. Personally I dislike such plot vehicles as these give away certain surprises and developments. Because of this I now have to question if Lynch can return to the level of the first two novels or that the next novels will start driving into more mainstream territory.

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