Those of us who got caught up in the world of Locke Lamora when Scott Lynch’s debut novel came out, The Lies of Locke Lamora, were saddened to hear of Lynch’s struggles with depression and divorce that knocked back the publication date of this third slice of action. Would his difficulties compromise the vitality and invention that characterised this world?
Locke and Jean barely escaped with their lives from what should have been the greatest heist of their career in the port city of Tal Verrar. Now they head north, looking for sanctuary and an alchemist who can cure the poison that is slowly killing Locke. They find neither, but with their luck, money and hope exhausted, they receive an offer from a power that has never had their best interests at heart. The Bondsmagi of Karthain. And because Locke is dying, it is an offer they cannot refuse…
I’ll be honest – it took a while before I got into this book. Because of Locke’s illness, it starts at a really low point, and I found little opportunity to rebond with both Locke and Jean. In fact, I was debating whether to take the book back to the library, where there is a loong list of readers waiting for it. And then came a particular plot point where I thought – Oh, migod – how will they get out of that one? And I was hooked.
As with the first two books, there is a dual narrative running – we get slices of Locke’s past interleaving the present tangle. It is a testament to Lynch’s writing skill that despite presenting both storylines with more twists than a corkscrew, once I became involved, I neither lost patience with either plot, or skimmed to get back to the ‘exciting’ bit… Something that frequently happens with less skilfully crafted Fantasy tales that try to emulate Lynch’s style. And while reading this offering, I also recalled why there was such a fuss about ‘Lies way back in 2006.
Lynch takes risks. Starting the book with his protagonist dying – although we knew he wouldn’t because – well… there’s this book about him. And – yes – initially I was a tad underwhelmed. But once I got swept up in Lynch’s vibrant, swashbuckling style where we are presented with constant emergencies and setbacks, I couldn’t put it down. Any niggles? Well, I will own up to skipping some of the rehearsals of the play which gives this book its title – while the story was interesting and I enjoyed the tensions within the cast, I felt I could do without the lines of verse.
However, this book does go deeper than the ‘boys own adventure’ tone initially suggests. Sabetha surfaces and her relationship past and present with Locke is part of the engine that drives the story. I found Locke’s complete vulnerability concerning Sabetha touching and it endeared him to me a whole lot more. But I also found myself strongly sympathising with Sabetha’s drive to break free from the inevitability of her love for Locke. She tries to make him understand exactly why she is forced to put some distance between them – his charisma and sheer alpha maleness means that anyone close to him ends up orbiting his star. And Sabetha is too driven and ambitious in her own right to want to spend the rest of her life being one of Locke’s satellites. In many ways, this is an anti-love story. It is about two people who Fate has destined should be together, but character and circumstance constantly intervene and force them apart. I find the constant tension fascinating and far more nuanced than most typically stormy relationships that you know are going to end up with the couple ending up together. I don’t know that Locke and Sabetha are going to finally become a permanent item – and a large part of me hopes they don’t.
Because the true love story in the book belongs to the relationship between Jean and Locke. Not in any physical sense – but they have endured so much together, seen each other at their worst, trust the other more than anyone else – that the worst thing that could befall either of them is the death of the other. The implicit reliance of one upon the other reminded me of WWI soldiers talking about how much they cared about their companions in the trenches – how much they mattered, far more than the women and children they’d left behind in Britain. It always seemed very poignant to me that those who survived not only had to endure the nightmares and post-traumatic stress – but the loss of those brothers in arms they had come to love…
As for the plotting and the twists – no, I didn’t see any of it coming. The fun was reading how they extricated themselves from one big hole, to stumble right into the next one. And the ending was – predictably – shocking and unexpected. Was The Republic of Thieves worth the wait? Did Scott Lynch fully deliver another superb slice of Locke Lamora magic? Oh yes.