Monday, December 9, 2013

Upon Finishing The Republic of Thieves

A Novel Five Years in the Making

I was surprised to see Scott Lynch's author's note at the back of my stunning hard-bound copy of The Republic of Thieves dating back to 2008, though I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised. Patrick Rothfuss has kept us waiting for the third book of the Kingkiller Chronicle for three years. Cut him some slack; he's a parent. My own novel is only half finished and I've been at it for more than a year. Some fantastic things are well worth waiting for, and The Republic of Thieves is no exception. Five years, though...I long to ask Mr. Lynch for the juicy details, but between being a volunteer fire-fighter and the admitted "dark time" through which I'm sure we must all wade at some point, I can imagine this latest, longest work of Lynch's was more than sufficiently difficult to produce.

Cover art by Benjamin Carre
The Republic of Thieves has everything. And I do mean everything! Romance, intrigue, murder--plenty of it--and suspense. Mr. Lynch seems to thrive on keeping each and every moment of his novel drawn taught as a bow and balanced on a razor's edge. I kept my boyfriend awake several times simply because if I didn't keep reading, I would fall to my death. Like The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies before it, humor is as an all-time high. Mr. Lynch's characters are witty, smart-mouthed, intelligent, belligerent, and soul-crushingly beautiful bastards. Literally! The saga of the Gentleman Bastards, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen, continues with revealing flashbacks to their lives among the Right People of Camorr under the tutelage of Father Chains, and this time were are even treated to another glimpse at life for the orphans of Camorr under Shades Hill. Characters we thought we'd never see again were happily returned to us, and if you've read The Lies of Locke Lamora, you know who I'm talking about. Lynch also introduces a cast of villains, thespians both innocent and guilty, and even magi to entertain and enthrall.

Thus ends my generic, vanilla, spoiler-free book review journalist-babble. If you haven't read the novel yet, do so before continuing.

Calo and Galdo: The Gentleman Bastards Revisited

Having seen the Sanza twins in action in TRoT, it was hard to remember them the grown men who had been so close to Locke and Jean in LoLL. However, I found it so hard to believe that the Sanza twins, Calo and Galdo, were mere bit characters. Lynch took the trouble to raise them from children to adults, give them back stories, and heck, give them names. When so many of the orphans that came out of Shades Hill had no idea where they came from, Calo and Galdo had  middle and last names, like Sabetha and Jean. They were a riot, a true riot, and comprised the bulk of the comic relief of LoLL. So when Lynch killed them off at the hands of the Falconer, I was in shock. I didn't want to keep reading, but Lock and Jean's determination to seek their vengeance for their fallen brothers kept me interested. Yes, I have put down a series in the middle of it after a favorite character dies. Ryld from The War of the Spider Queen seems to be the one that comes most readily to mind. Calo and Galdo were briefly resurrected in Red Seas Under Red Skies, but nothing to the effect of their actions in The Republic of Thieves.

Calo and Galdo don't have a lot in common personality wise--with the exception of their sharp tongues--but they are apparently so alike in appearance that in their youth, one of them shaves their head while the other one grows their hair out. I applaud Lynch's attention to detail with Calo and Galdo. I am a twin. It's important to portray twins as a whole entity, but it's also important to make sure that the individual is preserved as well. With the common misconception that twins agree on everything and rejoice in dressing alike and acting alike, it is refreshing to see Lynch take each twin's individuation as teenagers into account. Like twins, they finish each other's sentences and work together when they need to, but they also fight, bicker, make fun of each other, and compete. The twins are well-wrought and original. I loved reading the scenes in which the two characters performed their lines for Jasmer Moncraine's production of "The Republic of Thieves", for which the book is named. Cast as the chorus, Moncraine insists that one of them be named the lead chorus and the other the understudy, but when seen together, they are cast as a dual chorus, which brings out the best in the Sanza twins. Being cooped up in Father Chains' house in Camorr only brought out the worst in them. They are the production's comic relief, doubling also as the thespian company's resident fools, in the literary definition of the word. They heckled the crowd, and they did all of the vocal advertising.

Lynch was careful no to let the twins become too comical. When Jenora kills Boulidazi in self-defense, the twins rally themselves to act as the company's bruisers, along with Jean. Their street skills as thieves in Camorr come in to play when the Moncraine-Boulidazi company seems to be on the verge of collapsing. Boulidazi had been a peer of Espara, a baron, and his death, no matter the circumstances, would have had the entire company, including the Gentleman Bastards, hanging from the Weeping Tower. The Sanza twins were elemental in making sure no one ran in hysterics until the rest of the company could get their wits together.

With so much potential in two characters, it was delightful to see Lynch bring them back for us in the flashbacks between the chapters of the current plot. Hopefully we will see more of the Sanzas as Lynch continues the saga, which he commented on in his Twitter feed.

The Bondsmagi: My Beef With the Main Plot

At long last, after Jean and Locke's encounter with the Falconer in Camorr, and with their brief reminder of their Presence in Tal Verrar, we finally get up close and personal with the Magi, or Bondsmagi, of Karthain, and what does Lynch do with it? Well, in my opinion, without dragging it out for another two novels, he did the best he could. So why does the Magi plot bother me?

It feels...forced. I feel like I'm forcing a lot of my own plots sometimes, so I'm not one to judge. This is mostly the feeling I got reading about the Magi most of the time. Locke and Jean's work on behalf of the Konseil members of the Deep Roots party is all well and good, but the parts that specifically include Archedama Patience usually always tried my own. It was not clear, even from early on, what the purpose of the Five-Year-Game was. If it was there, I was too busy reading too fast to notice it. Apparently, the Five-Year-Game involves rigging the election of Karthain's governing body, the Konseil, one way or the other in favor of parties favored by the majority leaders, the Archmages, of the Magi of the Isas Scholastica. The Presence is always felt in Karthain. There is no standing army because the city is protected by the Magi. No one goes by their given names so that the Magi can have no power over a single individual. However, the Magi are a fractured society themselves, a fact that I understood if I didn't pay much attention to. It was buried, I felt, in Archedama Patience's justification for bringing Locke and Jean on as political consultants for the Deep Roots Party: they were the best of the best, and they had defeated a Bondsmagi, the Falconer. However, it was also Lynch's intention to get one-up for Patience, as the Falconer of Karthain had been her son. Patience got to air her grievances, and punish those two who had been the ruin of her son as a person who had tasted magic, even if her son had brought about his own destruction as a Mage. For the Bondsmagi of Karthain, being cut off from their magic was the same as being as Gentling a person: it cut them off from whole parts of their consciousness.

The Bondsmagi's ultimate goal, not even remotely hinted at nor foreshadowed, was supposed to come as a shock, and it did. It did. I was like, "Okay. Where did that come from?" Lynch's progression is usually much smoother. I took issue with how little Lynch did to prepare the reader for the conspiracy of Patience's fellow Magi to ambush their counterparts, thus destroying the Bondsmagi and scattering the rest to the wind, yet this comprised the entire last section of the novel, what didn't involve the Falconer, who came back out of Neverland with only a word from Patience after having been stuck in his own mind for three years. Seems kinda convenient.

No author is going to please every single reader, and at over four hundred pages, Lynch was doing the best that he could and still keep his readers' attention. Not everyone is Dan Simmons--with his thousand-page long novels that stretch into forever...but man is his progression is solid. Solid. I feel like Lynch was preparing us for the next novel, but also had to tie up loose ends.

Oh, and speaking of loose ends...

I am Being Strangled By Loose Ends

Most authors of fantasy leave their readers in suspense, life-threatening suspense, at the end of a novel in a series. That's not uncommon. J.K. Rowling is queen; she, Raymond E. Feist and R.A. Salvatore hold court on a regular basis. I had hoped Lynch would become one of those authors who may join them. I feel like Lynch missed the mark with TRoT for one reason, but that one reason made me not want to finish the novel: I wanted to see the Gentleman Bastard's homecoming with Father Chains, not the Falconer's reawakening, as the end of the novel. I felt that the Falconer was a tertiary character even in LoLL. I felt his connection to the Bondsmagi of Karthain to Locke and Jean was a little dodgy at best. Patience wrote him off repeatedly throughout the novel, then punished Locke for her son's ruin by running Sabetha off under the "pretense" that Locke only loves Sabetha because she reminds him of the wife he had in a past life. I say "pretense" because there are two schools of thought here: one that believes Patience's story, and the other that doesn't. I'm with Locke. I don't believe Patience, or at least, for the sake of fictional argument, I'm going to continue with this line of thinking until Lynch proves me wrong in Thorn Of Emberlain, the next novel in the Gentleman Bastards Series. 

Then there is the problem with the Falconer.

As I said, Patience wrote him off and gave us Locke's "back story" as her real tie to the Gentleman Bastard Locke Lamora, but at the end of the novel, when the Bondsmagi go up in flames, the Falconer rises again, just like that, with only a word and an apology from his mother. Okay, not "just like that". He took a significant amount of his plight into his own hands, literally, and then killed two people without having to really even leave the room, including his own mother. The Falconer is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and with Patience gone, I can't imagine who, or what, can stop him, but that isn't the point. The point is, I felt Lynch could have given us at least one more chapter with Chains before the Falconer.

 I can't tell if Patience released the Falconer in hopes that he can escape Karthain, or because she feels sorry for him, but she seemed content to leave him in his prison for three years, ostensibly so that he can't cause trouble, since Patience and the Falconer were in opposing parties in the Five Year Game. Sure, fine, whatever, but why write him off to Locke all throughout the book, then make him the focal point of the ending instead of the Gentleman Bastards' homecoming? They pulled off the job Chains sent them to do. Moncraine betrayed them. I would like to have seen the backlash from Chains and his vengeance through the Right People. Who knows? Perhaps I have but to wait for Thorn of Emberlain.

There is also the problem of Bug's appearance to Locke during his cleansing of the Archon's poison. I feel the questions that were raised for Locke were never resolved. I thought maybe during Locke's "back story" I would get some kind of closure for that, seeing as how Bug came to speak to Locke from beyond the grave, a thing Locke seemed to be able to do as well when he snatched the body of the boy in Catch Fire after the death of Lamor Acanthus. However, I still feel I have been left wanting. 

Perhaps I only feel strangled by loose ends because my impatience pushed me past the point of enjoying the end of the novel for what it is. The end of the second Lord of the Rings movie did the same thing to me, and it is probably one of the reasons I tend to wait several years before reading an entire series, so that I don't have to wait for the next novel to be released, which sometimes feels like waiting for the Balm of Gilead. 

I'm with a lot of other readers on this: the end was not my favorite part.

Actors of the Old Pear--The Moncraine-Boulidazi Company: Stage and Spectacle in TRoT

I think my absolute favorite scenes in the entire book take place during the rehearsal and performance of "The Republic of Thieves", particularly Calo and Galdo's roles. Locke, I felt, didn't get much of a treatment, considering the acting and false-facing he does both throughout LoLL and RSURS, and the little false-facing he and Sabetha must do to Boulidazi. Of course, false-facing is learned, and where better to learn it than the stage. Jean gets stuck behind stage shagging Jenora, which is necessary for the plot, but cruel to the character. Locke only gets the lead role because he talks Boulidazi into getting him the role that requires the most kissing of Sabetha. I found it very hard to believe he couldn't false-face his way through auditions enough to convince Moncraine to let him have the lead role on his own merit, at first. However, Moncraine has a better eye for these things than Locke does, and I believe he saw through Locke's flaws and cast him accordingly. I suppose Locke could not be seen as a predictable character, either. The plot would not have had as much tension if everything had been handed to Locke on a silver platter, a fact the thief would have to get used to when dealing with people like Requin in RSURS. Seen in this light, the writing is continuous, and Locke will just have to crawl before he can walk

So, onto the best bits, then. I felt I had a very unique experience reading these scenes. I have always loved theater and spectacle. I feel that, had I been born with other interests, music and theater would have been my preference. Seeing as I wasn't, I have always enjoyed the few times I have gotten to be on-stage or in the audience for theatrical plays. With "The Republic of Thieves" I felt I was right back in the audience at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, witnessing a play by Shakespeare in the Park. The Old Pearl reminded me so vividly of that venue. Calo and Galdo's roles could have been taken directly from the stages of the Texas Renaissance Fair plays and performances. The twins were given the prestigious task of presenting a classic tale from the days of the Therin Throne as though they were the Actors of the London Stage themselves, giving us the dramatis personae of "A Winter's Tale" or "Midsummer Night's Dream". Calo and Galdo, like their Renaissance Fair performers before them, heckled the crowd and opened the scenes on stage perfectly. I could hear them both performing their lines in unison, wowing the crowd with the dual chorus. I had a smile on my face for the entire scene. What made me even happier was the fact that the Moncraine-Boulidazi company used bit players instead of having everyone assume multiple roles, unlike the Actors of the London Stage--and other companies--who rotate several characters but only have five players. Simple, and uncomplicated.

Lynch admits that he did enough research to give readers a general feel of the stage, but that he had no intention of going any deeper, which I feel is fine. Anyone with the prior benefit of having seen a play at Ren. Fair or at an outdoor public venue will comprehend perfectly. I know I did, and I feel Lynch pulled it off, I mean really pulled it off, down to the opening monologue the by the chorus, or both Calo and Galdo in this case, being in iambic tetrameter. Am I saying he imitates Shakespeare? No, because Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter, which was common among play-writes who wrote in verse. Iambic tetrameter is used in ballad stanzas. Thanks to Wiki, I get to cite the "The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" from Christopher Marlowe, "Come with me and be my love, and we will some new pleasures prove." Hah! Wiki didn't have the second part on their example. I pulled that from memory. I knew my bachelor's degree in English Literature was good for something. Metered verse was quite common in the Renaissance, and so it makes sense for the old Therin play-writes to have used it as well for the "forty corpses". In my opinion, these scenes made the novel.


As always, Lynch's wit will have you giggling like a maniac, so if you enjoy reading in public places, be prepared to look insane. Steven Brust will not have been the only person to shake their head and lament, "Goddammit, Scott," in public for seemingly no particular reason. Lynch is a fine writer, and this novel was well-worth the wait. Despite my harsh criticism, Lynch persists as one of my favorite contemporary fantasy authors. I enjoyed watching Locke Lamora grow as a character over these last three books, and I feel Lynch is a master of world-building. The Republic of Thieves is a must-read. Lynch lends the reading a very swift pace. If I had been more diligent, I could have finished the book in several days, not two months. Sorry, Scott. I border on the life of a part-time novelist and part-time almost-step-parent with an almost step-child that loves to play Minecraft. 

I look forward to the next novel of intrigue and suspense. Thank you, Scott Lynch, for another gem, and another excellent adventure.