Monday, 7 October 2013

Review: The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of Thieves
The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book I (and many others) have been waiting for literally for years. The author had some tough personal times, involving severe depression, and the series was put on hold as a result. Now it's back, though, and when I saw on Netgalley that I could get a pre-publication copy for review, I jumped on it.

Why do I like this series so much? On the face of it, it's not my kind of thing. The characters are lawbreakers in a cruel and unjust sword-and-sorcery world, foul-mouthed, and continuously abused by their author. It's like someone took Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and turned everything up to 11 (and I'm not a big fan of those books at all).

I think it's partly because Locke Lamora, the protagonist, is so hapless I can't help being on his side. It's partly because I do love a trickster story, and Lamora is a classic trickster, not only in his cleverness but also in the way his cleverness often ends up getting him into horrible, horrible trouble, and then out again, and then in again, and then out again...

It's partly, too, because it's just so very well written. Smooth, well-paced, not a wasted incident over the whole long book. Everything connects to something else. In this book, two stories are interweaved in two different time periods with some of the same characters, and they throw light on each other in a way that's wonderful to watch.

Because it's been so long since the last book, I can't remember for sure if the previous two books also do that. In fact, I can't remember the previous two books particularly well at all, in terms of actual incidents. This was a slight drawback, since this book keeps making callbacks to those earlier incidents and I didn't remember what they were talking about, but I still enjoyed it as almost a standalone. It would be worth re-reading the previous books immediately before this one, though.

You can tell a book by an author who's suffered, and knowing that Lynch has struggled with depression adds extra emotional resonance to some of the early scenes in which Locke's friend upbraids him for wanting to give up and die. The characters have powerful emotions, great hopes and great triumphs and great disappointments, without ever seeming theatrical or over-dramatic.

One minor negative for me was the worldbuilding, or comparative lack thereof. It's a fairly typical sword-and-sorcery setting, feeling late-medieval/early-renaissance (though without guns), with Italian-style city-states that remember the fallen Empire. There are important cultural differences between the city-states (at least, they're important to the inhabitants), and there are a few cultural referents that are made up, but a lot of the world, the culture and the language is just taken whole-cloth or minimally altered from our own world, including expressions like "you could hear a pin drop". I'm not going to call that lazy worldbuilding (nothing about this book is lazy); it's a particular approach, which trades requiring a bit of extra suspension of disbelief from those like me who notice such things against not letting a lot of unfamiliarity in the worldbuilding distract most readers from the story being told.

Overall verdict: this was worth the wait, and I hope the next one is well underway.

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