When the Lies of Locke Lamora burst onto the fantasy scene, I was blown away. Scott Lynch’s début reinvigorated my view of fantasy fiction. Book two was a pale imitation, and it was with some trepidation that I took up book 3. All the more so considering its troubled route to publication, taking some five years. Lynch suffered from depression in the intervening period and so it is great credit to him and his mental fortitude that the book ever saw the light of day. As such, I feel almost obliged to like it more, but whilst I enjoyed elements of the book, overall I found it disappointing.
The problem for me is the length of the book. Considering the difficulties of bringing the book to fruition, it seems incredible that the final product was so long. A much tighter edit was needed. There are two strands to the book, one set in the past, before the events of the first book (giving Lynch the opportunity to bring back the interesting characters he killed in ‘Lies’). The other strand follows on directly where ‘Skies’ left off, with Locke poisoned and close to death.
There’s nothing wrong with this method of storytelling. Events in the prequel tale do impinge on the character’s behaviour in the other narrative, but the problem is that neither tale is very interesting. Not after each story is diluted down across three hundred and fifty pages. Weighing in at over 700 pages, the Republic of Thieves is at least 300 too long. One strand is about the staging of a play and the other manipulating a political election. These are not the most exciting topics on which to base a fantasy novel. It can be done, but this is neither ‘Noises Off’ nor ‘The West Wing.’
Apart from the fact we learn that Locke loves his political opponent from the main story, the flashback narrative and its play-acting are entirely superfluous. If I was unkind, I would be tempted to suggest that Lynch had a burning desire to write terrible mock Shakespearean dialogue and this was the best way he could conceive for it to see the light of day. It may have been justified if the production turned out to be a small part of a larger swindle, the true of extent of which was visible only as the last piece of the puzzle dropped into position. Instead, events control Locke and his troupe, not the other way around and whilst there is some half-hearted trickery, it’s nothing compared with that in the first book.
The main narrative is underpowered. I imagine it’s bloody hard to think of exciting and realistic tit-for-tat escapades of a fake election. Lynch doesn’t manage it. It’s diverting at best, and the final pay off as Locke tips his hand to his opponent is about as exciting as a spoiled ballot paper. To make matters worse, it transpires that the entire book is really a holding mechanism for a wider story arc, based around Locke Lamora’s true identity and his villainous enemy ‘The Falconer’. This deeper story is potentially more interesting, but it leaves the reader feeling cheated. It’s as though the entire book existed just to give the final chapter some background, but the two barely relate to one another so it’s hard to see why one needed to follow the other.
It’s not all bad. Lynch hasn’t lost his ear for snappy dialogue, and once again he delivers up the finest and ripest insults available in the genre. Characterisation is still strong. Locke and Jean are fine creations, as are the rest of the Gentlemen Bastards. The complicated relationship between Locke and his love interest is well written, if long-winded. Lynch’s descriptive prowess is second to none. We moved from one evocative scene to another, but travelling along them was like a procession. I very much enjoyed the first third of the book, but after that it didn’t really have any other gears. Just more of the same with little build up of excitement or tension.
After three hundred pages I was expecting greatness, by 600 I just wanted the damn thing to end. With the intriguing questions posed in the final chapters, I would probably read another Lynch tome, but the Gentlemen Bastards are down to the very last of the currency accrued from their audacious exploits in the Lies of Locke Lamora. Let’s hope they spend it wisely.