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I like big books.

The Republic of Thieves

The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch Gods' immaculate piss, but this is an absolutely fantastic read that has rescued me from a serious and year long book slump. Lynch trades masterfully intricate plotting for some very serious character and relationship development in a necessary change for the series. The Republic of Thieves is wonderfully layered, filling some of the tantalizing gaps in the personal history of Locke Lamora while propelling the series in a new direction with some greater definition. Rather than a series of loosely connected heists and wonderfully rigged scams, the tale of the Gentlemen Bastards has taken to the epic, widening in importance and provides the sense of an endgame down the road in book seven. Thieves is a powerful entry in the sequence for the frustratingly ominous foreshadowing that takes place throughout the book and the introduction of new-old characters that we've been waiting to meet (and be re-united with) since the beginning.

Picking up immediately after Red Seas, our favorite hucksters find themselves out of funds and nearly out of time as the poisonous leftovers of Archon Maxilan Stragos's ploy to control Locke and Jean drain Locke of the final dregs of his bitter life. As Jean desperately searches for a remedy (and stronger and stronger cups of coffee), larger forces at work in the lives of the Bastards converge to offer them a way out. The Bondsmagi return with an offer that Locke can't refuse: life and a chance to be re-united with the enigmatic Sabetha in exchange for services in electoral shenanigans in Karthain. Bondsmagi being bondsmagi, there's more to it than that and when the Bastards arrive in Karthain to begin work, Locke finds himself thrust back into a familiar rivalry with Sabetha; one that their lives depend on, which nicely allows for the seamless and layered building of dual storylines set in the past and present and allowing Lynch to fill holes in the past and open possibilities for the future in clever, creative and often jaw-dropping ways.

It's a testament to Lynch's creativity that he can still shock me by twisting the plot when I least expect it. Just when I seem to have a handle on things, he seems to have the perfect curve ball waiting in the wings to confound me and keep me up past my bed time or sitting in my car outside my classroom finishing a chapter before I drag myself up the stairs and try to actually focus on doing something productive. Thieves is tales within tales and, again, as a testament to Lynch's ability, I found myself valuing both storylines (as well as the plot of Lucarno's play) equally. Usually when an author divides their attention and creates multiple threads I find myself preferring one narrative line over the others, obligatorily drudging through intervening chapters to get to the ones I really care about. Not so with Thieves. In fact, the flashback parallels the current narrative in ways that flesh out the relationship of the principal characters with past and present are so mutually revelatory, not necessarily with plot points, but flesh for the lives of characters that they're inextricable. Thieves gives a sense of the cyclical nature of life, bringing out strong themes of identity, fate and self-determination with characters that you fall in love with and whose failures and personal travails hit you in the gut like bad news from old friends.

Lynch caps off wonderfully inventive storytelling with the strong mechanics to back it up. There's solid world and history building in Thieves in the hands of a master storyteller with the ability to make swearing into an art form. Witty repartee and zingy one-liners have the distinct character and flavor of exotic and fantastic locales without the usual accompanying cringes that are the usual hallmarks of this particular genre. Besides the profane, Lynch shows commensurate skill with the divine, as his own yarn bears strong parallels the fictional work of his world's Shakespeare, Lucarno. The flashback plot's unfolding and eventual performance of the titular play displays firm command of lofty language, subtlety and symbolism to rival some of the best contemporary writers - and that's just the subplot.

One could complain that the great con at the center of this novel lacks the gravitas and consequences of the previous novels, which removes some of the tension from the story, but the relational tension more than makes up for it. I never really believed any of the characters were in any real danger in Thieves. That being said, I found it to be an even bigger page-turner than the previous novel. I thought the transition from art and coin heists to political campaigning both appropriate and refreshing. Part of me simply enjoys inane pranking, and there's enough of it in the novel to make even stalwarts of good old 19th century American party machines blush and take notes.

What sets Lynch apart from the shitwits and wastrels of the sword and sorcery flock is his intelligence. Smart stories, smart characters (including the opposition), and cuttingly smart dialogue. Fans of fantasy - and just all around good storytelling - do themselves a disservice by not picking up this series.