I really love Locke Lamora, and I've been eager to read more of his adventures. Especially since this new book, The Republic of Thieves, promised finally to let us get a first-hand look at the character whose absence has been such a presence in the first two books, Sabetha, the only female Gentleman Bastard. Or, I guess, the Token Lady Bastard.
Which is to say that this is where a lot could have gone wrong at this point in this series, in which Scott Lynch has so far managed to avoid incorporating anything dumb or cliched or annoying or infuriating; a Token Female could be the worst possible thing to happen in this universe, could deform and warp everything about it -- or, if handled right, could make the series even more awesome.
It's handled right. Oh, is it handled right. Because yes, Sabetha is beautiful. And super-accomplished. And super-smart. And all the male characters pretty much just want to fling themselves at her feet, the better to look up her skirt. But Sabetha deals with it the way a real heroine should. She acknowledges it, occasionally takes advantage of it, but mostly, she calls bullshit on it, clearly and distinctly. Especially where Locke is concerned. The more he declares his undying admiration and devotion, the more she skewers him for not acknowledging that she is a person in her own right who maybe never asked for said admiration and devotion and resents the idea that because he wants to give it to her, she not only has to accept it but has to in some way reciprocate it, or owes him something in exchange for it. Which, it turns out she does reciprocate it, which just makes her angrier at his presumption that his attentions are welcome. It's all very fraught, this Locke/Sabetha business.
We get to see all of this play out in three layers of storytelling. In the novel's present we get a sequel to the first two books, being the further adventures of Locke and Jean after their high seas heartbreak. Intercut with this is another extended flashback to the Gentleman Bastard's teenage years, when Sabetha was a part of their crew and Locke, Jean, Sabetha and the wonderful and much-missed Sanza twins were sent off to do a tour of duty treading the boards in a far-off city, there to perform in a deeply allegorical play called The Republic of Thieves, which, Gene Wolfe-style, forms a third layer of storytelling as bits of its plot and text are doled out at irregular intervals to serve as a sort of meta-commentary on what's going on in the two main plots.
Weirdly, though the stakes are higher in the "present" plot, it's the flashbacks that were my favorite. One could attribute this to the presence of the Sanza twins, but one would be wrong; Calo and Galdo are barely there, hardly even bit players in the theater troop drama that unfolds, as if Lynch having killed them off, can't bear to try to bring them back to life even in flashbacks now. They have some amusing moments, sure, but they're not very Sanza moments. No. The flashback plot is wonderful because of the Locke and Sabetha show, because of the drama attendant on a messed up theatrical troupe and the built-in tension that comes with any theater story: will they pull it off?
Of course, will they pull it off is also the question in the "present" plot. Red Seas Under Red Skies, you may recall, left Locke on the verge of a nasty and painful death by poison, a poison that had been administered by a nasty wizard to both Locke and Jean but for which one antidote existed, so of course Locke trick-forced said antidote on Jean. The Republic of Thieves picks up from there with a representative of the same enemy force that poisoned the Bastards offering to save Locke's life for a price: he and Jean have to come to their city and help fix an election for the amusement of the nasty wizards. With the extra catch being that both sides get help rigging said election, and the other side's mastermind is to be Sabetha, who will once again have to be twice as good as the males because she's actually up against two males.
That the resulting contest, while entertaining, turns out to have even higher stakes than originally appeared the case should come as no surprise to Lynch's readers. Something big has been building through all the books; the Elderglass strewn here and there in his realms is not just set dressing but clues to the destruction or flight (or both) of an ancient and powerful race of somethings that made/built the towers and bridges and walls still standing and usable in Locke's day. The nasty wizards haven't just been pursuing the Bastards for revenge. I now feel the need to re-read the first two books to see what other signs I've been ignoring or discounting as just background color for the Bastards' antics.
But that's going to have to wait. I never thought I'd ever say this, but I'm kind of Bastarded out for a while. Hmm.