Of course, for a long time it seemed that this would be the last of the Gentleman Bastard series. Scott Lynch ran into a bunch of issues that it's not my place to comment on other than to say he has my deepest sympathy. I'm pleased to have since heard that he's not only completed the 4th book in the series but that he's planning more volumes in this incredibly hilarious yet dark and gritty fantasy epic.
The book's premise is Locke Lamora suffering from poison he ingested in Red Seas Under Red Skies. Jean, his partner in crime, is desperate to find a cure and willing to do anything. The solution comes in the form of Locke and Jean's mortal enemies: the bondsmagi. Introduced in The Lies of Locke Lamora, the bondsmagi were behind the troubles our heroes faced in the previous volume. One of the bondsmagi's leaders, going by the name Patience, is willing to help Locke recover if he and Jean agree to fix an election on the wizards' island of Karthain. This would be small potatoes for the world's greatest con men if not for the fact they're opposed by the only thief and liar equal to them: Locke's ex-girlfriend Sabetha.
Sabetha has been built up for two books as the love of Locke's life and it's a hard task to make us believe she's equal to the task. Much to my surprise, Scott Lynch decided to go a different way. Sabetha is every bit as capable, intelligent, and charming as Locke. She could easily be the star of the series herself. It's just Locke can't see her that way and continually sticks his foot in his mouth due to the inability to see her as anything but his one true loveTM. Sabetha would very much like to be recognized as the world's greatest thief but, beside Locke, she's also regulated to being his supporting cast. She can't stand that. It's an interesting bit of metatextuality since, by nature, Sabetha is a member of Locke's supporting cast. Despite this, she insists on being taken on her own terms. When she refers to her past adventures, they often take on the same sort of life Locke and Jean's do. I, for one, would love to have a Sabetha novel.
Sabetha is an interesting character and one that I think will rub readers either the wrong way or rapidly become their favorite. She has no interest in being the "perfect girlfriend" and supportive to Locke but I think all of her issues with him are justified. Their relationship reminds me a great deal of Jackal and Fetch's from The Grey Bastards. Locke has mentally slot Sabetha into the role of being his Maid Marian and he just can't parse that she doesn't want to be his sidekick. It's one of the rare stories where I love the romance while absolutely wanting them not to get together.
Much of the book has a Lupin the Third style comedy-of-errors where Sabetha and Locke keep trying to one up the other in terms of rigging the election. The rest of the book involves an extended flash-back to the heroes joining a troupe of Shakesperian actors with a complete jackass for a troupe master. Needless to say, Locke and Sabetha dig themselves a very deep hole trying to help their (literally) indebted friends. I liked both parts of the book but wish they'd been separate volumes since they don't really fit together well. Still, I think it was a good idea to make sure we were able to see the "good times" as well as the "bad times" of Sabetha and Locke. The thing is that the bad times don't actually seem to be all that bad as Sabetha and Locke are only friendly rivals at worse for the majority of the book. They may be on opposite sides of a job but neither wishes the other harm.
The book is significantly more lighthearted than previous entries in the series. After the bloody mess of the first and second books, this is a welcome emotional rest. Favorite moments include Locke and Jean getting knocked out and dumped on a luxurious boat out to sea in order to keep them from the election, Locke walking in on Jean while he's losing his virginity (which is a simple but hilarious gag in context), and disposing of a dead nobleman who has 'accidentally' walked into a pair of scissors. Compared to the gritty mission of revenge in The Lies of Locke Lamora and the horrific fate of certain characters in Red Seas under Red Skies, it feels like a walk in the park.
I will say the ending will prove controversial to some readers (myself included) and what it means in the long term is something we'll have to wait for the 4th volume to explain. I do feel one of the choices, bringing back a previous villain, was a mistake since his previous defeat was properly epic. I also think that the "revelations" made by another villain work better as lies told in order to destroy Locke's happiness rather than something sincere. Either way, it's a small complaint about a book that I rank as my second favorite in the series and one of my all-time favorite dark fantasy novels.
In conclusion, The Republic of Thieves is a significant improvement over the last volume but the twist leaves a sour taste in my mouth. There's also the return of a villain I'd hoped was over and done with. Nevertheless, I'm going to be purchasing the next volume the day it comes out. That, alone, should tell you Scott Lynch has got his hooks into me.