The Gentleman Bastards #1-3
by Scott Lynch
This is honestly one of the most unique fantasy series I’ve ever read. Everything from the characters to how each section of the story was organized felt like a fresh spin on the classic concept of thievery and how it’s usually presented in a fantasy world. I have to admit that this series had me on board from the very first chapter, mostly because I thought it was funny as shit (now seems like a good time to mention that the series contains a lot of profanity). The dialogue is incredibly witty, and I lost count of the number of times I laughed out loud; I even went back to reread some of the funnier passages once I was done. The series was totally infused with that great situational humor that really gave it a life of its own.
The plot was pretty clever – an Ocean’s 11-style framework with a lot of plans, sub plans, and countless moving parts that eventually lead to the big payoffs (or the big fails, as the case may be). I really enjoyed seeing what harebrained scheme the characters would concoct next and delighted whenever they managed to pull one off. Did I always know exactly what was going on? That’s a definite no – but the journey was so much fun that not knowing didn’t bother me.
So far, I’ve made it sound like this series is a lighthearted comedy with very little substance – but I assure you it also has its fair share of absolutely heart wrenching moments. Things definitely don’t always go according to plan, and it’s how the characters deal with the fallout from those failures is what made this series truly poignant in my mind (that, and it was funny… did I mention it was funny?). For me, The Gentleman Bastards series was unique in almost every writing category I can think of, and that’s part of the reason why it’s now among my favorites. I didn’t like all of the books equally, so I’m going to take a minute to talk a little more (spoiler free) specifics about each one.
The Lies of Locke Lamora:
As far as the humor goes, I think I laughed hardest during the first third of this one (which is understandable considering the plot gets more serious as it goes). I thought it offered an excellent introduction to the story, great character development, and great storytelling. As I mentioned before, the organization of each scene was different than I’ve read before because it kind of bounced back and forth between past and present. You get a glimpse in the past long enough for the “present” passages to have more meaning and context, which might be why I came away from it feeling satisfied from how rounded the story was. There was a section kind of near the middle where I wasn’t totally sure what the scheme was, let alone how what they were doing contributed to it, but that may just have been an attention problem on my end. In any case, it eventually made itself clear and I was just as enthralled near the end as I had been at the beginning. A strong first book, no doubt about it, but it’s the second one that really rocked my world.
Red Seas Under Red Skies:
As you can probably tell from the title, this one takes the adventure to the high seas. Knowing that was the direction the second book was headed, I admit I wasn’t convinced I was going to like it as much. How much scheming can the characters really do in the middle of an ocean? Turns out, quite a bit more than you think. This book just struck a chord with me, and I think part of it might be because of how much depth of character was explored (as well as the addition of several fantastic new characters). I also think the pacing was incredibly strong – one event flowed seamlessly into the next, and there wasn’t a single boring part between them. I imagine that’s difficult to do when your characters are aboard a ship for a good portion of a novel. Kudos to the author, who produced my favorite installment of this series (so far) and quite possibly one of my favorite books ever. That’s serious stuff right there.
The Republic of Thieves:
While book #2 was my favorite so far, The Republic of Thieves was unfortunately my least favorite. Don’t panic though – it’s still a solid 4-star read. I think the reasons I didn’t like it quite as much are a bit odd, so that should be taken into account. For one thing, at some point in the novel the characters rehearse for a play… and I hate reading classic playwrighting, even creatively done within a high fantasy novel. Lynch did a great job actually bringing the play to life without letting it overtake what was going on in the real world, but I just couldn’t get into it. Even reading about the characters learning the play was a bit tedious, even though it was also kind of funny. See? I told you it was a weird reason. The other deterrent was the love story – I think the main conflict behind it was hashed back and forth just a little too often and I kind of wanted to smack the characters involved… move on already. Other than that, all of the attributes I mentioned in the first three paragraphs were strong as ever in The Republic of Thieves, and I liked the work as a whole so much that I’m basically down to splitting fine hairs to differentiate between the novels.
A part of me wishes I had read the first book of this series when it first came out ages ago – I’ve had it sitting on my shelf since then. The other part of me is grateful I waited, however, because of how long the wait is between book releases. There is a lot going on in these novels, so many things to orchestrate, that I’m frankly just grateful the author had enough energy to give us at least three books in the series, but I would still appreciate a solid release date for the fourth book. I’m excited to see the series getting so much attention in both the blogosphere and the bookselling world, and I’m even more glad to have finally joined the ranks of fans eager to see what happens to Locke next. If you are sick of the same old thing, give this series a try, you (probably) won’t regret it! As a side note, I listened to bits of these on audio and it is an experience… I think it’s now my preferred format for the series.
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