Saturday, 19 October 2013

Scott Lynch: The Republic of Thieves

The first book I blogged about was Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, which at the time I noted cagily was part of a sequence but none the less I was looking forward to what came next. That's a bit more than five years ago, or less time than it takes George RR Martin to change his socks, and Lynch has got as far as the third book of the sequence. I read 2007's Red Seas Under Red Skies during that lovely period when the blog fell pretty much silent, or as I'd like to think of it, when it was all about quality and I only wrote when I felt I had something clever to say. Red Seas was one of those books that struggled a bit to keep up with the opening, both its own opening scene and the book which had gone before it. It was, for instance, quite hard to decide whether Lynch ran out of things to say about ships or had always planned to swerve abruptly back on to dry land to prove a point. Then it ended on quite a nasty cliffhanger, so it felt almost spiteful that Lynch then took about five years to get out the third book.

Which of course had to start by painting Locke Lamora right back out of the corner he'd been painted into. That got pulled off better than I thought it would; of course our hero is going to bound free so that he can get on with the next thing, but for that kind of thing to work, there has to be some sense of price paid for the redemption. Lynch gets that about right, and gets it done at the right pace; it takes time, as it should, but not so much time that there's no room for anything else.

With that out of the way, Lynch has cleared the space for the plot of the book, at which point things start to go a bit out of whack. In the other two books the main action - the contemporary action, if you will - has taken up most of the book, with flashbacks to earlier history being nicely judged to give context and counterpoint. In this book, the contemporary and flashback sections are evenly balanced, which means that neither really feels as if it's carrying enough weight for a whole book. Nor do they really sum to one good book put together, because there's not enough going on in the shared theme to carry a whole book.

This is something which we were going to have to get out of the way sooner or later; Locke has always been carrying a torch for the permanently off-stage Sabetha, and we were going to have to get all that unresolved sexual tension out of the way somehow or other, even though one of the things which fantasy alway does super badly is anything to do with romance. Making it the linking theme of the two subplots doesn't do anyone any favours. Not wrapping up the whole backstory of the doomed romance probably makes it worse; having trudged through the start of it all, presumably we're going to have to trudge through how it fell apart in a later book. It's always difficult to sell a romance in a book as a love for all the ages, but when one side is a boy who won't grow up and the other side is someone almost defined by her determination not to respond to his infatuation….

What's vexing is that all of this is coming at the expense of space which could have been used either for the colossal mess of producing a cod-shakespearean tragedy on a shoestring, or the even bigger mess of fixing an election on a gargantuan budget. Actually, more time for the election would have been great, since that's a more interesting plot, with lots of scope for the kind of intrigue and incident that Lynch does so well. The play's mostly a backdrop for the playing out of Locke's infatuation, where the election is a cleverly constructed fakeout which integrates well with the bigger game which Lynch seems to be working up for the sequence.

However, that leads me to my real gripe. I quite liked Lies of Locke Lamora because it was a clever self contained novel in which the stakes were local and personal; no-one had a great big destiny and no-one was making a hero's journey or any of that other tosh. Three books into the sequence and it's looking like Lynch has been faking me out all along; Locke has got boat loads of destiny, there is some big world-crushing plot in the background and he's absolutely central to it, and he's going to wind up traipsing all over the imaginary world picking up problems towards the eventual smashing of the nightmare in several books' time. 

Well, bah. That wasn't what I wanted. Since Lynch is still a damned good writer, and his take on the end of the world strikes me as clever, I still think it's well worth sticking with the books, but once again I've been frustrated in my daydream of someone writing books in an imaginary world where the main characters aren't the centre of the universe.

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