Saturday, August 31, 2013

REVIEW: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

Firstly, to anyone out there who has been waiting to read The Republic of Thieves since finishing Red Seas Under Red Skies in 2007 ... my sincerest apologies to you. I on the other hand, read them both in the last two weeks. I mention this only partly as a glib taunt, but also because the lack of wait and anticipation colours my view in much the same way it did for my reviews of A Song of Ice and Fire, compared to those who waiting years between installments.

This is a series that has definitely been slow to grow on me. I found The Lies of Locke Lamora somewhat unremarkable and it took more than half of Red Seas to really start getting into a position of favour. I hit the ground running with Thieves, which picks up seamlessly from the events of book two, which was great for me, in much the same way as an accelerating getaway car avoids the long arm of the law.

But to the actual review! Thieves follows an almost identical formula from it's two predecessors, alternating between past and present. In this case, the past returns us to a time when the Gentlemen Bastards are still under the tutelage of Father Chains except that this time, lo and behold, we finally learn all about the mysterious Sabetha. It is not surprising in fact, that this whole book, in both timelines, revolves around Sabetha, or rather, her relationship with Locke.

All things considered, the choice to put off this part of the story until now worked quite well. The mystery of Sabetha was only referenced lightly in previous books; enough to create some suspense, but not nearly enough to frustrate or impede the story at hand. What I really loved was being able to go back and once again experience the characters (such as Calo and Galdo) that have since departed the story - there's nothing better than the joy of experiencing something that you thought lost. My only issue with Lynch's formula for each novel is that I feel that these 'past' events should have affected or at least have been referenced in 'present' events of previous books. While there are no major oversights, it still does feel a little bit like Lynch is creating or adding history retroactively.

The present day arc is equally as entertaining and flows smoothly alongside its past counterpart. Lynch cleverly mirrors both storylines; both telling of the kindling and rekindling of Locke and Sabetha's relationship respectively.

Locke Lamora continues to shine as the golden boy of this series and more and more brings to mind a younger and perhaps more adventurous Tyrion Lannister. Locke's unfailing wit reaches new heights in this installment and as things go from bad to worse, so too does his regard for his own well-being. This translates directly for us as the reader, to some downright laugh out loud moments. Even in his exposition, Lynch doesn't hold back on the colourful language.

Sabetha still remains a bit of a mystery to me and I can't help but feel only some of it can be put down to 'it's because she's a woman OoOoOoO.' Her and Locke obviously have a complicated relationship, but when you get down to the nitty gritty, I still can't figure out why. She seems to be incapable of handling even the slightest argument, instead choosing to flee the continent at any given moment. It all seems a bit too convenient for me.

The standalone highlight of this book is Lynch's masterful use of prose and vocabulary, making for a thoroughly crafted and intelligent read. I can't really elaborate more or give it higher praise than that, other than by saying he has the writer's equivalent of the comic timing of the world's best comedian. When the character's pause, you pause, when the action is happening, your adrenaline starts going and you read god damn faster!

The world of Locke Lamora continues to expand within the new settings of Karthain and Espara. While Lynch has never been one to spend copious amount of time describing the environment in detail, a colourful and unique world is built nonetheless. I think that by the end of the series the protagonists will have taken us through every city, one by one, book by book.

The tone of Thieves really surprised me and I actually found it very light on, especially compared to book two. Red Seas had us in dire straits (see what I did there) and managed to get some real emotional hooks in. This book not only felt briefer, but a lot safer. Although it could be seen as a nice respite it certainly makes Thieves stand out as a transitional book in a larger series, rather than a milestone in it's own right - a shame considering the six-year wait fans have endured.

I don't know how or why, but I was under the impression that Thieves was the last of a trilogy. Imagine my surprise when I encountered a shock ending, riddled with foreshadowing and catastrophic potential and then ask my good friend Google who tells me there are in fact seven books. Ladies and gentlemen, we are in for the long haul. And in that case, Lynch definitely needs to shake up the formula before things get downright repetitive and boring.

Which brings me to my biggest criticism of not only this book, but the series in general and certainly it's biggest downfall. Lynch ticks all the right boxes as I have mentioned above but somehow I'm still not hooked; there is no fire. I am definitely not aching to read the next book. Don't get me wrong, I will be sure to read it to get my next dose of scathing Lamora humour, but not because I care about the fate of the characters or story. I can't put my finger on why exactly this is the case, but it's a pretty major drawback. It's certainly a combination of feelings I have not experienced before.

I think if you have enjoyed the series so far then it is worth continuing with it; The Republic of Thieves maintains the elements that you have grown to love and gives you another shot of Lamora goodness (or wickedness). I'll be looking out for book four, The Thorn of Emberlain!

This is a review of an advanced reading copy supplied by the publisher. The Republic of Thieves is expected to be published on October 8th, 2013.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

REVIEW: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

I wasn't a huge fan of The Lies of Locke Lamora and I remember writing in my review that I would probably only read Red Seas Under Red Skies when I had nothing better to do. I was given an ARC for The Republic of Thieves, book three in this series, and thought I better do the right thing and you know, read the series in order.

I'm happy to say that I am now sold on the Locke Lamora franchise.

It was a slow start however. I found that almost the first half of Red Seas featured the some of the same elements of Lies that turned me off - chiefly, that it just didn't make me care about anything or anyone. I was never able to empathise with or experience the humanity of Locke or Jean. Sure they're hilariously witty and fabulous characters in their own regard, but I could have walked away from the book at any moment and not felt a pang of regret or curiosity. The Spire heist also felt very familiar to the Salvara gig in Lies.

The 'flashback' storytelling makes a return in this installment, but it by and large more successful than in book one, where it was just darn frustrating. Luckily (for me) this was abandoned by half way through, leaving us with a clear, linear chronology, as I think the whole series should have been.

There's a point in the story when events take a swift turn left off the road and go careening into the sea, which let's face it was to be expected. There's an ocean on the cover after all. To begin with I'm not sure how I felt about this ... it seemed like Lynch was doing a cut and run on the story so far, getting bored with current events and taking a sudden interest in all things nautical. I found myself thinking, "Ugh, how long is this going to take?".

However, that's where things finally got interesting. Firstly, we got some great fresh characters that weren't absurdly rich or powerful pompous asses with targets on their foreheads. And females at that too! Locke and Jean's relationship really starts to develop and that in turn increases the depth of their characters ten-fold. There's even a love interest, which was a highlight for me in this book.

The last fifth of this book was sheer brilliance. Lynch masterfully combines an incredible and mind-boggling triumph with more than a few tragic moments for our protagonists that had me considering whether I was going to put the book down and have a 'moment'.

Lynch's wit shown vicariously through Locke is prodigious and definitely on par with authors like Terry Pratchett. I mentioned this in my review for Lies but I'll say it again, Locke really is a protagonist for the ages. He's like those naughty kids in class who you know you shouldn't laugh at, but you can't help yourself because they're so inappropriately hilarious. 

Red Seas Under Red Skies was a big step up for me from The Lies of Locke Lamora, with definite growth evident in all areas of the story. It did take quite a while to warm up, but I guess I can say in the end it was worth it. This isn't a fantastically groundbreaking novel or series, especially if you're looking for something really fantastical to bite your teeth into, but it does offer excellent prose and intelligent humour abound. I'll be moving straight onto Republic of Thieves, which I must admit seems a luxury as some fans have been waiting six years since Red Seas was released ... sucks to be them!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

REVIEW: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

This was one of my most anticipated books of 2013 after reading Prince of Thorns and King of Thorns last year and wow did it live up to expectations! It takes a certain kind of book to keep me reading until 1:00am and this is one of them.

Bravery is a quality that I regard highly when it comes to novels, and The Broken Empire trilogy is oozing with it, both in terms of Lawrence's writing and the infamous protagonist, Jorg Ancrath. I was so pleased to see that even though some goodness and maturity had crept into Jorg as he grew older, he retained his ruthless and somewhat sociopathic tendencies that so endeared me to him. There is something so satisfying about being constantly caught off guard by a protagonist, particularly one written in first person. There are some truly delicious scenes (almost always involving a smattering of gruesome murder) that got my adrenaline going every time.

The structure of Emperor of Thorns is similar to it's predecessors, alternating between present and past events in a way that expertly reveals facts just in time to be of use, while eliminating premature spoilers. Some events in EoT take place before those in KoT and are used to flesh out and explain the shock ending to book two. Genius!

The world building in this installment introduces much more information about this post-apocalyptic Earth, creating stronger links to the now ancient past before 'The Day of A Thousand Suns'. This ticked so many boxes for me and my obsession with anything eschatological. Lawrence becomes more generous with detail and the story begins to rely more heavily on technology as well as real-world references, particularly geographical ones. There is even a comical inclusion involving a janitor. 

I did feel like to elements of the story that were introduced in this book and then became crucial to the conclusion arrived a little late to be fully credible, such as Kai Summerson and the 'sworn'. The conclusion was undeniably fantastic with some great choices and balance by Lawrence, although I couldn't help but feel it was a little too fantastical a climax for a story that was so grounded and gritty. I also questioned the level of skill and intelligence some characters, Jorg included, acquired at such a ridiculously young age.

The Broken Empire trilogy has undoubtedly become of my favourite series to date, up there with the works of Brandon Sanderson and George R. R. Martin. I was constantly impressed with the wickedly fast pace, the humour and wit, the fascinating story in an epic post-apocalyptic world and most of all, arguably the most engaging protagonist I have ever encountered. Here's to you Mark Lawrence!