Scott Lynch’s first two books relied on the strength of Locke and Jean’s relationship. THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES continues to feature that relationship prominently, but in the third book of the series, the newly-introduced Sabetha and her long relationships with Locke take center stage.

There’s a lot to like in these books, and I’m certain I’ll be buying the next two as soon as they’re available. The writing is crisp and the characters witty, with rapid-fire dialogue making every conversation (and every chapter) a pleasure to follow. The world is well-built, and while our protagonists have set up shop in a different city for each book, it doesn’t feel like a gimmick — the story has forced these characters to take to the road, giving us an opportunity to see them in new settings with new secondary characters surrounding them.

I don’t know that THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES is as good as the first two — the stakes don’t seem nearly as high, and while I thoroughly enjoyed reading REPUBLIC, I distinctly recall laughing out loud at THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA. It felt as though Lynch had to force obstacles between Sabetha and Locke, and I would have liked to have seen the obstacles between them be completely out of their control.

Nonetheless, REPUBLIC remains one of the best books I’ve read this year, mostly because Lynch’s characters are so well-drawn and his dialogue crackles like no other author working today.

A few thoughts:

  • It was fun to see Calo and Galdo alive again via flashbacks.
  • Throughout the books, we got references to Father Chains’ eventual death, and I’ll admit, I’ve taken the bait and I’m curious under what circumstances the Gentlemen Bastards’ father figure died.
  • The Locke-Sabetha relationship has strong parallels with the relationship between Kvothe and Denna in Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Kingkiller Chronicles.” Both feature clever men who occasionally look foolish chasing after women who seem to spend a lot of time placing obstacles between them and their suitor.
  • The five-year games plot would have been more interesting if there had been actual consequences to losing for either side. Yes, it was amusing to watch Sabetha match wits with Locke, but it never felt as though there were any real stakes other than professional pride.

EMPEROR OF THORNS by Mark Lawrence

Prior to beginning EMPEROR OF THORNS, the third book in the Broken Empire series, I went back and reread the first two books in the series, PRINCE OF THORNS and KING OF THORNS. I’m glad I did, as it refreshed my memories of the characters and plot lines that run throughout the series.

There’s a method to the madness that is the Broken Empire series. As soon as you think you’ve got Jorg or the plot or the series’ strengths and weaknesses figured out, Mark Lawrence finds a way to turn them on their head and twist them inside out.

I entered the final pages of this series feeling pretty damn brilliant — after all, I’d guess the Dead King’s identity several hundred pages earlier — an electric flash of brilliance that left me feeling all warm and clever inside. Then the ending hit me, and I realized that Jorg, a character I’d seen survive time and time again thanks to his ability to surprise everyone in the room, had shocked me one final time.

It’s easy to dismiss this series at first glance, with its young antihero and extra helpings of violence, but there’s heart and wit as well, and I found it fascinating to follow a character we aren’t supposed to feel truly sympathetic for. Jorg is a bad, bad man, and every time you think he’s softening, or beginning to change, he surprises you once again with his ruthlessness. He’s clever and witty and charming in his own Jorgian way, but every time you start to forget about the awful things he did 50 or 100 pages back, he does something brutal again.

This is the last book in the Broken Empire series, and I’m definitely looking forward to Mark Lawrence’s next work. His plotting, voice, characters and world-building were tremendous, and even more importantly, there was a boldness and courage to his storytelling that few authors can bring to the printed page.