Warning: This review for the third book in the series contains possible spoilers for The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies. You know, just in case that wasn’t obvious from the fact that it’s a sequel.
Locke Lamora is poisoned, and there’s no antidote. He and Jean Tannen must agree to deal with their erstwhile enemies, the bondsmagi, in order to save Locke’s life and give them a new game to play. But in this game, they face their most dangerous adversary yet… Sabetha, long-departed member of the Gentleman Bastards and Locke’s only love.
After reading hints about Sabetha (and Locke’s infatuation with her) in the past two books, I was a little annoyed that she hadn’t appeared yet. I was excited when she was mentioned in this one (having not read a blurb beforehand) but wondered how she could live up to the hype – like Doubting Thomas before me, I was proved wrong.
Locke is, I suppose, a great main character. He’s slick, he’s smooth, he’s charming, he’s got tons of personality – and yet it was always Jean whom I preferred. (No offense to Locke; I rarely like main characters best.) Sabetha is the perfect foil to Locke – and that sentence does her an injustice, as though her characterization is dependent on him. Sabetha was worth the wait. She is clever and sophisticated, but even more than that, Lynch does a fantastic job of making her not dependent on Locke. There’s a great bit where they talk about each others’ sex lives. Locke says he’s waited, and Sabetha, coolly, says she hasn’t. Their romance is tangled and bittersweet, but throughout it all Sabetha stands proud as a woman who is, first and foremost, her own mistress.
The plot is good, too – at least much better than Red Seas Under Red Skies, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I wished. I didn’t read it all the way through in one sitting/one day, so my understanding of the plot might be a bit disjointed; it’s one of those things that’s difficult to come back to after a few days away. It’s a less dangerous game than the previous two, in a way, but more poignant. This is a game that is ostensibly about politics, but the politics hardly seem to matter – Locke is playing that game seemingly without any real concern.
My favourite part about these books is that there are two stories mingled together. In the first two books, the backstory was more haphazard. (I honestly don’t even remember the backstory in Red Seas Under Red Skies). In this one, it tells a much more coherent and decidedly wonderful tale of Locke and Sabetha, and of their production of “The Republic of Thieves” that weaves perfectly with the “present” narrative (although neither, thankfully, is written in present tense.) I actually was more invested in the story of the theatre than I was in the political game, and I think that it was the story that Lynch really wanted to tell – thus the title of the book. I also love that Calo and Galdo and Father Chains are back in some form in these backstories.
I’ve been wavering between four and five stars, but I think I will settle for four. It’s not quite as captivating as The Lies of Locke Lamora, which I read very quickly, but it is enthralling in a different way – a “slow burn” is the term, I believe. I could put it down (although not at the end!) but was always pleased to pick it up again. I often recommend the series as a sort of cross-genre fantasy, if that makes sense; it’s good to know I can recommend that the third book is an improvement upon the second.
Also, the cover is bloody amazing and now I’m a little sad that I read it on kindle because, seriously, LOOK at it!