Review of The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

2890090Title: The Republic of Thieves (Gentleman Bastard #3)

Author: Scott Lynch

Publisher: Del Rey-Spectra

Format: e-ARC

Where I Received the Title: NetGalley

Review:

Ah, so here it is! The book I’ve been waiting to read — the book we’ve all been waiting to read and it is finally here!

The Republic of Thieves has been one of the most anticipated sequels in the last five years. With each delay, the anticipation of eager fans only grew. From that standpoint, it is nearly impossible to deliver a novel that will knock the socks off the faithful readers. But did it quench that insatiable thirst to know Locke’s fate and learn of his new adventures? Absolutely!

Scott Lynch tortured us by leaving the second Gentleman Bastard book, Red Seas Under Red Skies, on a cliff-hanger that left readers everywhere restless. In The Republic of Thieves, Lynch absolves himself of his sin by delivering an imperfect, but quite satisfying work.

Locke Lamora lies on his deathbed as his faithful companion, Jean Tannen, bribes and kidnaps the most prominent of physikers to remove the poison from his body. Despite Jean’s efforts, Locke’s condition continues to get worse. When all hope appears to be lost, a bonds-magi by the name of Patience shows up at their doorstep with an offer that Locke simply can’t refuse. In exchange for his life, Locke must rig a political election. Under normal circumstances, this would be a walk in the park; however, Locke learns that he will face the most formidable opponent he has ever encountered — his first true love, Sabetha.

To tell you any more of the plot would be of disservice, but I’ll share a few broad impressions I had.

Many fans were critical of Red Seas Under Red Skies for not furthering the story arc of the bondsmagi. The Republic of Thieves gives us intimate details of this underground clan. We learn of their inner-workings and politics and even discover a connection that Locke may have to these conjurers. Locke’s encounters with Patience help to develop the world he lives in, but it almost serves as a backdrop to his attempts to: first, reacquaint himself with Sabetha, and secondarily, survive.

Locke’s relationship with Sabetha is interwoven deeply throughout the novel. She is in many ways Locke’s equal, but stays ahead of him by avoiding the romantic allure that cripples Locke’s efforts. Sabetha keeps her emotions closer to the vest and I was often uncertain where her heart resided. Their interaction was written well, but the complexity of the story was toned down from previous novels. There are fewer cons to titillate the reader and the action is slower, making this novel more of an interesting read than a fun one.

Despite its slower pacing, The Republic of Thieves cemented in my mind that this is a series to read for the long haul. The broader story arc of the series is now clear, leaving my expectations high for the next in series. In fact, I didn’t previously own any of the Gentleman Bastard books, but after finishing this novel, I went out and purchased a nice first-edition hardcover of The Lies of Locke Lamora. I will be grabbing nice copies of the other two as well.

The Republic of Thieves is an excellent novel. If you haven’t read this book or series, I strongly suggest you do so. Some writers crank out several books a year, but Lynch’s meticulous efforts in writing his novels pays off. His prose is full of wit and the experience of reading his books is like drinking a well-aged, single-malt scotch, compared to the grocery store bottle of whiskey that you get from lesser writers. If you prefer cheap booze because of its convenience, then maybe this isn’t the series for you. If you like to savor a quality drink — sip-by-sip — over the course of an evening, The Gentleman Bastard series is right up your alley. The Republic of Thieves was worth the wait.

Review of Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn

216422Title: Star Wars: The Last Command

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 3 star

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

It’s always interesting to read a novel (or in this case, a series) for the second time. I was but a wee lad when it first came out — a middle schooler who had recently ventured into the world of adult novels, reading the likes of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Star Wars, with a much greater sense of innocence, was still appealing with its heroism and magic of the force.

After reviewing the first novel, I was almost disappointed that I decided to reread the series. My review of the second novel was better, with Dark Force Rising displaying better character development and action. So here I am, reviewing the third and final novel in the series, The Last Command.

I’d love to write a glowing review. I’d love to say that it brought back the nostalgic fascination I once had with the series as it expanded the original Star Wars trilogy into the future. But the truth is that the trilogy’s impact on me seems to have lost some luster. In the third novel, Grand Admiral Thrawn is planning a large attack on the rebels. He has amassed a collection of ships and has a secret cloning lab where he plans to gain the manpower to rule the galaxy.

Leia gives birth to her twins and finds that they are even more difficult to protect outside of her womb. She has to trust her help in keeping them safe, but she learns that there is a leak from within the ranks of the rebel alliance.

Mara Jade still remains bipolar, desiring to assist the rebels against the overly-oppressive Empire; however, the remnant command of the Emperor still speaks to her: “Kill Luke Skywalker.”

Joruus C’Boath becomes crazier than ever, with grandiose visions of ruling the Empire with Luke, Leia, Mara, and the twins serving him. Thrawn puts up with him, claiming to need him for one purpose or another, but really C’Boath is mostly a nuisance.

Luke, Han, and Lando make frequent appearances, but by the third novel, they are ancillary characters, experiencing very little change or actions to drive the plot forward.

So all of this brings me to my review and I am trying to resist from saying such cliches as some stones are better left unturned. With the improvements of the second novel over the first, I had hopes that the third novel would continue the pace. But where the second novel improved, the third novel digressed. Luke’s internal conflicts with the dark side are now gone and he sees C’Boath for who he really is — an evil, psychopathic dark Jedi (which should have been obvious in the first place). Mara Jade’s character, who seemed so complex in my early memories, actually comes across as equally naive. Her actions and thoughts are all sympathetic to the rebels, yet she clings to this vestige command to kill Luke and is haphazard as she mentions it in conversation.

And then there’s Thrawn. A supposedly mastermind supervillain who continues to put up with C’Boath and the incompetence of his underlings with patience and fortitude. There were moments in the first and second novels where he lived up to his hype, but once again, this was lost in the third novel. I guess I was hoping for a more courageous and evil antagonist — one who would deal severe consequences for incompetence and would aggressively dole out his strength against the rebels.

As I paced my way through the novel, there were moments that I thought were clever. I really liked the manner in which Mara Jade overcame her duality of emotions toward Luke at the end. Also, the smugglers banding together against the Empire, while remaining somewhat neutral, seemed realistic to me.

Overall, the series was a decent read, but it’s magic resides back in my youth, before the expanded universe had reached its breadth. The pacing is quick and the ending, unfortunately is abrupt and anticlimactic. For Star Wars fans, this series is of course a must read. On it’s own, it just doesn’t hold up to today’s standards.

Review of Star Wars: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn

SW2Title: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

The first novel of the Thrawn Trilogy, Heir to the Empire, brought back the nostalgia of the original movie trilogy. Luke, Leia, Han, and the rest of the rebellion now face a formidable foe in Grand Admiral Thrawn. While I appreciated the new characters of this novel, I found it to be primarily a setup for the trilogy and incomplete as a stand alone (review here).

The second novel, Dark Force Rising, comes back with full force (forgive the pun). After nearly being assassinated by the Noghiri, a race loyal to the Empire, Leia travels to their home planet to try and establish them as allies. Luke heeds the call of a self-proclaimed Jedi Master named Joruus C’Boath. Han and Lando try to unveil treachery within the Rebellion and discover that there are a fleet of ships left over from the clone wars that could turn the tide for either the Rebellion or the Empire.

I enjoyed the second novel much more than the first. Dark Jedi C’Boath toes the line between evil and insane, but covets power nonetheless. He believes that he can convert Luke and Leia to his cause and devotes all of his energy to luring them into his self-righteous plans. His character is interesting and one wonders if the very able and almost clairvoyant leader, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is really in charge or if C’Boath controls the puppet strings.

Luke’s interaction with C’Boath is a tad naive, like he is back in training with Yoda before experiencing the struggles against the Empire. Han also falls short of his suave, but rugged self, constantly concerned for Leia’s welfare while he embarks on his own journey with Lando.

While it didn’t reach the same level of magic that it did the first time I read it, Dark Force Rising is an enjoyable read. Mara Jade is one of the better characters, complex in her loyalties and in her abilities. She struggles with her desire to kill Luke and her desire to form an alliance with him. She starts to display Jedi powers, but she has only touched the surface of the power of the force.

The Thrawn Trilogy is a definitive series in the expanded universe and even as I read it twenty years later, it still holds up fairly well.

Review of Star Wars: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn

Title: Star Wars: Heir to the Empire

Author: Timothy Zahn

Rating: 

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Paperback

Review:

 I was at my library’s book sale a couple of weeks ago and happened upon Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars: Thrawn Trilogy. Heir to the Empire was the first Star Wars novel I had read, some twenty years ago, and having remembered little about it, I thought it was high time I read the trilogy again.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve read quite a few books in the Star Wars expanded universe, but most of my reading has been prior to Episode IV. I’ve read the Han Solo trilogy, a few books during the era of Darth Vader’s rein, and a greater collection of books that take place before the rise of Emperor Palpatine. Heir to the Empire, on the other hand, takes place five years after the defeat of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi.

We learn early on in the novel that the Rebellion is still fighting what is left of the Empire. Leia and Han Solo have married and she has become pregnant with twins. Luke Skywalker, who remains one of the galaxy’s most eligible bachelors, is training Leia in the ways of the force. Admiral Ackbar leads the Rebel fleet and in the fringes of the galaxy lies Grand Admiral Thrawn, the Empire’s adroit and vicious leader who sets his eyes on squashing the Rebellion.

Zahn does a nice job of tying in the continued story to previous events, almost to a fault, as Luke almost incessantly reflects on past experiences. He recalls his confrontation with Vader, his near death experience at the pit of Carkoon, the Battle of Endor, nearly crashing his speeder bike, the mysterious cave in the Degobah system, … oh sorry, I got a little carried away there. Anyway, as I was saying, Zahn does tie the story well into the original trilogy, but it seems it was done much too carefully. I would have liked for the story to present something entirely new, but the novel is really just a set up for the rest of the trilogy. Grand Admiral Thrawn only begins to become aware of Skywalker’s presence and the dark Jedi that he recruits only plays a passing role in the story arc.

I certainly am eager to read the rest of the series (again), but the first novel by itself is incomplete. The Rebellion appears to be in greater power and Luke, Han, and Leia’s fates seem secure. I am hoping that their adversary grows to become a more formidable opponent and for new heroes to be born that will help keep a balance in the universe. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy is often credited with birthing what is now known as the expanded universe, so in that regard it is to be held in high esteem. But for those who have read several other titles, the novel has a bit of a slow start as it tries to forge new ground while maintaining the connection to the previous stories.

Review: The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Title: The Fall of Hyperion

Author: Dan Simmons

Rating: 

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Trade Paperback

Review:
Six pilgrims, each with distinct purposes, have landed on the mysterious planet of Hyperion. They come with selfish motivations, but the fate of humanity rests on their shoulders. Hyperion, the first novel of the two-book duology (and part of a four-book Cantos), detailed the stories of the individual pilgrims in the form of a frame story. The Fall of Hyperion leaves where the first novel left off, with the travelers landing at their pilgrimage site.

I must say that I enjoyed the follow up to Hyperion. I found the first book to be brilliant and while this may have not met my fullest expectations, it was engaging and helped tie up the mysteries of the planet Hyperion and the fate of the Hegemony of Man. Much of the story is told through Joseph Severn, the second cybrid of John Keats, who is connected to each of the pilgrims through his dreams. He serves as an informant for the CEO of the Hegemony and later plays a major role in the fate of mankind.

I will admit that I am struggling to write a synopsis of the novel — the plot unfolds like layers of an onion, slowly revealing the secrets of the Shrike, the purpose for the pilgrims, the nature of the TechnoCore,  the true intent of the Ousters, and several other mysteries that were left unresolved in Hyperion. The novel’s framework is often loose, with departures from linear storytelling and is interspersed with poetry and the semi-cryptic language spoken by Ummon of the TechnoCore.

While I did not feel that The Fall of Hyperion reached the brilliance achieved in the first novel, it falls nothing short of excellent. The world-building is astounding and I was left satisfied at its conclusion. There are still some questions, that I hope will be made clearer in subsequent books. My biggest criticism of the work is that some of the rich characters fell a little flat toward the end. Father Dure seemed to suffer little agony, still bound with a cruciform that drove him to self-crucifixion. Martin Silenus, the passionate and often drunk poet, also suffered from apathy after being so driven in the previous novel.

Overall, my criticisms are slight in comparison to what Dan Simmons has achieved. I plan on reading the final two books in the series and perhaps will read them all again. If you enjoyed Hyperion, you need not waste a second reading any reviews and should pick up this title immediately.

Review: Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Title: Hyperion

Author: Dan Simmons

Rating: 

Publisher: Spectra

Format: Mass Market Paperback

Review:
After finishing Hyperion, I am somewhat of a loss of how to review this book. First of all, I am twenty-plus years late in reading this novel. Secondly, it is the first volume in a series, and though there is a sense of completion, it does not stand alone well as a novel.

Outside of the reaches of the Hegemony of Man is the planet Hyperion. Seven pilgrims embark on a pilgrimage to the mysterious planet. On its surface awaits the Shrike (a powerful and deadly creature) and the Time Tombs (ancient monuments that defy time itself). Each pilgrim knows that death is a near certainty, but there are greater purposes at stake. In order to better understand what awaits them, the pilgrims each in turn tell their tale of what has led them to Hyperion.

The novel is a collection of stories within a larger story arc. A priest tells of his discovery of a peculiar religious cult, a soldier tells of finding a mysterious but deadly lover, a poet tells of his cantos that seems to be accompanied by a series of brutal murders, a scholar tells why he is bringing his infant daughter to the planet, a detective tells of her murder investigation, and a consul tells of a couple who ages at different rates due to the husband’s time dilation aboard a ship. While the stories these men and women tell have little in common, there is one common bond — Hyperion.

When reading this novel, it is clear that Simmons is not only establishing himself as a science fiction author, but as a literary one as well. There are many commonalities with the life and writings of John Keats and the very format of the novel is similar to Canterbury Tales. Simmons also takes artistic freedom in his frame stories, writing from different points of view and tenses. While this novel is very smart, it is far from perfect. Simmons’ literary endeavors are a bit overreaching at times, but I applaud his effort in making this a complex and beautiful novel.

Each individual story is also creative and fascinating. The characters do not embark on their pilgrimages out of curiousity — it is out of desperation and it has become their life mission to return at this particular time. I was fascinated how Simmons could make each of these stories different and unique. The priest’s tale and the scholar’s tale especially stood out for me.

I am eager to read the rest of the books in this series and then to read them again. I highly recommend this novel.