3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Intriguing world, but sometimes vague/confusing world building. Main characters have great chemistry, but I'm not 15 anymor3.5 stars rounded up to 4. Intriguing world, but sometimes vague/confusing world building. Main characters have great chemistry, but I'm not 15 anymore and I need more than a love story to drive an entire plot (literally the entire PLOT-plot happens in the last 10% of the book). But great writing, the author definitely has some skills there. It was just what I needed though. A quick, harmless story that goes down easy and doesn't have 18 sequels. ...more
4 stars, despite the fact that there are about two thousand instances where Kestrel & Arin have a tragic misunderstanding and/or lie to one anothe4 stars, despite the fact that there are about two thousand instances where Kestrel & Arin have a tragic misunderstanding and/or lie to one another for some noble reason. This is not a sappy YA romance. Everything is terrible. Everything hurts. What is happiness. And so you might swear and toss your book around a bit. And how about I smack that smirk off your face, Emperor?! And hey, ARIN, MAYBE QUIT BEING A DICK SO I CAN LOVE YOU AGAIN.
But seriously, I love following Kestrel's journey from a pampered noblewoman who congrats isn't the worst person ever (no, you don't get a cookie for freeing one slave, girl) who finally realizes slavery is terrible and learns to put the wellbeing of others before herself but still struggles with her lifetime of conditioning and loyalty to her father and who also learns to put her super hot romance on the back burner for the good of the people even though as readers we just want her to be happy with her boo so it's conflicting.
And it cracked me up to no end that Arin took up maybe 65% of Kestrel's thoughts (the other thoughts being about espionage and loyalty and politics and war and her Father and Jess and her puppy), meanwhile Arin's over here like 99% Kestrel Standard Time. "I HATE Kestrel! Ugh I hate her perfect mind and I hate her strength and her music and I especially hate how much I love kissing her. Ugh this random thing right here reminds me of this one time when Kestrel..."
You better believe I immediately dropped the $10 for the Kindle sequel. I rarely pay more than $5 for an ebook, but desperate times...
Because honestly all I want is for Kestrel to be happy and be with her puppy & for Arin to grovel at her feet in forgiveness & for the Emperor to go...away. These things better happen. ...more
Currently over halfway through the sequel at the time of writing this review, and I have decided that looking back on this novel, I will raise my initCurrently over halfway through the sequel at the time of writing this review, and I have decided that looking back on this novel, I will raise my initial 3.5 rating to a solid 4.
Is this book brimming with action and Hunger Games-level pacing and violence and emotions? No. But is it smart and honest and engaging? Yes. I usually read YA for the non-stop action and relentless pacing, and rarely for romance, but this novel (series?) while slow and dialogue-heavy (external and internal) still manages to deal with the tricky political machinations of war and conquest and slavery and rebellion in a way that feels genuine and thoughtful (with only occasional scenes of tightly packed drama, fighting, etc.). Is there a steamy romance? Sort of. But this is not a YA novel that looks down on its readers. It’s not the kind of novel that gives them junk food crap wrapped in tinfoil and tries to distract them with the shine. This novel tries to be good. To have substance. To dig deeper. And in today’s YA sea of trash and more trash, that’s an admirable endeavour. Too bad the book cover is horrendous. Thanks, Kindle, for protecting my reputation in public.
Now I shall return to gobbling up the sequel. ...more
“Nobody admires anyone else without qualification. If they do they're after an image, not a person.”
Listen, this book is earning a generous 4 stars be“Nobody admires anyone else without qualification. If they do they're after an image, not a person.”
Listen, this book is earning a generous 4 stars because of Scott Lynch’s great writing, his fantastic characters, and his intriguing world-building. This book is not 5 stars, because….hardly anything happens? Let me explain.
Very very obvious “spoilers”, but from the get-go I knew something was up when Locke only took about 10 minutes to agree to make a deal with the Bondsmage in order to get healed. The blurb on the back of the book says: “Locke is opposed [to the deal], but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring—and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha.” In reality, Locke has already made the decision and it isn’t until later that he even learns of Sabetha’s involvement. That threw me as I was reading, because the blurbs have never mislead me before.
The second misleading thing, and I don’t say this as a spoiler, but as a more truthful plot synopsis for the book: “Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha—or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend.” Again, not entirely true. Never, and I mean never, are you ever led to believe that anyone’s lives are truly in danger. In fact, pains are taken to clarify that all three of them will be “protected” throughout the process and no harm will come to the loser. Are there rules they must follow? Yes, but they are all reasonable (i.e. don’t murder any of our silly, harmless citizens please) and the trio have no problem treating the game like the game it is.
Death threats would have actually been far more interesting for me. If Locke/Jean & Sabetha were instead threatened that whoever lost this game would die, and they were set up in such a way that they HAD to play. How tense! How impossible! Two of the biggest strengths of the previous two novels were how high the stakes always were. The threats! The risk! The danger! The Big Bad(s)! The deaths of beloved characters! Getting backed into a corner! All the plans falling apart!
However, there is no real risk in The Republic of Thieves. Locke & Jean could have gave a half-hearted try, definitely lost, and essentially walked away from it all. (There is a “reveal”, of course, that complicates matters somewhat, but it is in the last couple of chapters and, again, compared to previous novels, it’s not that earth-shattering.)
The plot essentially goes: Bondsmages—who have the absolute power to control both Sabetha and Jean like puppets—ask our three heroes to participate in a political game of their own free will and with no genuine risks as long as basic rules are followed. The trio then spend THE ENTIRE book working with super gullible, puppeted “normal” people who only exist for the Bondsmages’ entertainment. The political election itself is essentially meaningless as the Bondsmages easily control these people whenever this political game is not being played. Sabetha & Locke/Jean basically play pranks on each other and try to out-clever one another. Locke & Sabetha work through their issues (while Jean takes a tragic backseat). And we are treated to one long extended flashback of a very significant summer during the teenage years of the Gentleman Bastards in which they join a theatre troupe to stage a play, and get caught up in a little bit of a mess--while teenage Locke & Sabetha also work through their issues. (These summer flashback sections were probably my favorite parts of the book). Then the political game ends. Then we see a glimmer of what is clearly setting the stage for future novels and the future of this world. It’s also kind of abrupt and confusing and I had to read it several times.
Not only are there no stakes, but the story is also pretty repetitive. Sabetha is interesting & I’m glad we’re finally seeing her, but every interaction she and Locke had kept boiling down to Locke putting his heart on his sleeve and Sabetha saying “it’s complicated”. I don’t care for mooning!Locke, and I can’t stand unbalanced relationships where one person is CLEARLY more into it than the other person. GIVE ME JEAN AND EZRI OR GIVE ME DEATH. There were times Sabetha annoyed me with how “complicated” she made everything. Like, please write a vague, angsty post on your Livejournal and move on. [This is not to say she is a poorly written character. In fact, she is extremely well-layered and realistic. She’s just not my cup of tea. And the story itself wasn’t crazy enough to distract me from how much she tended to drag things out. Her and Locke’s conversations began to feel like filler. Ok, and maybe she reminds me a bit of myself and how I overcomplicate & overthink relationships too much. But maybe more like teenage me which is even worse I guess. Basically: grow up, Sabetha.]
THE GOOD: Like I said, as much as I didn’t reach for this novel as often as the previous ones (I was hardly ever left on a good cliffhanger), whenever I did read I was always warmed by Lynch’s writing. Like, the way he wrote the dialogue for the play the Bastards were acting in—plain as day what a talented writer he is. I want to go see that play!! This book, like all his books, is also extremely character driven, and that is always a delight for me when done well. His characters--even if they only appear for a few pages--are drawn so sharply in my mind. And no one does witty banter quite like Lynch. And while it is ALWAYS a treat to see Calo & Galdo, can we PLEASE see some more of Chains??! I love him so.
And of course, some quotes :)
“What is government but theft by consent?”
“I don't expect life to make sense," he said after a few moments, "but it could certainly be pleasant if it would stop kicking us in the balls.”
“My disinterest in your bullshit is so tangible you could make bricks out of it”
“You want a lesson, boy? If you find yourself being born, climb back in as quick as you can, because life's a bottomless feast of shit.” ...more
“Only one way to win when you're being chased by someone bigger and tougher than you. Turn straight around, punch their teeth out, and hope the gods a“Only one way to win when you're being chased by someone bigger and tougher than you. Turn straight around, punch their teeth out, and hope the gods are fond of you.”
I almost rated this book 4.5 stars, but then I checked myself before I wrecked myself. Did I love this book as much as or more than Lies? No. Was it still one of the best books I’ve read in the last couple of years? AYE! If only all the books I read could be this rich & fun & nerve-racking!
This review will attempt to be as spoiler-free/plot detail-free as possible.
Before I read Red Seas I skimmed a few reviews here on Goodreads and was distressed to find that, unlike the first book, readers were clearly varied on their opinions of this sequel. I saw a lot of 3 stars and a LOT of 4 stars. However, I think that reading these books back to back helped me actually see through a lot of the criticisms those readers had (readers who probably spent a few years waiting for the sequel, building it up in their heads, waiting for perfection).
People like to give Lynch crap for his pacing. Even with Lies there were the naysayers who claimed all his flashbacks and “exposition” chapters took away from the momentum of the plot. I never had an issue with that. Everything always informed something else, there was no added fluff or needless distraction. Every story shared was entertaining and enlightening. Interestingly enough, in this sequel we get no such childhood flashbacks and very little exposition interludes. (There are a few “flashbacks” in the beginning that cover what all has happened in the two years that have passed since the ending to Lies). The complaints of pacing in this novel are now what some people consider a cobbled together narrative of two different stories: one Oceans 11 heist novel and one Pirate/war novel. (First of all, I see no problem with having both of those things in one book. More fun for me!!! Two of my favorite things!!) But also, people are acting like this is something new and not exactly the type of thing Lynch does in his stories. In Lies we begin with a con that the Gentleman Bastards are pulling on a rich noble family, which soon becomes halted/changed by the much bigger events happening concerning the Grey King and the Capa. The con on the nobles later becomes entwined with their dealings with the Grey King, but for a long while it DOES take a backseat. We have the same thing happening in Red Seas. Crazy fun heist is suddenly halted as our Gentleman Bastards are thrown into something far messier and even more dangerous. But the initial heist is not forgotten and comes into play later. Basically, all these critics need to calm down.
And concerning our supremely lovable protagonists, Locke & Jean, Lynch does an excellent job developing their (already incredibly layered) characters. I just LOVE seeing Locke get out of a tight corner with just his wits, but I think I love it even more when he finds himself in situations he can’t snark his way out of. (view spoiler)[When they were only given a month to train to be “seamen”, when they were told it would take a normal person 5 years at sea to get caught up, I almost rolled my eyes thinking how unrealistic it was going to be when they finally got out to sea and managed to fool everyone into thinking they were expert pirates or whatever. Needless to say, their epic failure was actually much appreciated. The moment the kitten thing became an issue and then Caldris bit it (RIP), I was like OMG THIS IS THE WORST. I love reading a book and having ZERO ideas about how the characters will get out of a mess. (hide spoiler)] AND THERE WERE SO MANY OF THOSE MOMENTS THIS GO ROUND. I was on the edge of my seat!! How are these brilliant IDIOTS surviving THIS?!
And now, re: women, wish fulfilment, and feminism. My ONE and ONLY complaint about Lies is that there are no major female characters, and that the one with the most potential gets fridged very early on (and the second most influential female character isn’t introduced until halfway through the novel). However, I appreciated the mentions of all of the female guards, fighters, thieves, nobles, artisans and such that are clearly commonplace in this world. You rarely read a sentence that goes like “the men were all lined up…”, instead it will read “the men and women were all lined up…”. Such a simple thing can mean so much to readers like me. But it still felt a little more like talk rather than action. Kind of pseudo-representation without any actual bite. So color me shocked when I read Red Seas and half, if not over half, of the people Locke & Jean interact and deal with are women! These women are guards, assistants, black alchemists, locksmiths, assassins, pirates, gamblers, you name it! Not only that, but some of the major players, several of my absolute favorite characters, are women and they are given plenty of moments to shine (and also interact with other women!). I almost feel as if Scott Lynch, a feminist, read criticisms of his first novel and he thought, “Dang. People missed that I’m a feminist? Let me be extra clear.” And he addressed the issue intentionally. And I love him for it. It doesn’t feel forced to me at all. It feels true to this world and true to the story Lynch is trying to tell.
Please, oh please, treat yourself to this excerpt of Scott Lynch LAYING IN on some misogynist online who criticised Red Seas for having characters who are “unrealistic stereotypes of political correctness”--because women pirates can’t exist--and “unrealistic wish fulfilment” (this dude should never read a history book, btw):
Lynch: You know what? Yeah, Zamira Drakasha, middle-aged pirate mother of two, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy. I realized this as she was evolving on the page, and you know what? I fucking embrace it.
Why shouldn’t middle-aged mothers get a wish-fulfillment character, you sad little bigot? Everyone else does. H.L. Mencken once wrote that “Every normal man must be tempted at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” I can’t think of anyone to whom that applies more than my own mom, and the mothers on my friends list, with the incredible demands on time and spirit they face in their efforts to raise their kids, preserve their families, and save their own identity/sanity into the bargain.
Shit yes, Zamira Drakasha, leaping across the gap between burning ships with twin sabers in hand to kick in some fucking heads and sail off into the sunset with her toddlers in her arms and a hold full of plundered goods, is a wish-fulfillment fantasy from hell. I offer her up on a silver platter with a fucking bow on top; I hope she amuses and delights. In my fictional world, opportunities for butt-kicking do not cease merely because one isn’t a beautiful teenager or a muscle-wrapped font of testosterone. In my fictional universe, the main characters are a fat ugly guy and a skinny forgettable guy, with a supporting cast that includes “SBF, 41, nonsmoker, 2 children, buccaneer of no fixed abode, seeks unescorted merchant for light boarding, heavy plunder.”
You don’t like it? Don’t buy my books. Get your own fictional universe. Your cabbage-water vision of worldbuilding bores me to tears. […] As for claims to “realism,” your complaint is of a kind with those from bigoted hand-wringers who whine that women can’t possibly fly combat aircraft, command naval vessels, serve in infantry actions, work as firefighters, police officers, etc. despite the fact that they do all of those things— and are, for a certainty, doing them all somewhere at this very minute. Tell me that a fit fortyish woman with 25+ years of experience at sea and several decades of live bladefighting practice under her belt isn’t a threat when she runs across the deck toward you, and I’ll tell you something in return— you’re gonna die of stab wounds.
What you’re really complaining about isn’t the fact that my fiction violates some objective “reality,” but rather that it impinges upon your sad, dull little conception of how the world works. I’m not beholden to the confirmation of your prejudices; to be perfectly frank, the prospect of confining the female characters in my story to placid, helpless secondary places in the narrative is so goddamn boring that I would rather not write at all. I’m not writing history, I’m writing speculative fiction. Nobody’s going to force you to buy it. Conversely, you’re cracked if you think you can persuade me not to write about what amuses and excites me in deference to your vision, because your vision fucking sucks.
So yeah, another winner in my book. Heists, badass lady pirates, Locke & Jean’s beautiful friendship, PIRATES, kittens, swag, poison, JEAN IN LOVE AND IN LOVE WITH EZRI WHO IS THE BEST. (Seriously tho, Ezri and Jean, two huge nerds that could also kill you in like 30 seconds. Gah, I was literally blushing they were so cute together.) (view spoiler)[ I SO CALLED HER DEATH. As soon as she agreed to run off with Locke & Jean and have a happy ending together I almost started crying because I knew that sealed the deal that she would die. The only other alternative would have been her saying she couldn’t leave her pirate life behind for Jean, but as soon as she said she would it was like a nail in the coffin. We can’t have nice things!!! (hide spoiler)] Literally starting book 3 today!
And of course, quotes:
“When you can't cheat the game, you'd best find a means to cheat the players.”
“You are beyond mad," said Locke after several moments of silent, furious thought. "Full-on barking madness is a state of rational bliss to which you may not aspire. Men living in gutters and drinking their own piss would shun your company. You are a prancing lunatic.”
“Gods, when did we discover how easy it is to be cruel to one another?”
“I'll wager I would have screwed things up regardless. But. . .can you imagine those poor bastards grappling their prey, leaping over the rails, swords in hand, screaming, 'Your cats! Give us all your gods-damned cats!”
“Maxilan, darling." Locke raised one eyebrow and smiled. "I knew you were driven, but I had no idea you could smoulder. Come, take me now! Jean won't mind; he'll avert his eyes like a gentleman.”
“It had the expression common to all kittens, that of a tyrant in the becoming.”
“Gods. So this is what a command is. Staring consequences in the eye and pretending not to flinch.” ...more
“I feed the fields and drown the harvest. I am bounty and destruction.”
Listen I am not only a sucker for fairy tales, but I am an even bigger sucker f“I feed the fields and drown the harvest. I am bounty and destruction.”
Listen I am not only a sucker for fairy tales, but I am an even bigger sucker for dark fairy tale retellings. There is this beautiful trend happening in modern fairy tale retellings, when the stories not only resemble their true origin stories more closely in how dark and often gory they can get, but they also manage to burn at the stake all that classic misogyny (and then dance in the ashes).
Women in fairy tales are often given one of three roles: 1. A loving mother (which, as we all know, is a woman's only true calling in life), who will either already be dead when the story begins, or is in the process of dying. 2. Evil stepmother/witch who hates/eats beautiful young virgins (either out of jealousy, or out of a perversion of Woman's Role As Loving Mother) 3. Beautiful, young, naive virgin who makes really dumb choices or no choices at all. Born to be saved, saved to be owned.
But there is something haunting and timeless about fairy tales that has always captured me, so I have had to make do with that undercurrent of sexism, that darkness that is far more terrifying than wolves in the forest. I accepted it as it was. Begrudgingly. So, when I discovered---for lack of a better term--Feminist Fairy Tales, I wanted to cry. The haunting timelessness was still there, the darkness, the fantasy, the morals and warnings and dreams, but women and Womanhood were allowed to be powerful and whole and complex and chaotic. Witches are often just women who do not fit the mold of what their society deems right. They don't want a life that hedges them in and attempts to control them. They do not fear the maelstrom in the sea of their own heart. How frightening and how comforting it was the day that I realized I was far more witch than princess.
(I'll take this moment to sneak in a recommendation for one of my favorite books: In the Night Garden. This book is bursting to the brim with shape-shifting witches, wild horsewomen, and beast princesses. I could talk for ages about the beauty and brilliance of this book.)
So yeah, Little Knife: Poor boy must accomplish 3 impossible tasks to win the rich & beautiful girl's hand in marriage. It takes a little while to go ham with subverting those typical sexist tropes found in traditional fairy tales, but when it does it is glorious. Reminded me of this fantastic speech by Galadriel in Fellowship:
"In place of a Dark Lord, you would have a queen! Not dark, but beautiful and terrible as the dawn! Treacherous as the sea! Stronger than the foundations of the earth! All shall love me, and despair!"
“Freedom is a burden, but you will learn to bear it.”
Another fanfreakingtastic short story by Leigh Bardugo. I can now say I have officially read all“Freedom is a burden, but you will learn to bear it.”
Another fanfreakingtastic short story by Leigh Bardugo. I can now say I have officially read all three of her "standalones", and this one may be the best, but only by a hair.
The Witch of Duva and Little Knife are both intentionally set up as very classic fairy tales. The former: Dead mother, evil stepmother, witch in the woods; the latter: poor boy must accomplish 3 impossible tasks to win the beautiful girl's hand in marriage. While they do subvert their tropes, they remain somewhat "predictable" until their whammo endings. The Too-Clever Fox stands out to me in its originality. A scrappy, clever fox who has escaped traps his whole life is determined to best a hunter who might just be too clever for him. Bardugo's writing is at its finest here, and I was kept on my toes the whole time, and I STILL got my whammo ending!
You can never say too much about a short story, so as not to spoil it, I'll leave this last quote under a spoiler cut just in case.
(view spoiler)[Koja’s blood chilled at the sight of his fallen friend’s hide, spread so casually over the polished slats of the floor. Ivan Gostov’s fur shone clean and glossy as it never had in life and for some reason, this struck Koja as a very sad thing.(hide spoiler)]
The more I read from Bardugo, the more I choose to believe that the failings of Shadow and Bone were purely her publisher's fault, someone holding a cThe more I read from Bardugo, the more I choose to believe that the failings of Shadow and Bone were purely her publisher's fault, someone holding a check that told her, "No, the kids want THIS these days!! Write us a book like THIS!" and she just begrudgingly accepted, because they promised they'd publish her other works. Because, let me just say, this short story was excellent.
I don't read many short stories these days, but man, when I do I never regret it. Short stories are great, because one of the things they generally do best is pack a powerful punch that leaves you rolling your tongue over your broken teeth for days, mulling over their absence. Take this story for example. It begins like your typical fairy tale: dead mother, evil stepmother, witch in the woods, but it ends with a right hook to your kidney. I finished the story, set it down, paused, then picked it back up again to read. And I'm still thinking about it.
The ox feels the yoke, but does the bird feel the weight of its wings?
I read books 2 & 3 in this trilogy back to back, so I will try my best to seThe ox feels the yoke, but does the bird feel the weight of its wings?
I read books 2 & 3 in this trilogy back to back, so I will try my best to separate my thoughts on each one.
Was a little nervous starting this sequel as already in chapter one we have a ~loose curvy woman~ hitting on Mal, Mal making a snide comment back to her, and then wrapping his arm around ~small, bony, scrawny, "plain" Alina~. Like, great, ok, this again. All women besides Alina are awful. I get it. So we started off on the wrong foot, I'll admit. But pretty soon we are introduced to several new characters who continue to play large roles in the series: Sturmhound (my optimistic, witty, clever love), Tamar (a badass lady who will kill you as soon as hug you), and Tolya (terrifying giant who is actually quite sweet when he isn't bursting people's hearts open). And that's when things get good.
It is very clear in this novel (as well as book 3), that Bardugo is consciously growing as a writer. She repeats fewer and fewer mistakes as she goes on. She introduces new complex female characters, she revisits older and previously one-dimensional female characters and not only gives them dimension, but develops their relationships between one another (and especially with Alina herself). This is huge in my opinion, and a big reason why this sequel was bumped up a star. Interesting characters with depth are important to me, and watching friendships & relationships evolve is one of my favorite aspects of any novel. (Confession: I am a huge fan of the "two girls who bicker and dislike each other when they first meet, but soon come to find they have more in common then they thought and develop a deep mutual appreciation for one another".)
Sturmhound is a character who becomes a major player in these last two books in the trilogy and boy, do I love him. His cheek and cleverness and quick-thinking and brains, just the ENERGY that he brought to this series strongly reminded me of Six of Crows. While Alina, and even Mal, grew on me as the series went on, I still think they're kind of a drag. Angsty and doomed and noble and serious. Then you throw in Sturmhound who is like Peter Pan if Pan was a pirate and you realize what a blessing you have before you. He isn't a Gary-Stu either. At many points in the series Alina addresses the fact that he keeps many of his true thoughts and feelings hidden, everything is an act or a performance or bravado, he is constantly calculating, constantly manoeuvring his pieces on the chessboard. (Bardugo has said she will potentially write a novel with Sturmhound as the MC, and I would just die. He is easily one of her greatest creations.)
A word on Alina: thank goodness homegirl develops a backbone in this one. She begins to truly own her power, she learns to manipulate the politics that are inherent to her having that power, she chooses to lead. She is forced to make those difficult moral decisions all leaders must make. I appreciated this growth.
And hey also, you guys, if I ever, like, QUIT reading Young Adult (which I would never do something so generalizing, even though I do get tempted sometimes) the top reason on my list for doing it would be: HEROINE HAS CONFLICTING EMOTIONS/ATTRACTIONS FOR DESPICABLY EVIL MURDERING MONSTER VILLAIN BECAUSE HE HAS SHARP CHEEKBONES AND GREY EYES. Like, honey, I get it at first, like, I appreciate a good jawline. But after that person murders half of your friends and a few villages of innocent men, women, and children, I would think just the sight of them would make your skin crawl. I would think any time that person leaned in close and whispered huskily in your ear there would be bile rising in your throat at the possibility that they may very well rape and murder you, because that's JUST THE KIND OF PERSON THEY ARE. I DON'T CARE WHAT THEIR SAD WOOBIFYING BACKSTORY IS. Give girls more credit than that, authors. We can very quickly get over our initial attraction to someone when they reveal themselves to be a creep (let alone a murdering psychopath). ...more