Review: Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

 

This is largely spoiler free.

~~~~~

Short of it: 4/5 stars. Read it. By the gods, read it.

Long of it: Pretty often they say more of the same in a derogatory tone. Often enough that is true, but it does not apply to Scott Lynch’s Republic Of Thieves. Not only is there more of what rocks, but enough that is new to keep things interesting.

This book is the third installment in the Gentlemen Bastards Sequence, a tale of scalawags and mischief-makers of the highest accord. Feel free to read about my impressions, but I really gotta say, if you’re unfamiliar with any of this, you really ought to check out the first two books.

No, really. Scotty Lynch is my favorite living author.

Whereas the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora, introduced us to Locke and his gang (initially lead by one of my all-time favorite characters: Chains) pit against a variety of increasingly interesting and challenging obstacles (and foes), the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies, could be described as a fantasy Ocean’s Eleven, one of the most entertaining caper stories I’ve yet come across, with a healthy dose of action and intrigue on the high seas.

Lynch’s Republic Of Thieves carries on most enjoyable tradition of following Locke and Jean’s adventure as they find themselves in Karthain, a city-state serving as the power base for the Bondsmagi. Locke and Jean’s skill’s at deception, hoodwinkery, occasional violence and overall tasteful use of charisma. The story is told through an excellent form writing the likes of which I have yet to discover a specific term for — basically, we’ve got two primary stories happening. One in the past, and one in the present. Every other section goes from one to the other, so we as readers experience the intrigue of the now adventure in addition to a journey that familiar characters (some of whom did not survive to the “present”) during their younger, formative years as awkward teenage Gentlemen-Bastards-in-training.

Lynch’s wordsmithery prevails once again, following this common theme of storytelling throughout his books thus far, and I found myself delighted to hear the talented Michael Page narrate Republic Of Thieves as he did the previous books. Michael Page alone is worth it — though I gotta say, his rendition of Chains in this 3rd installment was not as awesome as before (as brief as Chains’ appearance was), though that role was largely filled by an aged actor named Jazma (unsure of the spelling, as I heard it pronounced, didn’t read it), both in terms of vocal talent and downright hilarity.

In Republic Of Thieves, we are introduced to characters who have been hinted at in the previous works, and we are thrust into a world where their most hated enemies — the Bondsmagi — hold sway. Bondsmagi alone are an interesting concept; Lynch covers magic in his world in a way I find most favorable: rules are not explained to the reader, at least not outright. There’s a great deal of mystery and fear involved with people capable of using magic, and the magic itself is dark and gritty. A powerful worldbuilding point was revealed in this book as well, one that genuinely inspired me. I’ll get into detail of that in a separate article.
So we’ve got excellent wordsmithery, an intriguing, interwoven plot, well-fashioned characters, and a subtle backstory of the world revealed to us piece by piece that, the more I learn, the more interested I become. We have well-fashioned romance – something I all-too-often find to be either contrived or just awkward in a lot of fantasy – and a strong, capable female lead. Lynch goes in-depth about his thoughts regarding writing characters of feminine persuasion in this great article from 2013.

On that note, I found it interesting that the lady-character in question reminded me sharply of someone I used to know and care about. While I am aware this may have colored my impressions of the character a little (I remember getting genuinely irritated with the character at times, not in that she was written poorly, but in that I shared the protagonist’s frustrations), I found very little to dislike in this book. I wish there was more Chains, and the climax of the Past Plot didn’t hold a candle to the Main Present Plot, but Lynch’s style (carried forth by Michael Page’s delightful gift as a narrator), but all in all I’m loving it.

The final climax gave me chills, for even at the end of the 2nd book I had all but lost hope for the main characters. Now at the end of Republic Of Thieves, the characters know they’re in trouble and have gotten out of dodge, but something terrifying now stirs in their wake. There were a number of Reveals that did not fail to awe me (even a “false reveal” that turned out to be pretty funny), and I am super psyched to see how the characters get into (and hopefully out of) the next catastrophic mess that they’ll no doubt find themselves in.

4/5 stars, I recommend the Gentleman Bastards Sequence to anyone, as always, who take their fantasy seriously, because there’s an exceptional amount of polish put into this.

This post’s theme is brought to you from Assassin’s Creed II. Much of this soundtrack is pretty dang good, but it’s based in Renassance Italy, and much of Lynch’s setting bears resembling features to places such as Florence and Venice, so one might be able to see the connection.

Keep writing and reading, dear readers!

 

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Guest Post: A Beginner’s Guide to Beginning

Today’s guest, Terry Murray, talks about the value of using RPGs as a valuable resource for worldbuilding, character development and plotting. Take it away, Terry!

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Mine is a tale of long ago, back when Steve Jackson’s Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS) was almost new and the Commodore 64 still cool if not hot. A time when machines could not tell much of a story before their memories ran out. Nevertheless, I like to think some of what I learnt as we entered the 1990s will prove of value to a younger generation of cybernetically enhanced writers.

My venture in to the world of graphic novels to write, arguably, the first Christian example of the genre ironically benefited from a source many believers then (and now) might disapprove of – rpg reference books. I have found such materials a great help when it comes to fantasy writing. Of course, they also present some potential pitfalls.

The first problem role playing games helped me to solve was, so to speak, historical. It is true that the fantasy writer does not suffer the inconvenience of the historical novelist who must constantly take care to be faithful to the time and place they have set their story within. However, I soon came to realise I faced double the challenge. I needed first to create a plausible world, complete with history, within which to set my story and then to ensure I did not break my own rules of existence.

Admittedly, it was a fact-filled publication, Whitaker’s Almanack, which proved invaluable when it came to the early number-crunching. A late 19th century edition provided population figures for Australia from which I could envisage low-tech population clusters.

While Whitaker’s applied the broad brush strokes it was the rpg handbooks that filled in the finer detail. Using them as “culture catalogues”, I was able to order a collection of nations and people groups to populate the land.

The second problem I faced was character generation and plot development. The way I write, I might have a beginning and an end in mind but my story lines tend to be character driven. What happens to them in large part is influenced by who they are. I might place them in a situation but their abilities and personality will colour and to some extent decide the outcome; just as in the “real world” we don’t always have control of our circumstances but we do have a choice as to how we respond to them.

I found my rpg manuals an easy and convenient way to access a multitude of professions, abilities and backgrounds when I put together a collection of possible major players. I then played “what if” with a number of them and considered the results. Following these “auditions” I selected my cast and sent them on their way. As their journey changed them, they in turn changed their journey. The rest, as they say, is history.

If only it were that simple. The downside with referring to RPG material is one finds oneself spoilt for choice, so like a child let loose in a sweet shop it is tempting to have too much of too many things. From weapons to races, magic to monsters, the world of roleplay would be absurdly overstocked but for the discernment and discretion of those running the games.

The writer even more so must filter and distil the mass of possibilities if he or she is to create a world that does not look like a theme park. Where the games master might be generous, the writer needs to be frugal. We need to remember that exotic items, be they weapons or wands, are just that. They should be rare and reasonable. Similarly, you don’t need to be an ecologist to recognise what havoc some creatures would do if let loose upon a world. If you are going to introduce an exotic animal or monster in to the world, one way or another, it needs to fit in to the scheme of things.

Finally, when drawing upon such sources for inspiration, we must not lose sight of who rules our universe. Get too caught up in the designer’s game mechanics and we will start to limit our own imagination. Don’t let your story turn into a system scenario (unless you are planning to sell it as such).

Would I recommend any particular role playing game?

In my case, the Iron Crown Enterprise (ICE) Rolemaster series of the time played a big part in helping me to populate the world, establish its social dynamics and set its degree of divergence from the mundane. But there were a number of other potentially useful games around then, as there are now. What was best for me might not be best for you. If you are considering investing inRPGs as a writing resource investigate the market for yourself and purchase what suits your particular needs.

You might even find yourself playing the game!

Ode to the Giger

“Giger’s work disturbs us, spooks us, because of its enormous evolutionary time span. It shows us, all too clearly, where we come from and where we are going.”

Timothy Leary, The New York Times

This post is comparatively late. By internet standards, I’m sure this is old news, but to those of us who know and really respect what H.R. Giger has done, perhaps this won’t seem so late to the party.

H.R. Giger, best known for his creature design for Ridley Scott’s Alien, along with his surreal biomechanoid airbrush paintings and sculptures, died at age 74 on May 12th, 2014.

If in the event you don’t know who H.R. Giger is and you’ve stumbled upon this post without any background, consider this:

Giger03

If this isn’t familiar, then there’s a certain movie from 1979 that begs to be seen. Otherwise, get the heck off my blog.

Now, assuming those reading this at least have a passing familiarity with the above alien, known in lore-whore circles as a xenomorph, let us now offer a moment of silence for the passing of H.R. Giger, the designer behind this creature that has frightened and inspired generations of people.

I’ve talked about how things that are familiar are creepy, and I’ve always felt that nothing epitomized this more than Giger’s alien. The very nature of the biomechanoid appearance just screams science fiction, and as a Surrealist, Giger did not shy away from topics or subjects that can prove to be downright uncomfortable. From erotic art to disturbing nightmares, there’s a lot to see and a lot to learn from this eccentric Swiss.

I remember being personally inspired by his work back in my college years as an art major (and a teacher trying to correct me on the pronunciation of Giger’s name; it is in fact GEE-gur, by the way). I remember emulating his creations, playing with toys made from the movies, laying awake at night because I thought I heard a face-hugger scramble somewhere in the wall.

But H.R. Giger’s work is merely the manifestation of a peculiar mind. He suffered from night terrors which influenced much of his work, his life partner committed suicide in 1975 (though he had married since then) — check out his Li paintings — and depression, something no creative should find unusual. Looking at his work, one would not be hard pressed to see how these factors played into his style.

Little remains that hasn’t already been said about the man. His influences and style are undeniably dark and twisted, yet disturbingly close to home. He was known throughout the world, and a number of Giger Bars had in fact sprouted. The one in New York City and in Tokyo have since closed down for their own reasons, but the remaining two can be found in Switzerland – one in his hometown of Chur and the other at The Museum HR Giger Bar, located in Château St. Germain, Gruyères.

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Apparently there’s word that new ones may yet open, possibly in New York and Seattle, if Wikipedia is to be believed.

I may have not been able to meet the man, but I’ve been a longtime fan of his work, and perhaps one day I can pay tribute by getting a drink while sitting in a high-backed Harkonnen chair.

No music for today. I’d rather do the whole respectful silence thing. But then, those of us familiar with Alien, well, we all know that even if we screamed no one would hear us anyway.

Take care, dear readers. If there are creatives alive today that you admire, we live in an age where more than ever it is possible to reach them, even if just to assure them of your fandom.

 

Guest Post: Sexism in Fantasy

Today’s post is by Andy Peloquin, covering sexism in fantasy.

In case you somehow missed the title.

Take it away, Andy!

~~~~~

One thing I and other male fantasy/sci-fi writers find is that writing female leads is pretty darn tough!

Think about all of the great fantasy books currently floating around in bookstores today. I can honestly say that 90% of them have male main characters, with female characters to support them.

Books with male MCs:

  • Harry Potter
  • The Wheel of Time
  • The Stormlight Archives
  • The Gentlemen Bastards
  • A Song of Ice and Fire

All of these books have strong male leads, though there are strong females to support them or even share the spotlight with them. However, in all of them, it’s the main male characters that move the story forward.

For example, take the Harry Potter series. Hermione is a very important character in the book, but it’s not called the Adventures of Hermione Granger.

Look at the Stormlight Archives books. Book 1 The Way of Kings heavily featured Kaladin Stormblessed and Dalinar Kholin, with the space shared with Shallan Davar. Book 2 places a bit more emphasis on Shallan, but it’s still Kaladin and Dalinar’s story.

All of the greatest books have had male leads, and–this is going to be highly contested, but I have to say it–most of the books with female leads come off almost more Young Adult than hardcore fantasy.

Look at series like The Hunger Games and Divergent. Both the movies and the books tend to be pretty mild when you compare them to books with strong male leads. I did a Google Search for “top fantasy books for women”, and most of the results were books I’ve never heard of.

So why is it that fantasy tends to be such a male-dominated culture?

  • A lot of the writers are male. I’d be willing to venture a guess that upwards of 60% of fantasy writers are men. Men don’t usually write women as well as they write other men.
  • Male leads are easier to write. With a man, you pretty much know what you’re going to get. Female leads are harder to write, as there is a lot more complex emotions going on in most cases. (I’m not generalizing, just stating what I’ve found to be true.)
  • It’s easier to make an adventure with men. A man wearing heavy plate mail, holding up a falling gate, or commanding a troop of infantry is much more plausible than a woman doing so. If you want intrigue, female leads are brilliant. For straight-forward epic adventure, women make excellent supporting characters to a man’s lead.
  • Males dominated medieval cultures. If you read most fantasy books, they tend to be male-centric. There is always an exception to every rule, but most fantasy worlds tend to be fairly archaic, medieval, and “male-power”.

I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the way fantasy is written, it’s just a trend that I’ve noticed as more and more women in the media harp on equal rights.

Does that mean you should start writing books with strong lead women? If you’re a writer who can’t make female leads interesting, you’ll end up watering down a potentially great story with a poor character.

However, when you come up with a new story idea, don’t automatically make it all about the men in the world you’re building. See if you can add strong, empowered female leads that help propel the story forward. Try to get creative with your MC and see if you can’t make that “he” into a “she”. Not only will you start thinking outside of the box, but some of these fantasy adventures could almost come out better with a woman at the reins.

And don’t forget the Bechdel test:

  1. It has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something besides a man. [1]

 

 

About the Author:

Andy Peloquin is a fantasy lover turned author, and he writes the stories he would love to read.

Growing up as a third-culture kid gave him a broader insight into the world around him, an insight he tries to weave into his books. When not writing he enjoys family, practicing martial arts, reading comics, reading, playing the guitar, and blogging on his website: http://www.andypeloquin.com.

He debuted his first novel — In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent — in 2014, and plans on writing many, many more.

He can also be found on his social media pages, such as:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndyPeloquin

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/andyqpeloquin

 

Sources:

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test

 

Experience: Cruise to Bermuda

IMG_20140507_111127Not long ago I returned home from a week-long cruise trip to Bermuda.

I’m here to tell you it was the experience of a lifetime.

A little backstory. I had been on a cruise only once before – several years ago – from Seattle to Alaska, and with family. That had been a truly eye-opening experience, for I discovered my love of travel on that trip. Since then, I’ve been to a variety of places, though not nearly enough. This recent foray into the Atlantic was spurred by a variety of fuels; there’s post break-up energy, there’s call to adventure energy, there’s the “well heck I found a deal that would be cheaper than a writer’s retreat” energy. Bermuda would be my first journey of any considerable distance, on my own.

I set out with the intention of relaxing, of spending many hours in my state room alone, scribbling away in my notebook, undistracted but for the sway of the ship and the occasional pang of hunger that would draw me to the buffet. What I got instead of a quiet, relaxed vacation was the makings of a full story arc packed into a week.

I experienced adventure, exotic locales, thrills, personal growth, self-discovery and yes, even romance.  Throw in a little moodiness and yearning at the beginning, mix in a little debilitating sickness after the first half, followed by a steady recovery – and we’ve got a bloody Hero’s Journey. There was a lot of experience to work with here. The writer’s mantra “I can use this,” rang true.

A white beach at which I got crisped most redly.

A white beach at which I got crisped.

The trip began with an air of depression – the way any rom-com might start – for like I said, I was traveling solo. I am the kind of bloke who finds himself most comfortable when sharing his experiences with a significant other. So on Day 2, our first day out on the open ocean, I swallowed whatever social anxieties I might have had and took part in events aboard the Norwegian Breakaway, meeting people who would completely change my entire trip. One or two of whom might have had a bigger impact on my life than they might realize.

I learned that being yourself really pays off, even when surrounded by people significantly more well-off than one’s self. I usually go about charming my way through life, inspired as I am by the likes of Odysseus, Locke Lamora, and other such silver-tongued individuals. Remaining uninhibited around strangers, whether they’re akin to me or not, attracts the best out of them.

I learned that my preferred means of dress – which includes a fedora and suspenders – can, in fact, attract people I am stammeringly attracted to.

I learned that going high speeds on a jet ski is how you’re supposed to do it – by cutting over the top of the waves.

I learned that I’m capable of jumping off said jet ski (while we weren’t moving), overcoming my distaste (fear?) of jellyfish (my mortal enemy) around me in deep water (my other mortal enemy) to “rescue” someone. [It was a safe situation, but I didn’t have to do what I did, and I surprised myself and the other person.]

I rediscovered my love of Trance music.

I learned that I love to dance, and don’t need alcohol to get on the dance floor anymore.

I learned that three consecutive (and relatively sleepless) nights of drinking and dancing is about the time when my body begins to rebel against me.

I learned all about Canada’s healthcare system (from a random couple on the road).

I learned that people can and do pay as much as $4000 for a 32 oz bottle of whiskey.

I learned that when you least expect it, there could be a monkey hanging right freaking behind you as you undress.

IMG_20140509_233257~2

This legit made me jump when I turned around in my room. It’s made out of towels, in case you can’t tell. Thanks, Ricardo.

But perhaps cheesiest and most hopelessly-romantic of all, I learned that there exist people in possession of traits you never thought real people had. Even if you, or they, aren’t ready for each other, just yet. It is a comforting feeling to learn that such people are not mythological, and are not merely a product of Another Head Full of Fantasy.

If I set out on a mission exclusively to write and fill up my notebooks with prose, then I failed.

But if I set out to experience life, meet people, gather and garner memories, then I succeeded.

Profoundly.

Bermuda sunset.

Bermuda sunset.

If there’s one thing I want you, dear readers, to take away from this, it’s that there is no substitute for experience. I know I get up on my proverbial soapbox about that a lot, but hey, better to lead by example.

If you’ve had any profound experiences – traveling or otherwise – that left your head spinning and your creative juices flowing, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

I’ll leave you today with a track from a recently discovered artist named Andrew Rayel who, as I learned over the course of the cruise, happens to be the protege of one my old favorites, Armin van Buuren. We’re talking serious Trance here.

 

ASMR Brother

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Those of you familiar with ASMR  – if you haven’t already – ought to really check it out. I wrote about it not so long ago, and if you have an affinity for audio, whether specific sounds or songs, you’re better off catching up before continuing to read this post.

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So I had an interesting conversation with my older brother of six years. He and I share a common ancestry as most brothers tend to do, and while we lead vastly different lives and offer the world vastly different personas, there are a few things in common that persist through the years.

I recently discovered something new.

So as I mentioned, I wrote about my personal discovery as a person who feels the ASMR effect. It was a sort of liberating eureka-esque moment of self-discovery.

“So THAT’S what that is!”

“There’s a name for that?”

“I thought that everyone felt that.”

Since learning and writing about it, I’ve commenced in not-so-subtle questioning of most people in my circles, questing for others who share this. It’d be too easy to just join an online forum devoted to ASMR-folk, as I’ve read there’s quite the Reddit community devoted to this. I guess I first wanted to see if there was anyone I knew who knew what the hell I was talking about before I sought the company of strangers on the internet.

I had nearly given up hope; none of my friends share this. I have met people who share my love for music, people who take their music more seriously than I do – people who want to start an indie label and others who can dance the night away at a club. No one felt the sensation that I described, though some could relate, or at least pretend to understand.

“It’s like chills,” I usually say. “Goosebumps, but in a good way. Been described as an ear-gasm or a brain-gasm — though it’s nothing actually sexual.”

Often I have to hastily add the last part since some peeps have actually suppressed laughing at me, supposedly experienced listeners who frown on my apparent lack of fandom for bands like the Beatles or Nirvana.

The thing about ASMR that I’ve discovered is that it does not necessarily cater to a specific genre, much less a band. Heck, when I’m feeling nihilisitic I’ll listen to Nine Inch Nails, because I like ’em in those moods, but none of their music gives me the ASMR effect. For me, at the risk of repeating myself too often, the effect is generated from music or cognitive connections — usually the music paints a scene in my mind, or delivers me to a sort of zone, and often enough the music will lay the foundation for thoughts that lead to creative eureka-isms, which trigger ASMR as well. No one I’ve spoken to shared this experience.

Except my brother.

Let’s call him Forest so that you don’t know his real name is Forest. He’s six years older than me, has a family, a stable job, and was a huge influence on my gamer-upbringing as well as my musical tastes when I was a sprout. We have the kind of peculiar standoffish-yet-close relationship where we’re comfortable and share many things in common, but personal issues are usually something that are not brought up between us. I suppose that’s a long story in its own right.

And yet, I tentatively brought up the topic of ASMR one day, and lo and behold, he understood what I meant. It was a little different for him, but he knew. He described it precisely as others have, including myself, a sort of “chill” at the nape of the neck, sometimes running down the spine. Triggered by sound.

For him, it’s more specific sound effects, to which I can totally relate. You know that “sonic bomb” as used in Star Wars: Episode II, that Jango Fett uses in the asteroid field?

I could not find any audio clips of it. But it’s pretty nifty. Something not altogether different from the Inception Sound.

While the ASMR effect is something not terribly inclusive, it is a growing phenomena. There’s no knowing what percentage of the population has it, since most people who do didn’t, as my and my brother, have a name for the sensation.

What I do know is that this stuff has the makings of some excellent story elements. A nacent sense that only some people possess? Sounds like a mutation or a manifestation of magic in another setting, if you ask me.

Booktrack Studio Discovery

This is totally a shout out for a really interesting thing that, you’ll soon find, is completely up my alley.

If you’re anything like me, or have at least read my previous posts about sound or soundtracks while reading/writing, then you might find yourself as interested as I am.

Booktrack is an organization that specializes in integrating sounds and music into one’s ebook reading experience. In other words, they allow true ambiance to be heard as you read, which is seriously something I’ve been doing by myself for years. The difference, though, between me renaming my mp3’s for my personal amusement (and inspiration) and Booktrack’s methods is that Booktrack will allow for triggered events and synced sound — as you read whatever ebook, it’ll calculate your reading speed as you go, and the sounds you hear as you go will be heard at the appropriate times, based on what page and where you are in the book.

There’s an excellent demonstration here, as well as an accompanying TED talk.

Turn the page and perhaps the scene changes from one character’s perspective inside a jail cell to someone else’s outdoors in the forest — one might hear dripping water, clanging iron doors and the distant footsteps of jailor’s boots. Turn the page, hear wind through the leaves, birds in the branches and crickets in the grass.

Do you have a playlist for your writing, or your reading? Do you pick and choose various bits of ambiance to have going in the background as you do, well, life? Well I do, and the fact that this sort of thing is becoming a thing really has me excited. The best audiobook experiences I’ve had were the ones that were more akin to audiodramas, with bits of music or occasional sound effects to really spice up the listen. When I read, when I write, when I create or otherwise experience life, I like to have as many senses engaged as possible, and while I’ve heard of people who prefer to read in complete silence, hey, more power to ’em — but I don’t get it, personally. Clearly, things like Booktrack are not for those folks.

I suppose it’s akin to listening to music with words while reading/writing — something I utterly cannot do — yet I’ve read and heard of folks who do so without issue. Stephen King comes to mind, stating in his book On Writing that he’ll have classic rock playing in the background while working. When I hear words, I generally can’t focus, or sometimes will end up typing the words I hear by accident. How he (and anyone else like him) can do that is beyond me, but then again most music that people listen to is beyond me anyway.

At any rate, Bookrack is something I really dig, and plan to get invested in in the near-future. They currently have a whole list of public-domain books available for download, so you can check out and see what it’s like most easily. In addition, they’ve got a feature that actually lets you try it out for yourself, either with a story already available or with one of your own.

I am so on this.

Today’s track, in the event that I apparently haven’t shared it in the past already, is a 40-minute-ish bit from Skyrim (also known as the Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), one of the best atmospheric tracks I’ve found. Play this if you need a mood-setter for traveling in the wilderness, whether your character is a beast, a hunter, or nature itself.

Happy writing, dear readers!