What Went Wrong With The Gentlemen Bastard Series?

When The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch was released in 2006 it was a massive hit. Not only did it become a bestseller, but it is also considered something of a modern classic. It won high praise and Lynch was counted among the most promising writers in the fantasy field, standing shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss and Joe Abercrombie. This was an amazing achievement for a first novel, so expectations were high for the rest of the series. Did we have a new classic before us?

Yet, the follow-up books were something of a disappointment. Instead of soaring high, the rest of the series went downhill. Complaints began to pile up about the flaws in the newer books and even fans admitted some problems. Something was missing, some of the brilliance had been lost. Of course, all opinion is subjective and there are probably those who really liked the follow-ups. Yet no one would claim that they are as good as the first one.

Myself, I absolutely loved Lies and consider it one of my favourite novels, yet I was underwhelmed by Red Seas Under Red Skies and Republic of Thieves (although the names are fantastic). The original magic was gone and the plot seemed to wander directionless. A fourth book will soon appear and to be honest, I’m not sure if I’ll bother to buy it.

So, what happened? Where did it go wrong?


First, let’s start with what made Lies so brilliant. The characters are excellent and by far the strongest element of the entire series. Locke is a fantastic creation, both impressive with his skill and cleverness, but also sympathetic with his vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We can understand and relate to him, which makes us care about what he does. His friendship with Jean is a deep connection and the two have great chemistry together. Jean too, is not a mere sidekick but a strong character in his own right. They are believable characters, that feel real and we want to know more about.

Another element is the mixture of excitement and fun. That to me, is the core essence of Lies. It’s exciting to see Locke lie to and con from people and also lots of fun. We enjoy their clever schemes and are engaged to see if they will succeed or get caught. It’s completely entertaining. Fantasy can often be a dark genre, with the world frequently needing saving from evil, so a more mischievous adventure style is a welcome change.

It’s worth noting that to me, Lies isn’t really a fantasy book, it’s better described as a crime book. Sure, there is magic and mages but those are interruptions to life of the main characters. It’s essentially a book about a gang of thieves trying to rob people. That’s where it is at home and what it does best.

Lynch made a bold move about halfway through by killing Nazca and Capa Barsavi, which took me by surprise. Perhaps he felt the story would stagnate if Locke was stuck in Camorr, so he shook things up and moved him elsewhere. It certainly was effective and worked at the time, but I fear it might have given a short-term boost but did long-term damage. The thieving environment of Camorr is part of what made the book so great, by throwing it away, Lynch also threw away the important essence that made it a success in the first place.


This leads me to the problem I had with Red Seas. It opened well and I enjoyed Locke and Jean trying to scheme and scam the casino. This is what they (and the novels as a whole) are best at. But then the pace grinds to a halt when they (and the plot) are sent out to sea. Lynch obviously did his research for this part and pirates will always appeal, but it didn’t work in the context of the books. Locke and Jean are unable to scheme and come up with clever plots, so they are unable to be Locke and Jean. The core of the book gets cut out from it. Instead we get far too much detail of how to raise a mast and sail a ship (which crossed the line from detailed into tedious).

Each author has their own voice, their own style, that something that makes their books stand out from others. Brandon Sanderson couldn’t write a GRRM or Joe Abercrombie (and vice versa) novel not because one is better than the other, but because they have different voices and different ways of telling the story. When the plot goes to sea in Red Seas, the Gentlemen Bastards lose their voice, the unique feel of the series that makes it so good. There is a large shift in tone and the book basically jumps into another genre.

It didn’t help that the plot began to get tangled up with the characters trying to juggle about 5 different subplots simultaneously. Locke and Jean must deal with Requin (the casino owner), Stragos (the military lord), the bondmagi, their crew, then the pirates, then other pirates, plus Merrain who kills some people for unknown reasons. The shift in tone and focus is so jarring that it almost feels like several separate books combined together. The worst part was that most of the sea scene (which is basically half the book) turned out to be essentially pointless and they arrive back onshore in pretty much the same position that they left in.


This could have just been a bump on the road, if Republic of Thieves hadn’t repeated the same mistakes. I had high hopes for this as I have a huge interest in politics and was excited to finally see Sabetha. Again the book opened well and the task of deceiving voters and disrupting political rivals seemed like one with plenty of entertainment potential. Surely politics is the perfect location for some con artists? But the same problems re-appeared.

Again, the main plot turned out to be pretty pointless. Locke and Jean play one or two pranks and that’s it. They don’t actually do any electioneering or make any real impact on the result. In fact, despite being constantly out-witted, they end up inexplicably tying the contest. Then the mages reveal that they were always planning on leaving after the contest, making the election a complete waste of time. All in all, it was a disappointing and half-hearted effort.

In fact, the main plot is so weak that Lynch ends up telling the same story twice. The flashback is essentially the same plot of Locke chasing Sabetha as in the main narrative. To be honest, I thought the flashback was probably the best part of the book, which is not a good sign. It made me realise that the Gentlemen Bastards (both characters and books) are at their best when they are in Camorr. It had banter, scheming, chancing and while their backs were against the wall, the stakes and challenges were manageable and not all-powerful mages. This is what made me realise that killing the group off and leaving the city was a major mistake.

The romance with Sabetha turned out to be a missed opportunity too. We never learn why she left in the first place (other than a throwaway comment that Locke wanted things to stay the same and not change). Locke inexplicably completely forgives/forgets that she left him and even after she drugs him and imprisons him on a boat, he acts like nothing is wrong. Any normal person would be outraged at this but the relationship between the two is quite strange. It’s never really explained why they were in love (Locke loves her for her looks and it’s not said why Sabetha like him). Sabetha was basically a sister to Jean, yet they barely even speak to each other.

I actually enjoyed most of Republic up until the ending, where things unfortunately completely fell apart. For whatever reason, Lynch has decided that all the books must end with Locke and Jean fleeing a city in chaos, taking nothing with them. So the ending felt like a giant reset button had been pressed to put the characters back to where they were before they entered the city. As a result most of the events seem pointless and a waste of thing. Locke and Jean entered the city without Sabetha so (like Ezri) they must leave without her, even if this is completely inconsistent with Locke’s character (it makes no sense to chase her for the whole book before deciding that she must make up her own mind). Any flimsy excuse will do even if it’s not at all credible (why would Sabetha believe an unknown mage with a grudge against Locke?)

I’ll say little about the epilogue because it was too awful to think about (Birds? Really? Birds? That’s what defeated an incredibly powerful mage?). It all seemed like the origin scene of a cartoon supervillain. Again, it felt completely out of place in what should be a crime novel. Making Locke into the ghost of some ancient wizard completely ruins the character and left a sour taste in my mouth. The fantasy elements felt as out of place as if Sanderson wrote a book filled with Pratchett style absurd comedy or Abercrombie went to GRRM levels of world-building. Those things are good in their own place but they don’t suit the Gentlemen Bastards style of novel.

I have heard that Lynch intends these 3 books to be the backstory to Locke and that his real adventure starts later. This doesn’t defend the books, it just adds insult to injury. Sometimes it does feel as if Lynch is working off a checklist, just accumulating interesting background for later use. Perhaps a future Locke will make great use out of his knowledge of thievery, piracy and politics. If this is true, then it’s a terrible decision. The books should have their own arcs and stand on their own merits, not merely as setup for future plot points.

So that’s where I think the series went wrong. The later books are still enjoyable and by no means terrible, but there’s a large and noticeable drop in quality. The problem is that the series lost what made it so great in the first place. It lost the fun and exciting scheming of the first book, and instead got bogged down in muddled plots, poor pacing, wandering without going anywhere and bizarre magical mumbo-jumbo. Perhaps the newest addition will turn the series around, but I fear that it might just exacerbate the problems.

22 thoughts on “What Went Wrong With The Gentlemen Bastard Series?”

  1. I completely agree with everything you said. “The Lies of Locke Lamora” was fantastic! Truly a masterpiece. However, I was so disappointed with the second book. I was hoping the series would be a bunch of stand-alone heists. Instead, Jean and Locke ended up on a pirate’s ship and the story got super draggy. With the third book, I absolutely hated Sabetha and the whole plot. I hated the ending and I hate how, as you said, Locke is a “ghost of some ancient wizard”.

    1. I agree mostly with everything, except the plot of Locke’s true identity. This has had me intrigued since very early on. Everything about the Eldren pricks up my ears. Sabetha is a snooze. The fact that Lynch cannot write a maturing female character and leaves her stuck at her original 12 or 13 is interesting to me. I wonder if his other “ stuck” plot points have to do with the depression he has been going through. I picked Lynch because he was a young fantasy writer and I was completely disenchanted with GRRM. Jokes on me though, going younger doesn’t get more books to read necessarily.

  2. Lets not forget the author has not dredged up any new material. Forcing readers to stagnate and move away from his series. I know I will be shelving the series because the author does not deliver on time. As a reader who goes on his blog to see posts about him playing games instead of progress updates on his writing- it pisses me off to the extreme.

      1. It’s his prerogative to do what he wants, sure. However in every other sphere of human enterprise, if your customers tell you that they’ve been waiting a long time and now they don’t intend to continue buying from you because they can see you’re just wasting your own time and theirs, that’s pretty universally considered to be how to kill your business. The music industry is similarly littered with bands who couldn’t make a second album. In music terms, Scott Lynch could have been the next Queen; now he’d be lucky to be remembered as the next Chesney Hawkes. One good record, then “whatever happened to him”. For myself I may, just may, buy the next Lynch book if it ever appears. Martin and Rothfuss, I’ve simply stopped caring.

      2. To hell with this line of thought. Any author who starts a series and decides it’s ok to take 10 years between books, while they trot about and make money off fans in other enterprises, are worthy of criticism and scorn.

  3. I somewhat disagree with the article, I only found out about the books this year and just read one after another so maybe my view is somewhat skewed as I didn’t really spend a long time reflecting on each book in their own right before moving on to the next.

    The problems I have with the books are:
    1) I don’t like how everything returns to the status quo at the end of each novel, it stops a feeling of growth/change.
    2) The whole Locke, feeling sorry for himself and wanting to die etc gets annoying pretty quickly and I feel like it was somewhat repeated in books two and three.
    3) The election did feel like a missed opportunity and didn’t make much sense. I mean Locke’s trick with the boat was fun and all but why was it 9-10 in the first place Sabetha seemed to be constantly winning and tricking Locke. Locke makes a big deal of Sabetha having a two day head start initially but then she gets about 6 or 7 days with Locke and Jean away and does nothing with it? Also all the election manipulation seemed to come down to pranks.
    4) There are probably some other minor points but that’s the main things.

    However, there are many things I actually like about the books. The thing I like most about this series compared to many is that characters act in a way that makes sense to them. For example in book 1 Locke punches an old lady in the face to escape – it makes sense that she would feel safe with him, she thinks he is some kind or educated criminal with some honour, they are at the top of a tower with guards all around and he has no escape but it also makes sense for him to punch her as it his only possible way of getting out alive. there are many other examples of this kind of thing.

    In book 3 we see a similar thing with the way Patience treats Locke. She tells Locke many things and says to trust her as she could basically do anything she wanted to so there is no reason for her to lie. In most novels when a character acts in this way we are supposed to take everything they say as fact. However, in the Gentlemen Bastard books it should never be assumed that a character is telling the truth when it makes more sense from their point of view to lie. Patience says Sabetha left Locke of her own free will … why should we believe it? I mean wouldn’t it make more sense for Patience to adjust Sabetha to hate Locke, after all Patience wants to punish Locke. It hurts Locke to think that Sabetha left of her own choice when actually it is possible that Sabetha has no choice at all. Further Patience tells Locke he is a wizard ghost, I agree its kinda dumb but as Jean points out why should we believe it? what actual evidence does Patience show, basically nothing she easily could be making the whole thing up just to fuck with Locke.

    Also regarding the bird attack at the end it actually does make sense in the context of the book. The Falconer had to act quickly before Patience disappeared or found out he had gotten his magic back. Patience has no reason to think she will be attacked so her guard might be down. As shown in Book 1 if you surprise a bonds mage and incapacitate them before they have a chance to defend themselves then you can get the better of them. If you had about 100 birds trying to claw you to death you would be fucked.

    1. I agree with your analysis, for one, since there are 3 books out now the story needs to be look at as a series or a continuity not as individual stories.

      1. I respectfully disagree. They are stand alone story, the only things that remains after each book are two characters, if that. Then hit restart but don’t forget to hit reset at the end.

  4. I liked the 3 books personally, maybe the first one was better. However the third one started a very interesting plot and i am really waiting to see how Locke will deal with his unwilled past 😀

    The 3 books are starting to create a lot of plots, in différents towns, with a lot of different people, I hope it will get more and more complicated for them to handle everything like in the “Lies of Locke Lamora” !

  5. For what it is worth, I entirely disagree. I slogged through Lies, and didn’t much enjoy the experience. The characters were great, however, and I returned to finish off the series following a very long break. The second and third books were far more enjoyable, chiefly because they focused on a tighter cast of characters, and I felt the mechanics of the con (the various stages and details) occupied a larger element of the plot.

  6. Hi Robert! First time here, and I have to say I think you absolutely hit the nail on the head with this post. I too believe that, unfortunately, Lynch ditched everything that made The Lies of Locke Lamora so good: the intricate cons and crimes the plot revolved around, the setting of Camorr and all its exciting possibilities and the Gentleman Bastards themselves. I agree that leaving Camorr may have been a good move (maybe an inevitable one) at some point in order to progress with the story, but I felt like so much charm was lost when that happened.
    In addition to this, I feel like the second and third books suffer from a loss of focus, not only with regards to genre and the whole “thieves-pirates-magic-politics” affair you mention, but also with regards to who the main character even is. On the first book we have a narrative which largely focuses on Locke; he is presented as a charismatic protagonist and we immediately become interested in him and want to know more about this Shades’ Hill orphan who became the charming leader of a group of thieves who seems able to outwit even the most powerful people in Camorr. However, on Red Seas (and the Republic, although to a lesser degree, I believe) the main narrative focus is often shifted towards Jean. This wouldn’t have been a problem had it been done proper, maybe as a way to add depth to the character, maybe to spice things up by turning him into a new (or temporary) protagonist. But actually the shift is never complete and I don’t think it is purposeful at all, and the result of these haphazard changes of perspective is simply a mess where neither character is really the main character and where we go chapters on end wondering what Locke is up to and why we’re suddenly reading the Jean Tannen Chronicles. I wonder if you felt the same way?
    It does say a lot the fact that what I enjoyed the most about The Republic of Thieves were the flashbacks. The Lies of Locke Lamora is by no means a perfect book (I find the prose rather clumsy), but it is undeniable that Lynch built a world, a series of characters and even a genre (was “fantasy heist” a thing before?) with loads of potential that were not taken full advantage of in books 2 and 3. Unfortunately, some of these elements are now gone forever, or relegated to flashback material, but hopefully we’ll see more of what made the Lies such a good read in the coming books.

  7. What let the series down for me was the move from Camorr– with nowhere equal to replace it. I think the decisions to kill Nazca and the other Bastards was a good move– for the first novel taken on its own. It had enormous emotional impact to raise the stakes (oh, Bug! Normally I dislike child characters but I still get upset about you).

    Camorr however was so much her own person that in a way, the city was a vital character in the novel. At least half the opening paragraphs of every scene are about Camorr, her districts, her people and history, and the gorgeous mystery of her elderglass and the Eldran that left it there. It wasn’t just a backdrop but an active participant that helped drive the story. The whole time I listened to Michael Page’s excellent reading I was desperate to see more of the world. So much love and imagination went into the world-building of Camorr that I reached the ending of Lies with real excitement.

    Instead… Tal Verrar. I got no impression of the deep love for worldbuilding and the unique character Lynch displayed with Camorr. Even the wonderfully mysterious Sea of Brass felt shallow: it’s a pirate ridden sea. You have watched Curse of the Black Pearl, yes? Well, fill in the blanks. There was only one moment that recalled the passion which was in the first novel for me, when the ship passes a mysterious ghostly something on its way into port, and even that ended with a gurgle.

    I gave up Red Seas when the betrayal foreshadowed in the prologue and set up through the entire first act turned out to be a three minute long ruse. I felt as if I’d been clickbaited into reading the book and I was so furious I gave up on the series. Perhaps I had too much faith, as other people say they found it obvious, but it cemented my opinion that Lies is a brilliant standalone which never needed a sequel in the first place.

  8. I also agree with everything but add my huge annoyance at the start of Republic of Thieves. At the beginning it explains how Locke fell in love with Sabetha before meeting father chains. However in Lies of Locke Lamora at the first dinner father Chains and the Sanza twins talk about their only female member called Sabetha. It really kills some of it for me.

  9. Disagree with most of this review of the Gentlemen Bastards series. Lynchs character development is nothing short of fantastic. Moving Locke and Jeane from Commor opened an opportunity for more of Lynchs creative characters to be brought to life. Also the sea battles gave the reader an unprecedented and breathtaking adventure. The reader could feel the spray off the hulls and made the complex tacking of ships to get in position for in your face fighting. The plots of the later books were layered and the energy was palpable.

  10. A very well written review. I think you’re spot on. I think part of the problem was the timing of the naval/nautical training in the overall plot. As you say, shifting from a very competent pair of characters in the casino early on to a pair of incompetent characters much later is a bit of a letdown. And while the story tries to compensate for its weaker plots with “more subplots,” more of the same doesn’t change what it is.
    Not to mention that the first book had such a large cast of colorful characters, while the later books isolate the team to Jean and Locke.
    In some ways I commend the author for trying to do something different in each book, but it does feel like their motivation stemmed from a general desire to “avoid what they had done before” instead of “explore something they were passionate about,” and I think that’s part of why the later books seem to feel like the old patterns poking through a new canvas.
    In some ways I wonder if it would have been better if the author wrote “Lies of Lock Lemora” and then gave themselves the freedom to write other stories. The choice to commit themselves to a protracted series so early on in their writing career seems a little premature.
    In any case, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It’s always engaging to enjoy a bit of quasi “back and forth” reading what others have written and comparing them to my own thoughts.

  11. I completely agree with Robert Nielson. It was as though , we are reading a different novel by a different author just having the same names of the characters of ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’. I appreciate Lynch’s idea to change the location from Camorr, but the story lost its charm, when it went to sea. I started to feel like reading a textbook. I think Lynch started to pour all his research without sieving and sifting into this book, failing to estimate how much a reader can take without marring the charm of the story. As long as Locke remains a charming rascal making miracles we are absorbed in the story. When he struggles like ordinary men, then the purpose is lost.
    Next, Locke’s love affair. It is neither charming nor engaging. As much Locke doggedly follows her, we start hating her. Then the magic aspect. Though seems to inspire awe, I don’t see any sense in it. I can’t figure out anything from the magis. Lynch could have avoided that.
    The third book is completely a buffoonery. It tried my patience and left me embarrassed. I wish to think ‘The Lies of Locke Lamor’ is a stand alone book.

  12. Robert Nielson has given a wonderful review. I completely agree with him. It was as though , we are reading a different novel by a different author just having the same names of the characters of ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’. I appreciate Lynch’s idea to change the location from Camorr, but the story lost its charm, when it went to sea. I started to feel like reading a textbook. I think Lynch started to pour all his research without sieving and sifting into this book, failing to estimate how much a reader can take without marring the charm of the story. As long as Locke remains a charming rascal making miracles we are absorbed in the story. When he struggles like ordinary men, then the purpose is lost.
    Next, Locke’s love affair. It is neither charming nor engaging. As much Locke doggedly follows her, we start hating her. Then the magic aspect. Though seems to inspire awe, I don’t see any sense in it. I can’t figure out anything from the magis., why Patience saves Locke, when she wants revenge. It just remains a ‘boogeyman’ threat. Lynch could have avoided that.
    The third book is completely a buffoonery. It tried my patience and left me embarrassed. I wish to think ‘The Lies of Locke Lamor’ is a stand alone book.
    Above all, we expect Locke and Jean should get some profit from their enterprises, but every book ends with them empty handed and burning the boats behind them barring access to those places again. That is highly depressing.
    True, Lynch has done a lot of research about pirates, politics , thievery etc. It shows in his books. But it also drags the story, where it should have galloped. Lynch makes his hero assume a lot of characters like Kvothe of ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’, but from the start Rothfuss prepares his readers to digest and enjoy Kvothe’s multi-dimensional personality. In every role Kvothe shines where Locke miserably struggles and make us wince. Locke is already a thief, con artist, cardshark, sailor, stage actor and going to become a soldier in his next book. What more we are going to see him as? A scholar, magician and what else? God grant us a lot of patience and tolerance.

  13. Agree. After rereading Red Seas, it makes no real sense. The ending seems rushed and really contrived. Hell the whole rob the sinspire plot is kind of dumb honestly. Several, too many, times in that book alone Locke (and by extension Jean) get really lucky. Look at it, read it. They succeed at their plots against the sinspire and the Archon through sheer dumb luck. Granted they planned certain things, but it’s luck, or grace of the gods that actually win them the day.

    Republic of Theives was OK. The flashback story was certainly better. I’m thinking that killing Calo and Galdo off in book 1 was a huge mistake. Their presence could have helped big time to inject some humor in to both follow up novels.

  14. I have to agree, at least so far. I loved the first book and I am now midway in the second. It started off great just as pointed out but this sudden excursion to the sea is not working for me. It feels like Locke and Jean are doing too much of a juggling act and are being bounced around by their employers. No doubt they will emerge victorious in the end (and I am excited to see how!) but I am unable to see a larger plot for this book and particularly the rest of the series. I have no idea whatsoever the direction in which these books are going.

    I will be happy if all this changes in the second part of this second book and the third book.

  15. I don’t agree at all. The second book, and the third one (at least to the moment, I’m reading it right now) play a lot with what a consumate liar, conman and schemer can do when he’s out of the control of the situation. Which is a truly appropiate conflict, just like the second part of the first book. The 2nd and 3rd book are full of great characters, and while it is true that some of the gruesome and sharp quality of the first massive killing of people in the first is lost… it is very well replaced by a deeper exploration of the present relations and the impact of loss beyond anger and vengeance.
    What went wrong? They became deeper, more instrospective, fuller and paced, less flashy books. Which is NOT wrong for me.

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