One of my favorite things about this book is getting to know the Gentleman bastards as children and as they grow older. Obviously, I love that the flashbacks let me see Calo, Galdo, and Chains again, but I also love how they shed so much light on who the Gentleman Bastards are today.
The Thorn of Camorr
"The Rose of the Marrows, they'll say...."
"Are we all going to need stupid nicknames, then?" said Calo. "We could be...the Shrubs of the North."
"The Weeds of Vintila," said Galdo.
"And if you're a rose," said Caldo, "Lock's going to need something as well."
"He can be a tulip..."
"...Nah, if she's the rose, he can he her thorn. The Thorn of Camorr! Now that's got some shine to it!"
"That's the dumbest f---ing thing I've ever heard," said Locke.
Isn't it great how the fabled Thorn of Camorr actually originated as a bunch of Sanza nonsense? Locke's reaction is priceless, considering how we know things turn out. It's interesting to think about what changed to make Locke so proud to be called the Thorn. Maybe once Sabetha left, he still wanted to cling to some part of the past where they were still linked. Or maybe keeping the name was one big "eff you" to Sabetha after she left, showing her how good the Gentleman Bastards can be without her. Or maybe I'm just reading too much into it and the name is nothing but the product of good old Sanza rumors.
In any case, I love that the name that is spoken in hushed whispers and becomes the stuff of legends has such mundane origins. Clearly the Sanzas are great at cooking up a story when they set their minds to it!
The Day Chains Blew Up
"you are not ordinary. You can pass for servants, farmers, merchants, nobles; you have the poise and manners for any station. If I hadn't let you grow so callow, you might realize what an unprecedented personal freedom you all possess...I'll be damned before I'll let you forget what a gift you've been given in one another" p248, UK paperback of Republic of ThievesFather Chains is really a saint. Not only does he raise a bunch of unruly kids who are convinced they're the cleverest creatures to ever walk the earth, he does it well. I must say, even if his methods are rather...unconventional, Chains does a fantastic job of licking the Bastards into shape when they need it.
The Gentleman Bastards have had an eventful childhood, to say the least, but Chains is right: until this point, they have never had to fully rely on one another. Sure, they stand up for each other against the other gangs and pull odd jobs, but they don't fully trust each other or believe in what they can do. It's fitting that they have to leave Camorr to find themselves and their trust in one another; it's a remarkably true, if cliche, statement that we don't realize what we have until it's lost. Without Chains to guide them and keep them from tearing at each others' throats, the Gentleman Bastards have to...well, grow up.
I thought it was interesting that Chains said he'd given them "unprecedented personal freedom" and then followed it with telling them that they were gifts to each other. It seems counter-intuitive that they only way you'd have total freedom is by leaning on other people, but it kind of makes sense. Together, the Gentleman Bastards can do anything they set their minds to: freedom. If only they realized how lucky they really were!
It's kind of sad that Sabetha later dismisses Chain's upbringing as instilling weakness in all of them. She says Chains weakened them by giving them a streak of kindness and mercy. I can see how she might wish she were more cut-throat, considering the ruthlessness of most of the other Right People, but how dare she think of her kindness as a weakness? It's part of the freedom that Chains talked about, and the ability to trust and lean on other people. Now that Sabetha has left the Gentleman Bastards, maybe she feels like it's weakness to rely on anyone, but the fact that she calls her innate moral compass a liability still makes me so angry!
The Awkward Teenage Years, and Growing Up
I really like that the flashbacks of this book are full of the Gentleman Bastards' awkward teenage years. Usually in fantasy stories, the main characters are either teenagers that need to grow up instantly when thrown into horrific circumstances or world-weary adults that have traumatic pasts or troubling futures. There's not much room for just normal growing up when you are off on life-endangering magical quests and epic scale wars.
One of the things I love about this series is that the main characters are all just normal people*. No one is a "Chosen One" or has magical powers (outside of the Bondsmagi), and all the characters have time to enjoy life and play pranks on each other and be stupid angsty teenagers. There's nothing romanticized about any of this; we see the hormones raging (Locke's dreams, Sabetha's temper...) and we see how absurd it is that the Sanza twins are trying their hardest to create their own individual identities. We empathize with the characters because we have/had our own insecurities growing up and we know how things that seem so stupid in retrospect can seem absolutely life-altering, but we don't actually think they're being reasonable.
I think that's one of the hardest things for an author to pull off: showing a character being angsty and stupid without making the reader think you're condoning that behavior. This comes into play with adult Locke as well, but more on that later. I think it's really hard to create the difference between what a character thinks about a situation and how the author wants you to perceive the situation, but Scott Lynch does it really well! I'm mostly think of YA paranormals and contemporaries, where angsty teenagers seem to be the norm and stupid/stalkerish/violent behavior is often portrayed as something attractive. In those cases, the angsty hormonal teenager makes some questionable decisions but we're supposed to root for them anyway and not think too hard about how unhealthy or ridiculous things are.
I guess what I'm trying (and probably failing to say) is that I like that Scott Lynch isn't afraid to take his characters down a peg. We have grown to love the Gentleman Bastards, but we can still see that they are flawed and perfectly human. We see adult Jean yelling at Locke about wanting to die when they're adults, and then a few pages later an ashamed Locke apologizing. These are characters who are always growing up, and it's great because it brings to mind this gem of a quote:
*Okay fine, debatable, but we can discuss next week!