Lynch ran his fingers through his hair and groaned, then looked up at the figure of Locke Lamora leaning casually, against the mantel. “OK,” Lynch said. “So I’ve got to get you cured of that incurable poison I saddled you with at the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies, transport you and Jean to a brand new setting, and figure out some grand, complex con — grander and more complex than the last one — for you to run while you’re there?”
Locke swirled the wine around in the glass he held in his right hand, looking morosely into its dark depths. “Don’t forget introducing Sabetha.”
Lynch groaned again. “Right. The mysterious love of your life and equal to your own not-inconsiderable skills whom I’ve built up to such a degree she’ll never match the readers’ expectations.”
“She might surprise you. She always does me.”
“Oh, but that’s not hard.” Sabetha dropped down lightly from where she’d been clinging among the rafters. She took the goblet from Locke’s suddenly stilled hand. “But I’m afraid he’s right. Even I have to say, I am a bit disappointing.” She took a sip of the wine, its red a darker shade of her flowing hair. “Or at least, my older self is. I’m kind of fond of my younger self. In fact, I think those flashback scenes were some of my favorite parts of the story.”
“Um, well.” Locke noticed his hand was still shaped around a wine glass he was no longer holding. He raised it to pull at his collar. “Err.”
“Great. Are we going to have another scene where he stares at you all besotted, unable to speak, while you club him over the head with this strange relationship you two have?” Jean moved his heavy bulk out of the shadows near the door. “Because while I did enjoy the first few, it eventually gets a little wearisome.”
“It’s called drawing things out,” Lynch said, a bit defensively.
“Yeah, well. I’m no artist,” Jean replied. “But it seems to me you drew a mural when a simple canvas painting would have sufficed.”
“Jean’s right,” Locke murmured. “He’s not an artist.” He sighed. “But he’s also right that mine and Sabetha’s little dance gets played out a bit too much, with a bit too much repetition. In fact, the whole thing’s too long, I’d say by at least a hundred and fifty pages. It especially starts to flag after the first 350 pages or so. A good con man knows you can spin a story too long.”
“And are you a good con man, Locke?” Sabetha asked, smiling, but with a bit of bite behind the smile.
“For the love of the Crooked God,” Jean said, shaking his head.
Sabetha laughed. “Sorry Jean, force of habit.” She turned to Lynch. “I hate to say it, but even Locke here gets some things right.” Locke stood a bit taller. “It is too long. It does slow down past the middle. And did we really need quite so much of the play and the rehearsals?”
Lynch looked stricken. “You didn’t like the play?”
“No, I actually thought it was very well written, some of the best writing in the book to be honest. I mean, it felt like a real play and all. And I liked how it sort of paralleled what was going on. But a little goes a long way, you know? But beside that, the whole underlying premise felt a bit creaky. I mean, I enjoyed setting us up as rivals, but did it have to be in a competition over an election?”
Lynch shrugged. “Well I couldn’t have the stakes too high. It isn’t like you two would have done anything to endanger the other.”
Sabetha smiled that tight smile again. “You’d be surprised at what I’d be willing to do to Locke here.” She pointed behind her without turning around. “Quit smirking Locke. And control yourself; I can hear the threads in your breeches stretching from here.” She dropped her hand. “The problem Lynch is just that; you didn’t give us any danger. No peril. You’ve got to admit, it robs the book of a bit of suspense. And our tactics were too, too… “
“Juvenile?” Jean proffered.
“Childish?” Locke said. “Frat-boyish? Obvious? Unoriginal? Too quickly introduced and discarded as if they were just filler?”
“Don’t try so hard, Locke.” Sabetha interrupted. “It isn’t charming.”
“I did send the three of you into the homeland of the bondsmagi.” Lynch said. “And made them your employers. They’re scary and dangerous.”
“They’re goddamn arrogant pissholes who treat the world like their gameboard is what they are,” Locke bit off.
“See,” Lynch began, but Locke continued.
“But after the first few dozen pages they also disappear for almost the entire book, until that one witch bitch shows up at the very end to drop a hell of a twist in the whole thing, and I’m still by the way not sure at all about how I feel about that. Sure, it shows you’re playing a hell of a long game, at least I think that’s what it shows, but on the other hand, that whole bit about my…”
“Plus,” Sabetha said, “That other guy who just at the end up and…”
Jean moved further out of the shadows and Locke and Sabetha could see him fingering the blade of one of his Wicked Sisters. “No spoilers, guys. I’m with you on some of the ending issues, but no spoilers.”
“Fine. Fine.” Lynch muttered. “Sabetha was a bit disappointing after all the build-up, save for the early days when she and Locke grew up together. The story was too long and the pacing problematic, though you did like the flashbacks and back-and-forth structure. There was too much of the play, even if Sabetha thought it was well done, but not enough suspense or sense of danger. The Bondsmagi do have a few good moments and do open up things for the future. But you’ve got some concerns about their big reveal at the end and when the…” He stopped as Jean edged closer. “Um, well, you’ve got issues with the end. Anything else to say?”
The three looked at each other a moment.
“The banter’s pretty good.” Locke and Jean said simultaneously, just as Sabetha said, “I liked the bantering.” All three looked at each other again, then laughed, joined a moment later by Lynch.
“OK,” Lynch eventually said. “I’ll make sure to keep the banter next time. Ungrateful Bastards.”
“That’s ‘Gentleman Bastards’ if you please” Locke said. “Now who’s got that goddamn bottle of wine?”