A Few Thoughts on Sabetha Belacoros

After two novels and over 1200 pages, Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series finally introduces the mysterious Sabetha to the stage in Republic of Thieves. And she is well worth the wait.

The set-up to Sabetha’s introduction is as concerning as it is intriguing. In the first two books, all we learn is that she’s the only female Gentleman Bastard, she vanished a couple of years ago, and Locke is desperately, endlessly, head-over-heels in love with her. This set-up leaves us dying to meet this mysterious woman who had such an impact on Locke’s life, but it also creates the potential for some unfortunate tropes. Sabetha is the only woman Locke could possibly ever love, perfection herself, so flawless and heartbreaking that she can never even be mentioned in Locke’s presence. Locke puts her on a pedestal and worships at her feet, and there was always a risk that Sabetha would be presented in the same way, as an ideal for Locke to love, and not a character in her own right.

Thank god that wasn’t the case. The Sabetha who appears in Republic of Thieves is far from somebody’s goddess to worship. Someone on Goodreads called her a “stuck up bitch,” and that, I think, is one of the clearest statements that she doesn’t fit the sexist perfect-love-interest trope. She’s a bitch because she rejects a lot of Locke’s nonsense, makes explicitly feminist statements, and demands respect as an individual, and not just as a love interest. She takes 1200 pages of worshipful mysterious build-up and knocks it all aside with harsh, vibrant, wonderful reality.

She is, first and foremost, a human being in her own right. She remains somewhat mysterious, since we (with one exception) only ever see her from Locke or Jean’s point of view. But she’s clever, quick-witted and resourceful. She’s a bit ruthless, but she also has a sense of humor. She has relationships and friendships outside Locke, and she also has many fears and failures of her own. But she’s most notable for the way she challenges Locke’s obsession and subverts the narrative tropes of the perfect love interest — not by actually being a terrible person, but by simply being a person.

She calls Locke out on his bullshit again and again and again. She rejects him for fetishizing her red hair, despite the fact that she hasn’t had red hair for almost as long as he’s known her. She laughs at the idea that he could be in love with her when they’ve barely even spoken. She’s terrified of feeling like she’s being forced to love Locke, because they grew up fairly isolated, and he loved her from the beginning, and she was the only girl around. She finds his declarations that he’s loved her since he first saw her at five years old weird and a little bit creepy. Every time he attempts to put her on a pedestal, both in flashbacks and in the “present day” narrative, she kicks the pedestal over, and then kicks him too for good measure. She will not be a fetishized ideal. She will be a person, and she will have her own story and make her own decisions.

And Sabetha’s protests appear to be legitimized by the narrative itself. She isn’t presented negatively because she refuses to support Locke’s idolizing of her. In fact, the twist at the end of the novel, where Locke may have loved her from childhood because he’s the reincarnation of a crazy sorcerer who couldn’t get over his red-headed wife’s death and tried to raise her from the grave, supports a lot of Sabetha’s concerns. It’s not normal or healthy to glimpse a girl’s red-headed roots when you’re five and be desperately in love with her for the rest of eternity, putting her before all others and still mourning her and her perfection five years after she disappeared. It’s not a realistic love story, and it certainly doesn’t recognize the individualism of the girl herself. And so the novel presents it as something concerning, something potentially supernatural and definitely creepy… he may never have fallen for Sabetha because of who she really is. He may just have fallen for that glimpse of red hair.

All in all, it’s a refreshing challenge to the old fantasy tropes. My only complaint is that Sabetha vanished again at the end of the novel. The one thing this series lacks is a lasting female protagonist, and I would love the chance to see more of Sabetha as a scheming Gentleman Bastard, and not just as Locke’s unattainable love. Hopefully it won’t be another two books before we see her again.

07 comments on “A Few Thoughts on Sabetha Belacoros

  • deery , Direct link to comment

    He may not only have fallen in love with her because of her red hair, the concern is also that she very well may actually *be* the reincarnated wife, as Locke may be the reincarnated husband.

  • D , Direct link to comment

    I’m glad she found the whole “falling in love at first sight at age five” thing creepy, because I’ve always felt the same way. One example in particular that stands out, both because it’s most recent and also most popular, is Peeta from the Hunger Games. I always felt his admiration of Katniss was creepy and a bit stalkerish, not that romantic at all.

  • AC Earing , Direct link to comment

    The best part of your read of Sabetha, is the fact that she is creeped out by Locke’s unearned and unchallenged adoration of her. The worst part is that you don’t mention her genuine effort to try to work with Locke regarding his feelings for her. In her own words, her feelings towards Locke are “complicated.” I’m sure most women have encountered the pedestal that love-dumb guys put them on, and being a guy who painfully but thankfully worked through a similar COMPLEXITY, this dynamic is truly normal (not acceptable, and certainly worth embedding in relationships between characters! What I find awesome about Sabetha, very much in line with your read on her, is that she is frought with insecurity-driven behavior. Her jealousy that Locke is the leader of a gang that SHE felt was hers to lead is a feeling that many people can relate to… just look at job satisfaction relative to ambition in our everyday world. I also see in her the struggle that many go through regarding “fairness.” It isn’t fair that she was born red-headed in a world that would mark her as an object, it isn’t fair that she competes with males in a male biased/dominated world, yet she is driven regardless of burning over the many inequities around her. As for her lack of prominence as a protagonist in the story, I put her on par with Jean. The story could be rearranged such that Jean is the long lost beloved homie, and Sabetha is stuck having to pull Locke or of his self deprecating stupors, his tight jams that his big mouth and shady deals get him into, but then we’d see the story as a disfunctional and abusive relationship and tire quickly of the story. OR, their relationship would balance each other just right and they’d have beautiful sunsets and pina coladas while romancing a stone! Blech! Considering the story is about Locke and his bromance, Jean, Sabetha is simply NOT a worthy protagonist… her purpose is for Locke’s pain.

    What COULD be cool, is if she WAS the protagonist of her own story a la Huck Finn to Twains Tom Sawyer! I don’t want to say spin off, as that might be derogatory somehow, but what if (I’m pretty sure this author is planning on seven books in this series, so it could be one of the seven or it’s own series) The Rose of Camorr was weighted down with a tragic love conflict in her endeavors to build her empire?

    Hey, aren’t YOU a writer? Let me know when the story comes out…

  • AC Earing , Direct link to comment

    The best part of your read of Sabetha, is the fact that she is creeped out by Locke’s unearned and unchallenged adoration of her. The worst part is that you don’t mention her genuine effort to try to work with Locke regarding his feelings for her. In her own words, her feelings towards Locke are “complicated.” I’m sure most women have encountered the pedestal that love-dumb guys put them on, and being a guy who painfully but thankfully worked through a similar COMPLEXITY, this dynamic is truly normal (not acceptable, and certainly worth embedding in relationships between characters! What I find awesome about Sabetha, very much in line with your read on her, is that she is frought with insecurity-driven behavior. Her jealousy that Locke is the leader of a gang that SHE felt was hers to lead is a feeling that many people can relate to… just look at job satisfaction relative to ambition in our everyday world. I also see in her the struggle that many go through regarding “fairness.” It isn’t fair that she was born red-headed in a world that would mark her as an object, it isn’t fair that she competes with males in a male biased/dominated world, yet she is driven regardless of burning over the many inequities around her. As for her lack of prominence as a protagonist in the story, I put her on par with Jean. The story could be rearranged such that Jean is the long lost beloved homie, and Sabetha is stuck having to pull Locke or of his self deprecating stupors, his tight jams that his big mouth and shady deals get him into, but then we’d see the story as a disfunctional and abusive relationship and tire quickly of the story. OR, their relationship would balance each other just right and they’d have beautiful sunsets and pina coladas while romancing a stone! Blech! Considering the story is about Locke and his bromance, Jean, Sabetha is simply NOT a worthy protagonist… her purpose is for Locke’s pain.

    What COULD be cool, is if she WAS the protagonist of her own story a la Huck Finn to Twains Tom Sawyer! I don’t want to say spin off, as that might be derogatory somehow, but what if (I’m pretty sure this author is planning on seven books in this series, so it could be one of the seven or it’s own series) The Rose of Camorr was weighted down with a tragic love conflict in her endeavors to build her empire?

    Hey, aren’t YOU a writer? Let me know when the story comes out…

What do you think?

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