Monthly Archives: March 2012

Locke Lamora Read-Along: WEEK 4

I would like to direct your attention to Chapter Eight, The Funeral Cask, the last paragraph of subchapter 2.

Read it.

Sniffle or cry your eyes out, according to your inclination.

Yes. Scott Lynch is a cruel author. I was so mad at him the first time, now I just grumble “Why? Why?” while searching for a handkerchief two chapters before anything has actually happened.

What most struck me this time around was Jean’s reaction. The silence, then dropping his hatchets… That’s more powerful than anything he could have said or deliberately done.

Also, for the first time, I realised how violated I felt, reading the description of the sacked Elderglass cavern. We get to used to the fact that no one knows where it is, that the Bastards are safe there, and then suddenly someone has been there. And then the Sanzas…

“Your moral education is over. Now you’re going to learn a thing or two about war.”

But let’s talk about some of this week’s questions, even though I’m still taking a rather liberal line with them.

Doña Vorchenza is awesome. If the movie will be made, I want her to be played by Helen Mirren. That was pretty much my first ever reaction to her. (Although I suppose I would take Maggie Smith as well.) And Doña Sofia is great, too. Actually, Lynch’s women tend to be very likable – but I think I’ll discuss that more when we read Red Seas Under Red Skies.

The idea of night tea does indeed sound more realistic than fantastic, although of course we can’t be sure it’s not something unusual in, say, Tal Verrar or Emberlain. I also came to think of morning calls (yes, my brain lives in Regency England, and does not seem inclined to move to a more contemporary setting) and how they function much in the same way as these night teas.

“I’m a Gentleman Bastard. Nobody messes with us. Nobody gets the best of us. You’re going to pay!”

Jean and his Wicked Sisters – I completely agree that is the way it feels when one finds one’s “thing”. I went through that myself, in a small but defining scale: in high school I constantly changed my mind as to what I would like to study after graduating. First it was Biology, but I got bored of it while reading for the matriculation exams. Next on my list was History, but since my interest was pretty much limited to Britain and the entrance exams were too much of a bother, I gave that up too. Then I found English Philology – and haven’t regretted a moment. I’m in the right place, doing what I want to do, and I think that’s how Jean must have felt, too: he gets the way his hatchets need to be used for maximum effect, they feel natural in his hands, they are a comforting weight when concealed under his clothes.

In the far corner of the Floating Grave’s ballroom, that particular illusion fumed silently to himself, clenching and unclenching his fists.

As an insectophobe and an aracnophobe in particular I could have done without the description of the salt devils. I don’t like to think about them much when I’m not reading. Makes my flesh creep. Had I been in that situation with Jean and Bug I would have either been completely useless or gone crazy and tried to smash the creepies with anything in my reach.

“Your pride. Justified. Gentleman… Bastard. Justified. Am I… not a second? Not… apprentice. Real Gentleman Bastard?”

“You were never a second, Bug. You were never an apprentice. You brave little idiot. You brave, stupid little bastard. This is my fault, Bug, please… please say this is all my fault.”

“No. Oh gods… hurts… hurts so much…”

If that scene did not make you at least want to cry, I don’t even know what to call you. My eyes tear up every time. Poor, poor Bug. He deserved better.

This week I had very little to say, I notice. It’s an emotional section, and it’s hard for me to concentrate on Jean’s apprenticeship at the Order of Aza Guilla and Locke’s cunning plan to get presentable clothes from Meraggio, no matter how much I like these occasions.

I also noticed yet another typo on my copy – I just love hunting those! – while starting this post. It does not say “Chapter Eight”, but “Chaper Eight”. Teehee.

Are we really down to the last section? Woah.

“Out on the town? You have a plan?”

“No. Not even a speck of one. Not the damnedest idea. But don’t all of my better schemes start like this? I’ll find an opening, somehow… and then I suppose I’ll be rash.”

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Books in March

Guess why I love March? Because it’s the first spring month! Not that it hasn’t snowed and been cold, but the sun is slowly starting to show her face for more significant amounts of time per day. Things get easier now that we get some light every day. And reading is of course much more pleasant in natural light.

Neil Gaiman: American Gods

It was high time for me to read this book. I’ve been meaning to do it for years, even bought it last year, and now I’ve finally done it!

After three years in prison, Shadow has done his time. But as the days, then the hours, then the minutes, then the seconds until his release tick away, he can feel a storm building. Two days before he gets out, his wife Laura dies in a mysterious car crash, in apparently adulterous circumstances. Dazed, Shadow travels home, only to encounter the bizarre Mr. Wednesday claiming to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America. Together they embark on a very strange journey across the States, along the way solving the murders which have occurred every winter in one small American town. But they are being pursued by someone with whom Shadow must make his peace… Disturbing, gripping and profoundly strange, Neil Gaiman’s epic new novel sees him on the road to finding the soul of America.

(Goodreads)

I admit I was slightly disappointed. I’ve heard so much good about the book, so many of my friends claim it one of the best things they have ever read, and all this praise has obviously raised my expectations too high.

Don’t misundertand: it is a good book. It is one of those reads you get to piece together as you go on, and it can be a lot of fun. There are great themes like belief, remembering your roots and sacrifice. There are great characters you grow to like. But somehow I find it hard to be excited. I was not at the edge of my seat. I did not stay up to the wee hours of the morning because I just had to read another chapter. It didn’t suck me in like I wanted it to.

* cue lych mob of Gaiman fans *

Don’t anyone be discouraged by what I have said. Neil Gaiman is not considered among the best fantasy authors of our time, nor, I am sure, is American Gods considered his best work, for nothing. It is safe to say that it’s me, not him.

Published: William Morrow 2001

Pages: 635 (Headline Review 2005 edition)

Gregory Maguire: Out of Oz

I read the first three books in the Wicked Years series a couple of years ago, when Wicked the musical was coming to Helsinki and a friend of mine wanted to see it. He had already read the books, so he made me do that too – and I’m not complaining. I had been read the Wizard of Oz when I was a kid, although the book got lost and I never got to know how it ended, and I had not seen the movie. I think this has been an interesting order to learn about the story: I feel such great sympathy towards Elphaba – the Wicked Witch of the West – that I almost cried when she died in the movie and everyone was so happy.

The marvelous land of Oz is knotted with social unrest: The Emerald City is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, Glinda is under house arrest, and the Cowardly Lion is on the run from the law. And look who’s knocking at the door. It’s none other than Dorothy. Yes, that Dorothy.

Amid all this chaos, Elphaba’s granddaughter, the tiny green baby born at the close of Son of a Witch, has come of age. Now, Rain will take up her broom in an Oz wracked by war.

(Goodreads)

I suppose I liked the book. It was slow at times almost to the point I thought I couldn’t finish, but then the action picked up again and I managed over a hundred pages without even noticing. We meet a whole lot of familiar characters, and even though I survived this read without having to re-read the three first ones, a little repetition would not have hurt. Fortunately, Maguire has taken the time between the publishing A Lion Among Men and Out of Oz to consideration and provided the readers with little family trees, timelines and summaries of previous events in the beginning of the book. In general it’s a nice book, but mostly driven by the reader’s wish to see how things end – will Shell Thropp be overthrown? What happened to Liir? To Glinda? Personally I found Liir’s daughter Rain extremely annoying for the most part of the book, so be warned.

Those who have seen/heard the music of the Broadway soundtrack can also amuse themselves spotting references to the lyrics. I found a few, a couple of them so glaring I had to put the book down for some time to let out some steam.

Published: William Morrow 2011

Pages: 578 (Headline Review 2011 edition)

Suzanne Collins: Catching Fire & Mockingjay

Of these books I won’t provide summaries, in case someone has not read the first one. Say no to spoiling!

I see very little point discussing these books completely separately, so here we go. I have heard people say that Catching Fire is the weakest book in the series, and some people say Mockingjay is the weakest. I’m inclined to think the former – Catching Fire feels like a filler between the basic construction of the plot and the real action that then takes place in Mockingjay. This is not to say it’s a bad book! I ate it up the in much the same way I did The Hunger Games. There are more characters introduced, and several of them are more interesting than the ones in the love triangle.

The way Collins handled said triangle is nice and subtle, and even though I admit I knew how it would end around the time I started Mockingjay, I could not be sure how we could get to that situation. On reflection, I also like the end of the serious extremely well, although I can see it might have disappointed a certain type of reader. To me it was believable and in a way suitably open – there’s a lot left unexplained.

I doubt I’ll reread this series (at least no time soon), but it’s great entertainment with an important message. It’s a pity Twilight took over the world instead of The Hunger Games (although now that the movie is out there is hope) – I would rather have teens reading about fighting an unfair and cruel system than about a very unhealthy relationship. (And Hunger Games is better written, too.)

Published: Scholastic 2009/2010

Pages: 391/390

Richard Morgan: Steel Remains

Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don’t know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteren of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire’s slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives…

Archeth – pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race – is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire’s borders.

Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe’s petty gods.

Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.

(richardkmorgan.com)

If the violence and sex in George R R Martin’s books offend you, or you are confused by the time jumping in The Lies of Locke Lamora, you should probably steer clear from this book.

The beginning is so very promising: it’s funny, quirky and exciting – but the fun stops pretty much there. The things introduced are left to the beginning and not returned to, not even in the end. I had great trouble remembering any other names than those of three protagonists – more or less staying in their own chapters – and was constantly confused as to who was who. The timelines were confusing for the most part, and the basic plot evaded me. There were aspects I liked, too – the beginning and the ending, the storylines that in the end intertwine – but they were pretty much killed by the effort it took me to get through these three and a half hundred pages. I even contemplated abandoning it around halfway, but decided to go through with it to see if it would get any better. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

I’m rather disappointed – I so wanted to like Richard Morgan. Maybe I’ll give a shot to his SF novels, to see if those are more to my liking.

Published: Gollancz 2008

Pages: 344 (Gollanzc 2008 hardback)

Stephanie Laurens: The Promise in a Kiss

When a handsome man literally falls at her feet while she’s walking through a moonlit convent courtyard, Helena knows he must be there for a scandalous liaison. Yet she keeps his presence a secret from the questioning nuns – and for her silence the stranger rewards her with an enticing, unforgettable kiss. What Helena does not know is that her wild Englishman is Sebastian Cynster, Duke of St. Ives.

Seven years later, Sebastian spies Helena from across a crowded ballroom. This heiress is dazzling London society with her wit and beauty, tantalising all the eligible men with the prospect of taking her hand in marriage. But Helena is not looking for just any husband. She wants an equal, a challenge – someone who can live up to the promise of that delicious, never-forgotten kiss.

(back cover of Piatkus paperback 2010)

I’d previously read only one book by Stephanie Laurens, and wasn’t much impressed by it. A couple of weeks ago, however, I got into this extensive Regency kick, and because of some decisions I have made I picked up this book along with another Regency Romance.

This one is part of the Cynster family saga. In Goodreads it has been listed as part 7.5, and in the story’s timeline it is the first one: these are the parents/grandparents of the Cynster family that is described in the series.

The Promise in a Kiss is not at all bad, as far as Regency Romances go. I don’t usually care for sex in Regencies, but here Laurens manages to handle it in a way that didn’t really bother me. (Although I wish she would not have referred to the male organ as a “staff”. It was hilarious, and I’m not at all sure that scene was supposed to be funny…)

Otherwise I have very little to complain about. As a personal preference I would have liked to see more dancing and carriages and less strolling, but for each their own. Helena’s husband hunting is fun for a while, and it would remain so, if she would seriously entertain any other possibilities than monsieur le duc. I like both of the main characters well enough, but even better is the villain of the story, Helena’s guardian Fabien. Some minor characters were treated with little care where I would have liked to know what came of them.

As you can see from the summary, the plot is very conventional, and it is indeed treated with more or less conventional means. The romance itself is very sweet.

There is also a duel of swords in a gallery at night. If that is not epic, I don’t know what is.

Published: Avon Books 2001

Pages: 377 (Piatkus 2010 edition)

I also bought a bunch of books this month!

The treasure of the pile is the Finnish translation of Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub. I got it cheap from an Internet auction – I’m excited to see how one does Regency in Finnish! (The title translates back to The Devil Falls in Love – I don’t find that as much fun as the original title, but I suppose it does the job. Rather unimaginative, though.)

Currently reading:

  • Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora (Duh!)
  • Mary Balogh: First Comes Marriage (Yes, yet another Regency…)
  • Pamela Regis: A Natural History of the Romance Novel (Highly interesting!)

So on to April! A month and a half of school to go until summer! Yay for summer!

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Locke Lamora Read-Along: WEEK 3

Gods, what a busy week it has been! I’ve had very little time to read, and although Locke has suffered very little from this, it has wreaked havoc on the other book I’m going through right now.

Anyway. This week I think I’ll do this the same way as last week, commenting on questions I have no “additional” information on and then just rambling about things that were brought to my mind while reading.

“Beer now, bitch later.”

Let’s start with the arsehole, the Falconer. He rubs me the wrong way, with his arrogant air and oh-I’m-so-cool-and-clever attitude. However, I find the magic interesting. One of the reasons I love Lynch is that there is very little magic going on, and even when there is, it’s very limited – even the Bondsmage can’t do just anything. We haven’t exactly seen many conditions for using it, although apparently the magic becomes more potent at least when you stitch the target’s name on a piece of cloth. (Would leather work better? Just wondering.)

“For the love the gods, madam, can you please pick one man and in your bedroom to cheer for and stick with him?”

Don’t get me started on the fun bits! Lynch just has me grinning and giggling like an idiot, and there’s no way the environment can stop that! In this section of the read-along, the Vine Highway is perhaps the best part. The scene in the woman’s room is so messy, in a very funny way.

For some very annoying reason (I suspect it has to do with the few hours at the bar last night) I can’t think of my favourite giggle bits. It could be the fact that I just generally grin through the whole book – well, maybe not in The Funeral Cask and the likes – and so it is hard to separate the individual bits.

I hate my brain right now. Just you wait, when I get to class on Monday I can summon at least fifteen hilarious lines and bits and write them down from memory…

“… We could buy titles in Lashain; make Bug a count and and set ourselves up as his household.”

“Or make ourselves counts and set Bug up as our household. Run him back and forth. It’d be good for his moral education.”

Question seven is about what Chains is aiming at, training his little Bastards in all sorts of arts. I don’t believe there is anything specific he wants them to do with their skills. He just wants them to be the best false-facers there are so they can pull off these marvellous scams that are so much more profitable than ordinary thieving. He wants them smart, well-rounded and circumspect.

I also refuse to believe Chains has any particular reason to break the Secret Peace and go against the Capa. They were friends, after all, and perhaps this is Chains’s personal little joke, having his gang go behind Barsavi’s back – they aren’t really doing any harm to the Peace, after all. What I believe to be his motive in these secret games, well, I think Bug said it in the Toast Scene: “I only steal because it’s heaps of fucking fun!”

All my love to Bug, by the way. He is great, with his youthful confidence, attempts at lifting the mood of the group and straightforward logic the adults around him sometimes seem to lack. He has true spirit.

“My name is Jean Tannen, and I’m the ambush.”

Last but never ever  the least – Jean Tannen. I absolutely adore Jean, particularly the little one. Hot-tempered little guy whom everyone overlooks just because he looks soft. Doing so is, as we have seen, a huge mistake, since Jean can take on pretty much anyone if necessary. I love the order in which the relationship between Locke and Jean is revealed: first we see them getting along and working together seamlessly, but only around middle of the book it turns out it was not instant chemistry. Of course, this was mostly Locke’s fault – and this is also one of the moments in most enjoy when reading child Locke, since this is, from my meagre experience, how kids often think: not one of us, don’t like him. Different. Jealousy. And so on.

“I’m well aware of who’s supposed to be strutting around wearing the Grey King’s clothes, thanks very much. I’m just debating whether or not I should hang an archery butt around my neck. Oh, and wondering if I can learn to split myself in two before the Duke’s Day.”

I want to apologise for the erratic quality of this post. Conditions, as I said in the beginning, have not been optimal. I’ve been to school, spent two days in training for my summer job, and the fact that this week’s section has been gloomy does not exactly lift my spirits.

“I can’t wait to have words with the Grey King when this shit is all finished. There’s a few things I want to ask him. Philosophical questions. Like, ‘How does it feel to be dangled out a window by a rope tied around your balls, motherfucker?’”

So to the next week!

EDIT:// I forgot to add an anecdote from the first time reading! You remember that mascara ad that was on TV a couple of years ago? Maybelline Lash Stiletto? With lost of disembodied legs wearing stiletto heels? Well, I was reading the bit where Locke is being dressed up as the Grey King during a commercial break, and said ad was on. I lifted my eyes from the book for a moment to see what was going on on screen, and then returned to the text only to have Locke say, “Galdo, hand me my stilettos, would you?” Needless to say I was confused for a long while as to why did miss it that the Grey King’s outfit required high heels. Then I felt really stupid and had to laugh at myself.

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Locke Lamora Read-Along: WEEK 2

Since this week’s questions are on the first-timer side of things I’m choosing to ignore them (well, not completely, but for the most part) and just chat about random things that I thought of while reading. I also recall some of the reactions from my first read.

“Second touch this afternoon was easy. But we wouldn’t have gotten so far, so fast, if not for Bug’s quick action yesterday. What a stupid, reckless, idiotic, ridiculous damn thing to do! I haven’t the words to express my admiration.”

The beginning of this week’s section contains my perhaps favourite bit in this whole 500+ -page affair: the “Toast Scene”. It is simply so marvellous. We see the fun side of the Bastards, as well as get a glimpse of their dark side, just so show us they are not always merry and bright. And these every-day moments are also the thing I like best in the book: the way they joke around, tease each other, do things like changing appearances with such detail yet confident casualty – and the immense warmth that they share. If they ever make a movie of this book (which I half hope they would not, because there is a great chance they’d completely ruin it) this scene should absolutely be included. In the DVD extras if nowhere else.

“Auffershallow?”

Question two was about the description of liquors. Now, I’m Finnish, and if there is something Finland is usually connected with, it’s liquor. Although I’m not a heavy drinker myself, I enjoy my drinks. It follows that I also like to hear about new drinks – the stranger the better – and I love it that this book offers me that as well as all the other entertainment. As I was reading a couple of days ago, I came to the decision I would prefer Camorri beer over Verrari. But then again, were both offered, I’d like to get a taste of both. And if I could get a cask of Austershalin, well…

“If your father says ‘Bark like a dog,’ I say ‘What breed, your honour?'”

Nazca Barsavi is the kind of woman I’d like to be friends with. She’s sharp and cautious, just as Locke says, and has a lot of style. She and Locke are too good friends to get married, I think, but she would make a splendid Gentleman Bastard were her father not who he is. First time reading Capa Barsavi give Locke permission to court Nazca I grinned like a maniac and probably said out loud, “Oh, you’re in trouble now!” It’s hilarious to see Locke’s reaction. I think he’s brain was very busy at that moment trying to figure out how to get out of the mess, the little oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit that we all hear when we’re screwed doing little to help him think.

Just a detail I picked up, and nothing very significant – but Chains called Barsavi “Ven” when he was introducing Locke. It makes sense, them being old friends, but Barsavi addresses him as “Chains”. I’m wondering whether it is a nickname from far back, whether Chains adopted the name after coming to Camorr and it was catchy enough to stick, or whether it is actually at least part of his real name? I find “Ven” more informal than “Chains”, but as I said, knowing what we know there is really no guessing.

To return to the idea of Locke Lamora the Movie, there is another thing besides the “Toast Scene” I would love to see: the hand signs. I’m so very enamoured by them. In the group of Bastards they must be so subtle, since they know each other so well that they can catch even the barest hint. And what a wonderful communication system! I used to play a card game with some friends, where the players were sitting opposite to their pair and communicating their cards through predetermined signs. They didn’t need to be hand signs, but those were popular – and it was sometimes hard to spot them, particularly when you had to be discreet about them so the other pairs would not learn what your sign was. It was great fun, although I was not very good at it.

The Midnighters! I almost panicked the first time the two turn up in Salvara’s study and give the game away. The relief when the secret behind this is revealed… It was great. It was awesome. And the preparations for this are so much fun to follow. The aftermath of the scene, and now the end of this post, gets a giggle out of me every time:

“By the Crooked Warden, I never heard such self-pity dripping from the mouth of a wealthy man! Cheer up! Richer and cleverer than everyone else, right?”

“Richer and cleverer and walking very funny, yes.”

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Locke Lamora Read-Along: WEEK 1

Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this – a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever.

I’ve been beyond excited about this all week. It hasn’t helped that it has been a busy week – and things will be getting busier – but with the power of Gentleman Bastards everything is better!

So, on to the starters!

1. If this is your first time reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, what do you think of it so far?  If this is a re-read for you, how does the book stand up to rereading?

Oh, this book just keeps kicking your arse every time you read it. Seriously. It’s always a pleasure to slip back to Camorr and examine the little details you didn’t really notice the couple last times. I say this a lot, but reading Locke Lamora is like going home – although to my great displeasure I must admit I’m not sure I’d last a week there.

2. At last count, I found three time lines:  Locke as as a 20-something adult, Locke meeting Father Chains for the first time, and Locke as a younger child in Shades Hill. How are you doing with the Flashback within a flashback style of introducing characters and the world?

I’m in disagreement here. I see three time lines as well, but different ones: Locke as a child, the preparation and “backstage” of the Salvara Game and the game itself, and I don’t find this confusing at all. I’m actually very surprised it didn’t bother me the first time either, since my English back then wasn’t much good and a lot of effort went to understanding sentence structure. On the other hand, a friend of mine just recently tried reading the book and told me she had trouble following it, and now reading it with this in mind I can sort of see how that could happen.

But short answer would be that I like this way of introducing a world, bit by bit and often in practice.

3. Speaking of the world, what do you think of Camorr and Lynch’s world building?

I love Camorr. Simple as that. It might be because of the relation to Venice that it feels so familiar and utterly comfortable. I love it how different cultures are presented through things like clothing (one day I will have a Fehrwight coat for winter!) and social customs.

If anyone is familiar enough with liquors to come up with a Ginger Scald recipe, I want to know!


4. Father Chains and the death offering. . .  quite the code of honor for thieves, isn’t it? What kind of person do you think Chains is going to mold Locke into? 

I think the business with the death offering is supposed to teach Locke responsibility and that there are always consequences.

5. It’s been a while since I read this, and I’d forgotten how much of the beginning of the book is pure set up, for the characters, the plot, and the world. Generally speaking, do you prefer set up and world building done this way, or do you prefer to be thrown into the deep end with what’s happening?

I like the deep end. However, I think Lynch managed to balance on the line of explaining things in advance and just dropping colourful details in the midst of conversation. I think it’s also nice to have the longer descriptions in their own… subchapters? What are they called? But I’m sure you know what I mean. Too lengthy descriptions tend to bore me.

6. If you’ve already started attempting to pick the pockets of your family members (or even thought about it!) raise your hand.

I’m not cut out to be a pickpocket, but I just had a job interview in a big corporate building and had to sit in the waiting area for some time. Found myself thinking how it could be entered without anyone’s permission. (There were reception people, ID slips indicating a visitor’s host, lift cards etc.)

Now the book is started, and I’m getting more and more excited. I’ll finish with a quote from Father Chains that I had not paid proper attention to before but tickled my fancy.

Because, Locke Lamora, some day you’re going to dine with barons and counts and dukes. You’re going to dine with merchants and admirals and generals and ladies of every sort! And when you do… When you do, those poor idiots won’t have any idea that they’re really dining with a thief!

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