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Review: Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

By / June 8, 2011 / no comments

The bloated, criminal underbelly of Camorr is home to a mysterious new champion, the Thorn of Camorr. To the rich he is the night’s newest terror, a master thief who abides by neither lock nor wall; for the cities idle day dreamers, impressionable young women and wanderlust lads he’s a dashing swordsman, all but invincible, who wanders the alleys and rooftops of the cities in search of one fantastic adventure after another; to the destitute he is the redoubtable champion of the poor, a valiant defender of justice and who steals only to aid those less fortunate; for Spider, the chief of the cities secret police he is a source frustration and embarrassment. In reality the Thorn is the invention of Locke Lamora, a con artist, thief extraordinaire, and protagonist of Scott Lynch’s debut novel. As leader of a small gang rather romantically christened the Gentleman Bastards comprised of himself, his best friend and hatchet man Jean, the youthful Bug and the Sanza twins, he has just set in motion a long term confidence trick which will net them a huge fortune from the duped Don Salvara. Of course plans like this never go smoothly, there’s always at least one hitch. Here that hitch is the Grey King, an all too real counter point to the noble Thorn of Camorr who begins brutally killing off members of Camorr’s criminal society. To make matters worse the Grey King seems to have a particular hatred for the crime boss Capa Barsavi, Locke’s patron.

Periodically the plot is interrupted by an Interlude, Lynch’s distinctive narrative conceit. They are essentially flashbacks doing double duty. They tell the story of Locke’s youth, how he was orphaned and sold to the blind priest Chains and learned to become a thief. They also introduce and explain the world in which the story occurs, providing important information in a reasonably fluid and uncontrived manner which all survivors of mediocre speculative fiction should appreciate. For the most part their impact on the story is minimal; they ease transitions in the main plot while providing an entertaining and interesting diversion. But sometimes they interrupt critical moments in the plot and are quite annoying. Maybe they were an attempt to artificially draw out suspenseful moments in the end they succeed only in reducing the impact of these moments. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it’s needlessly aggravating.

Despite frequent reviews citing metaphors to the contrary (Fantasy Ocean’s Eleven anybody?) the Lies of Locke Lamora really isn’t a caper or heist story. Sure the characters cape and con their way through Camorr but the novel isn’t about that. It quickly relegates the intricately constructed con to side show status and becomes about a struggle to preserve Camorr’s criminal classes.

Despite this unexpected divergence the plot remains interesting, marked by a rapid downward spiral in Locke’s fortunes as he is forced to take a central role in the struggle between the Capa and the Grey King. Soon allies become enemies, enemies draw nearer, the pace quickens and the plot twists with unexpected ferocity. And at no point does the plot flow too quickly or too slowly, nor do the twists seem forced or contrived. The only problem with the plot is that the problems facing Locke are frequently resolved, not by the characters storied wit, but by the stupidity of his enemies and the resourcefulness of Lynch’s pen. This method of overcoming obstacles thankfully does not afflict the climax which is breathtaking, intense and, thankfully, uninterrupted. The natural ease with which the author sustains the endings suspenseful atmosphere over so many pages is startlingly impressive and made for an incredible finale.

All of this is great but the true strength of the novel lies in its characters. Not only are they deep, complex and fully realized, which is all very admirable, they’re incredibly likable. Their camaraderie, their wit, their ambition and basic decency in the face of hardship are all masterfully crafted to create modern Fantasy’s most endearing cast. Whatever you think of the rest of the book you’ll find yourself celebrating their successes and sharing in the pain of their defeat. Even if the plot wasn’t so strong, even with no plot at all, this book would still be an enthralling page-turner because of them. With these characters The Paint Dries with Locke Lamora would be an engrossing read. However, the persistent exclusion of Sabetha, Locke’s love interest, from the novel, is frustrating; it seems we won’t find out much about her for several more books.

Lynch’s world building is imaginative and intriguing, but he’s clearly holding back for the sequels. Camoor is a reimaging of Venice complete with canals and culture. Though here culture means a number of mysterious and ancient buildings of unknown origin which now mostly serve to house the elite. This world’s finest moment, however, wasn’t the because of the canals, or some dusty old buildings, or even the Bondsmage (Mercenary Wizard) called Falconer and his poisonous bird. It was a product of the criminal culture which suffuses the novel; gladiatorial combat with sharks. Two women, leaping from platform to platform above the water, must fight to the death with the sharks circling beneath. The most only effective tactic seems to be to wait for them to leap at you. With their teeth. Of course, it’s part of some festival or celebration, most likely in honour of whatever madman (And you know it was a man) who came up with this. Or perhaps it’s in thanksgiving for being fortunate enough to live in a city insane enough to host an event like that. It’s this sort of fantastic, imaginative weirdness that makes a novel like this so fun.

As does the novel’s humour. Lynch’s wit is ever present, dry, sardonic and clever but without compromising the unique voices of the characters. It helps brings the characters to life and makes the pages seem to fly by. The novel is humorous and tragic by turns, hopeful and despairing, joyous and heartbreaking. And a fantastic set of characters will make sure you feel every bit of it. Recommended for fans of Brandon Sanderson and Terry Pratchett.

About the author

Ben

Blog editor, admin and founder of BestFantasyBooks.comYou'll find me on the BestFantasyBook forums and spending my spare time reading fantasy books and writing lists for this site. In fact, I have no spare time -- running this site IS my spare time!

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