The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch has been the subject of countless “the best new thing in fantasy” type of reviews since its release in 2006. As such, I picked up this book worried I would find it overhyped. It has been out for a few years now, the copy I read a third edition mass market reprint, so I’m not sure The Lies of Locke Lamora can still be described as the best new thing in fantasy. It is however among the best fantasy novels I have come across. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a marvel of storytelling, a captivating setting populated with likeable and loathable characters, finely written and a rollicking good read.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first instalment in Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards Sequence. The novel is set in the Venetian-esque Camorr, an island city run by the decadence of the nobility and merchant classes and the myriad of underground gangs, thieves and mercenaries. Locke Lamora’s gang, The Gentlemen Bastards live a dangerous life of daring and diabolical schemes, fooling even their fellow criminals, and having a grand old time while they’re at it. When a new crime lord sets himself up in the city, Locke Lamora and his Gentlemen Bastards risk losing more than just their enormous fortune to stop him.
I am simply astounded that it is Lynch’s first novel. The prose is tight, an equal mix of flourish and character driving, laconic casualness that isn’t afraid to pull any punches. There are some great one liners and laugh out loud moments, Lynch has also delivered some deft fight scenes which are always difficult to pull off, even for the seasoned novelist. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fine example of a modern picaresque novel that in setting, character and language retains an air of its early roguish predecessors.
The story takes place after the Gentlemen Bastards have become the masters at their game, but is told with intermittent Interludes into their past so we see on how they developed from orphan pickpockets into expert thieves. Switching between past and present could have worked against the fast paced flow of this adventure tale, but I found it to be the exact opposite. Indeed my favourite parts of the novel were in the world of the burgeoning thieves as they developed their skills, and then seeing those skills applied in their adult lives. Getting to know the characters in their youth also works to build reader sympathy. We see how this tight brotherhood (and sisterhood, but more on that in a minute) developed, and the strength of the bond between the characters is really quite touching. I did find it curious for such, well…. bastards to be such likeable characters. It works in an almost Robin Hood fashion as the Gentlemen Bastards rob from the rich and give to the …. themselves, but only for the love of the game. The Gentlemen Bastards rob in order that they can go on robbing. It’s an interesting moral position and one that makes no apologies for its grey areas.
One part of Locke Lamora’s characterisation that deserves special mention is his relationship with Sabetha. Sabetha, the only female Gentlemen Bastard, is a key component of Locke’s character. We hear her spoken of, we understand her and Locke share some kind of deep love and that she’s in his heart in most of what he does despite some kind of trouble that has passed between them. Yet Sabetha never appears in the book.
The James Review puts this down to sloppy editing on Lynch’s part, that Locke’s continual melancholy in matters of Sabetha is a left over from having her in the book. I couldn’t disagree more. There are a lot of reasons I’m looking forward to reading the rest of The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence, Sabetha is indeed one of them. While The James Review does acknowledge the narrative purpose of Sabetha’s absence, I found it to be a masterful device to add further colour to Locke’s character, rather than a simple way to drive a narrative into later books. Yes, it would have been nice to see more female characters in The Lies of Locke Lamora, something I agree with The James Review on, but this factor didn’t turn me off enjoying the read.
The fantasy elements in The Lies of Locke Lamora are slight and are for most of the story confined to the alchemical wonders of transformations not unlike a kind of mystical genetic engineering. The history of Camorr and its world is dotted with hints of a memorising fantastical past which adds a richness to the everyday present. The bondsmage character does up the fantasy towards the end of the novel but the magic continues as a backdrop to this very human story.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is followed by Red Seas Under Red Skies (2007), and the third in the sequence, The Republic of Thieves due for release later this year. There are apparently seven novels planned. Warner Bros. bought the film rights in 2006 and rumours of a forthcoming film adaptation of The Lies of Locke Lamora continue.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is an absolute thrill to read. It’s a tight and funny, swashbuckling adventure tale that delivers on every promise it sets up. Definitely a refreshing treat in an overcrowded genre.