Dudes, what a surprise this book was. I’d heard magical things from credible sources, and since I’m not one of those contrarians who take praise for a thing to mean it must actually suck, I put it on my list, figuring I’d get to it eventually. So when a free download of the audiobook popped up in my library queue, I dove right in. With the exception of one instance of plot dragginess in a critical area, I was not disappointed, and even though I was expecting good things, it still managed to surprise me. Scott Lynch is one of the most engaging authors I’ve read in a long time. His words just suck you in, and his city and characters come to life in a way that most authors only dream of. It’s one thing to have a great story puttering around in your head, another to bring it to life. Scott Lynch manages both in The Lies of Locke Lamora.
The Lies of Locke Lamora — the first in a proposed seven books in the Gentleman Bastard Sequence — follows the titular Locke Lamora from the tender age of seven as he goes from a dirty and careless orphan with a penchant for thieving to being the master of his very own group of cultured and educated thieves. They call themselves The Gentleman Bastards, and it is their sole mission to break the secret peace that holds the city of Camorr together. The formidable Capa Barsavi is the head of all crime in Camorr, and he made a deal twenty years before that the city’s thieves would leave the nobles alone in exchange for lenience from the city’s government. Breaking the secret peace is absolutely forbidden and punishable by death, but Locke and his Bastards operate in secret right under the nose of Barsavi, who believes them to be but middling and loyal thieves. The narrative alternates between Locke’s childhood, growing up with his fellow Bastards under the tutelage of Father Chains, and the present day, in which one of Locke’s long cons is interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious figure calling himself The Gray King, who uses Locke in his quest to get revenge on Capa Barsavi and take Camorr for his own.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is what would happen if The Godfather and Ocean’s Eleven had a baby and it was raised in a version of Venice that was built out of strange indestructible glass by aliens who left thousands of years before. It’s a world where magic exists but is considered dangerous and rare, and thieving and conning is a much more important (and practical) way of life. There are so many plot threads in this book that a lesser author would have buckled under the pressure, but Scott Lynch’s style is to take a bunch of shit and just throw it up in the air, and then make you watch as it all unfolds according to plan, even as you think there’s no way he could ever bring it all together. The book is full of clever (and often very, very funny) dialogue and extremely likable characters. Also, lots of violence, characters getting in and out of brilliant scrapes, and some truly excellent swearing. Like, swearing as an art form. And there’s so much detail in any given scene — scenes that go on for much longer than they have a right to and still work — it’s like the world Lynch has created is actually there and his story and characters just live there. We’re done with Camorr by the end of the book, and I kind of can’t wait to see what areas of this world and its history he’s going to explore next.
The Gentleman Bastards Sequence has been compared to George R.R. Martin’s and Joe Abercrombie’s work, but the similarities only go so far. Sure, they’re all writing in what I’m going to call the “bloody, violent, and epic fantasy” genre, but Lynch’s work is very different from both. For one thing, even though this is a seven book series, the books are essentially stand-alone, in that storylines are complete from book to book: beginning, middle, end. And sure, Lynch has obviously been to the GRRM school of brutality and killing characters you love, but the world he’s created wouldn’t have the same effect if it wasn’t one in which actions have consequences. The Bastards themselves — the irrepressible Locke, the cunning Sanza twins, cheeky young apprentice Bug, and Locke’s best mate, Jean — are a lovable group of miscreants, and you really end up caring what happens to them in a rather short period of time.
The only criticism I have of the book — and it’s a pretty big one — is that after a pretty climactic moment in the narrative, the book kind of stalls and meanders along for a while before picking up again. Maybe it was the way I was reading it, but all this crazy shit had just happened and it went into this lull instead of escalating it. It took me a while to get back into the story after that happened, but when it finally picked up again HOO BOY DID IT PICK UP. To steal a swear from Lynch, “fuck damn!” Given how much I enjoyed the sequel, which had a pretty wonky structure as well, I’m thinking a re-read might sway my opinion on this one, but even if it doesn’t, the rest of the book is so good it almost doesn’t matter. As for the audiobook itself, Michael Page was a great narrator, really good at voices in particular, although the quality of the download I had wasn’t that great.
This was a really great book, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes a good yarn, not just fantasy fans. It’s also a great investment if you like good series, as I actually enjoyed the second book more than the first, and now I’m impatiently waiting the release of book three, which is apparently reaching GRRM levels of WHEN WILL THIS BE RELEASED. But I’m willing to wait if Lynch delivers the goods like he did in the first two. Anyway, I’ll think you’ll be just as surprised as I was by this book. As Locke himself would say, “There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.”