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Monday, February 21, 2011

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch (Published 2006)
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-genre: Sword and Sorcery, disguising a potentially Epic tale
Completed: December 30 2010

The Lies of Locke Lamora sat on my ‘to be read’ pile for a long time, constantly overlooked for more recent releases. Now I can sit back and marvel at my poor judgment in passing over Scott Lynch’s incredibly accessible and utterly unpretentious tale of a young thief who steals too much.

Of course, Locke Lamora doesn’t stay young. He grows to become the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards, a gang of conmen who are, unsurprisingly, a little too smart for their own good. Although the protagonists are criminals there is such a sense of innocence and fun that pulls the reader willingly into their world. Lynch does a tremendous job of establishing the Bastards as a group of boys who never had a chance at a legitimate life. They are so enmeshed in the criminal lifestyle that at one point Locke acknowledges the Bastards have no real use for the wealth they acquire, beyond financing their next job.

Lynch has deliberately layered his story to build upon this sense of sympathy and strengthen the vicarious thrill the reader enjoys. The account of Locke’s present ‘business venture’ is interspersed with episodes from his upbringing which very effectively inform choices made by the characters and create hilarious examples of irony as we see the Bastards ride roughshod over the lessons they were taught. Locke’s first meeting with a bondsmage (the magic users of Lynch’s world) had me laughing randomly and inappropriately for days after reading it.

That meeting is one of many examples of the cracking dialogue Lynch employs. It can occasionally feel overwrought, but it pays to remember that Locke has been trained to fight with his wits and words (which is fortunate, because he is rubbish with a sword). Indeed the verbal sparring suits the atmosphere of the period and society Lynch is working with. Locke’s home city of Camorr seems to be a fanciful iteration of Renaissance Venice, with its social structure, level of technology and (even more obviously) the canals that dominate its geography.

Making up for Locke’s martial deficiencies is his sidekick Jean, who throughout the story develops into a second viewpoint character. The relationship between Locke and Jean is beautifully developed, from their as boys to the incredible trust between them as adults. It is genuinely touching to see Locke willingly put his life in jeopardy knowing that Jean will keep him safe. Fortunately, Jean thoroughly merits that trust. He somewhat adheres to the Sam Gamgee archetype, if Sam had been a scary bastard running around with twin hatchets which he has given names to.

While I see The Lies of Locke Lamora as an excellent entry point to Fantasy for non-genre readers, some will find the humour bleak. There are many examples of brutality and the detached levity might keep readers at a distance. The book launches a proposed seven book series and in spite of its contained story there are several elements that point to a broader story with more traditional epic stakes, such as the indestructible ‘glass’ towers left by an extinct, magical race. I look forward to reading the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and note with the inevitable mixture of disappointment and sympathy that Scott Lynch suffers from depression, which has substantially delayed the completion of further volumes.

I have to give The Lies of Locke Lamora a full 5 stars. I wouldn’t expect a story like this to win any literary awards (with the benfit of hindsight, it didn’t) but it was so enjoyable that I found myself frustrated whenever I had to put it down. To put that in perspective, I was holidaying in Europe – putting the book down usually meant going to see an ancient monument of tremendous historical significance.

Read it – for good-humoured story telling that succeeds in relating a serious story without taking itself too seriously
Don’t read it – if you prefer your Fantasy to raise the stakes to epic, end-of-the-world proportions

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