Alright its only been… a few years? Since I promised to do some book reviews so here we got start with one. Ever since I got an E-Reader (which is a wonderful magical thing that finally got me back to reading at a decent pace of one book per 2 weeks or so) I had to find out that by the time I even get myself to think of writing a review I’m usually halfway through the next book. Well reading is fun and writing is hard. Also I’m a a lazy fuck. Alright enough with the introductions and excuses let’s get to it:
Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
As far as book titles go this one kicks ass. Yes this is not technically important but it deserves to be pointed out. Its immediately more interesting than the usual random word scrabble used in fantasy “sword/blood/legacy/dark…”
Author: Scott Lynch
This book really doesn’t fit into the Sword&Sorcery mold despite having both swords and sorcery . Our titular character Locke Lamora and his crew of grafter, the Gentlemen Bastards” play cons in the city of Camorr, a city that is a masterpiece of worldbuilding and a joy to read about. Which is one of the main strengths of the books as each chapter more or less introduces a new aspect of what is basically fantasy Venice on crack. The world keeps getting bigger, more colorful and more interesting with the flow of the story while the con artists balance their schemes on the city’s nobility while keeping up their masquerade as simple thieves to the city’s underworld boss Capa Barsavi.
The setting uses leftover’s from a magical “Eldren” civilization and alchemy to create otherwise impossible situations and set pieces to great effect, allowing it to have unique technologies and set pieces without having to make magic mundane. Camorr seems as beautiful as it is deadly. And it is really deadly. If you think main character’s die quickly in Game of Thrones you are in for a surprise. But unlike that this story doesn’t seem to delight in sadistic pleasure at it. Its just all part of the high speed high risk flair.
Chapters jump between the current story and flashbacks to the group’s childhood and their training underFather Chains, a priest of the Crooked Warden, the unknown 13th god of the setting’s pantheon of gods. Usualy each flashback is used to show both character building and to introduce a piece of the setting that wil then be important to the story in the next chapter. And there are a lot of those, The Lies of Locke Lamora is fast, almost unbelievably so compared to books in fantasy settings. It feels like a whirlwind jumping from rooftop chases to elaborate masquerades played at balls of the nobility to gladiator fights against sea monsters without ever stopping to catch its breath.
The dialogue matches the fast pace and goes from clever to straight up hilarious. Both of these things combined manage to almost completely overshadow the one main weakness of the book. The actual main plot is neither all that interesting nor does it make too much sense of questioned hard enough. Its serviceable enough as far as fantasy goes but in a story that is usually so clever about everything it does it really rubs me the wrong way to see a main villain who just cheats by doing everything with magic and who has a needlessly complicated plan just so he can be foiled near the end while being technicaly invincible the res tof the time. This little complication is the Grey King, a new player in Camorr’s underworld. And while neither his plan nor methods turn out that interesting that’s realy just an issue for the last chapter of the book as the rest of the time he serves mostly as engine to complicate life, force the main character’s to improvise, create even more elaboarate tricks and move at even crazier speeds. The weapon of choice for the Gentlemen Bastards are lies and while they try to keep their current plan going, not get exposed to the underworld for breaking the “secret peace” (a deal that saves the citiy’s nobility from the underworld and them from too much attention from the city watch) and take revenge on the Grey King for killing their friends they get caught up in so many layers of lies its hard to believe the whole book manages to stay on track so well and wrap everything up as neatly as it does.
Characters are refreshingly different, especially since their goals are so very unusual for the usual archetypesof fantasy settings. They aren’t warriors, they have no noble goals and swords are not the way they handle problems (although you really do not want to get close to Jean Tannen’s hatchets if you force them into fighting). At the same time its just pleasantly adult how “not cartoonishly heroic” does not have to mean evil. The Gentlemen Bastards aren’t the good guys, but they aren’t shitty either. If they have their way they won’t kill anyone, they won’t steal from anyone who can’t afford it and they’ll even help out a fellow thief if the opportunity arises. “Thieves prosper” is a tenant of the Crooked Warden and in the end Locke Lamora is a priest of that 13th god. The most unusual priest I read about so far to be fair. At the same time they have no illusions about changing the world so they will stand and watch while the boss of bosses of their underworld tortures a traitor to death or pretend to enjoy prisoners being eaten by some giant squid during the city’s games while moving among the nobility.
The world of the Gentlemen Bastards is harsh and they’re not there to change it. Locke Lamora himself is the most unusual hero, looking unremarkable, having no talent for fighting, armed only with dexterous fingers and a mind so devious his friends claim that one day he’ll screw up so hard the gods themselves will come down to watch the mess he made.
And most of the time you can believe it but sadly this is once again there it falls flat just a little bit. Like the plot itself the theme never really falls apart but it just can’t keep up with its own promises. Locke’s plots are clever but they are not so clever it blows you away, especially if you’ve seen a show like Hustle or Leverage before. Especially near the end there is a point in which he basically relies on begging the authorities to believe him to prevent a plan so screwed it seems cruel even for Camorr. And it just feels like he should have done something more clever. Granted he cheats in another spectacular lie at the same time so maybe I’m nitpicking. But in the end just like the plot, it feels like the character’s main theme turns out weak at the stretch of the race. This seems to go hand in hand with a weirdly soft touch for the city’s nobility that gets away really well considering just how harsh just everyone else has it. Now granted that’s kind of realistic but the whole point of hustler/con-men setup usually seems to be that the people who tend to be untouchable get it for once and the story kind of misses out on that part.
Before I get lost in babbling I’ll just try to put some numbers and recommendation on this thing.
I’m not one of those people who doesn’t give out max scores because in theory something better could come along. If something better comes along I’ll change the scale or mention it or whatever. In this case I can’t see how those cateogies could have been better so they get what they deserve.
Worldbuilding: 10 of 10
Pace&Entertainment: 10 of 10
Characters: 8 of 10
Story&Plot: 5 of 10
Dialogue: 9 of 10
The overall score is not an average. Some categories can weigh heavier than others, in this case the pacing and the fact that each single chapter is an almost self contained story too makes the weak plot just that much less important than it would be in another book.
Overall: 9/10 This is not a videogame magazine there review scores start at 90%. A 9 is outstanding. The Lies of Lock Lamora is brilliant, fun and pretty much unique.
I would have loved to give it a ten, it is just that much fun. But there is a lack of diversity in the main characters that just makes it a bit less interesting than it could be and well a weak plot is a weak plot. Mind you a 5 is still e serviceable and coherent , we aren’t talking about Lost levels of nonsense here.