The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book of the Gentleman Bastard sequence, and tells the tale of the titular Locke Lamora (or the Thorn of Camorr) as he tries to pull off a massive con against one of the Dons of Camorr with the help of the gang of Gentleman Bastards. While this is being played out, Locke learns that he is in the middle of a war between the Grey King and Capa Barsavi that has dreadful repercussions for both him personally and the city of Camorr.
I enjoyed this book. Thoroughly. It was entertaining, good fun and left me with a smile on my face. When I wasn't reading it, I found my thoughts dwelling on it and wondering what events would come next, which I think is the mark of an excellent book.
Before I start with specific thoughts, likes and dislikes, I just want to make a couple of observations. The first is that, in a mystery novel, I like to try and work out the secret identity of the secret personage who is committing the crime, and try to discover why they might be doing terrible things. In this novel, unless I'm being completely dense, there was no way we could piece together clues to find out who the Grey King was and why he declared war on Capa Barsavi. I think the novel would have been even stronger had the reader been able to play this game.
The second is that The Lies of Locke Lamora seems to fit more into the canon of literature led by Alexandre Dumas - swash-buckling high adventure - rather than anything from the field of genre fiction. Barring the use of Bondsmages, this novel could easily be set in Renaissance Italy. The term 'unique' is thrown around with abandonment, but, in this case, I would say it is justified - even though I am four years late to the party, The Lies of Locke Lamora feels fresh and new and exciting.
This is not to say the whole book is perfect. Lynch does a fabulous turn in dialogue - his characters mock each other; cry bloody vengeance without sounding cliched; and have conversations that sound natural. Every part of The Lies of Locke Lamora that involves characters in face to face encounters is pure gold. It is just a shame that, for me, some of the remaining prose sounds a little dry and wooden at times. When Lynch needs to introduce a new part of Camorr, or describe the games commoners play, it is not done smoothly - rather we are handed a section of rather dry exposition that sits uneasily next to the glittering dialogue. This might be a matter of taste, but I found these points clumsy for an author who shows such skills elsewhere.
I have to mention the language as well. That is, the realistic swearing (i.e. words like f**k etc.). I believe it has probably been pointed out by other reviewers. The fact is, I would probably have complained if Lynch had come up with his own swear words - at that point, I would have been muttering about silly made-up words that sound false. I'm not absolutely sure that Lynch could win on this point either way, but the realistic swear-words jarred me out of my read, which I found a little frustrating. Certainly the swearing 'fit' the characters, since they were from the lower end of the social spectrum, but the choice of words did not 'fit'.
One of my friends who read The Lies of Locke Lamora and loved it mentioned to me the point of alchemy and how it is employed in the novel - and I find myself agreeing. That is, it seems a 'dialed-in' plot device. At points it was used to nice effect, such as the method of lighting the streets and buildings, and I enjoyed the 'genetics' part of it, where trees were given additional attributes thanks to alchemy. However, at other points, it seemed as though Lynch used it in a slightly deus ex machina fashion - such as during the calamity that Capa Raza tries to inflict on the nobility of Camorr.
The use of flashbacks in The Lies of Locke Lamora was inspired, and I found myself enjoying the exploits of the younger Locke far more than his older counterpart. I also loved the way that the flashbacks would lend weight to future events - a form of foreshadowing, if you will. It was a clever way of helping to build facts necessary into the plot, without using the tired exposition that Lynch sometimes fell back on. A couple of times I would say that the flashbacks were either unnecessary, or ill-placed - my example here would be where the background to the Bondsmages is introduced. We've already been advised that people *really* don't want to get on the bad side of Bondsmages through some clever dialogue - this section slowed down the overall read and added no depth to the novel.
In my opinion this is a fabulous novel, with some flaws. It isn't the instant classic some would have had me believe, but it is a cracking piece of storytelling and I envy those who are about to embark on it for the first time.