Monday, 23 August 2010

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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.


  1. Fascinating review. I am not a big fantasy reader as a lot of it seems very samey to me. One of the reasons I loved Lies so much was because it felt completely different to any other fantasy I had read up until that point (and the same for The Name of the Wind, which I read straight after).

    The only problem I had with the novel was a rather sticky plot point regarding the barrel of horse urine. Not the contents of the barrel itself, but what happens to Locke when he's faced with it. Now *there* is a deus ex machina!

  2. Are you planning to read the second? I had more or less the same reaction to Lies, so I'd be curious to hear what you thought about the follow up.

  3. @Adam - huh, I didn't even consider deus ex machina with regards the barrel of horse urine. Good point though!

    @Beloved Snail - I certainly will read the second and review that too - look out for it within the next month or so.

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed it overall and I thought it was a cracking read. I will be very interested to see what you think of the second book as well because quite a few people have had a mixed response, and it is a very different type of story.

  5. I LOVED this book. And I loved the second one too, although there seemed to be a lot of mixed reviews about it. Cannot wait for the next installment! It's probably my favourite fantasy series together with Erikson's Malazan books and Bakker's Prince of Nothing series.

  6. I really loved this book but I agree with all of your points regarding it. I don't think the second book was as strong as the third. I'm excited to see how "Republic of Thieves" turnes out when it's released.

  7. It's my next read after the one I'm on. You've got me really excited to read it now :P

  8. You know I loved this and its sequel. Your review made me think I need to re-read them though, because when I last read them, I just read them without thinking about reviewing. I think you make valid points and I wonder whether I'd read it differently now.

    Great review, can't wait to see what you think of the next one!

  9. The book sounds great ! I love your review too, especially your likes and dislikes. It's good to read the book knowing where the weaknesses lie !

  10. @Stephen - must admit, the second one has me nervous because people were so mixed about it!

    @chasingbawa - looks like the third one is coming in 2011 which is very exciting. I feel quite blessed that I won't have to wait as long as everyone else has had to...

    @Sarah - Thanks for your comment; it's always nice to hear that other people had the same thoughts as you and you weren't totally misreading a book :-)

    @Carmen - you'll love it! It really is a very good book to read :-)

    @Mieneke - that is the benefit of re-reads - and, equally, the curse. You always pick up something new and what other people have said affects how you think about it.

    @Celine - thanks for the very lovely comment!

  11. I'm glad you liked it, for me it's one of best fantasy novels of the last 10 years even with its flaws and it's been far too long waiting for the rest. As well as the planned series there was a mooted prequel of two novellas that explained where the GB's acquired the some of the props needed for this con and I desperately hope that it gets written because I would have loved more of the 'larger' gang that we won't get in other books.

    There are maps, samples and previews on his website

  12. sure, this book had flaws, but don't they all?

    that said, it is pure, unadulterated fun. I've probably read it 10 times, and recommend it to everyone.

  13. I really enjoyed this book though one thing I remember being bothered by was the way that all the characters spoke in the same manner, even if they were of different classes, which I thought was odd. The swearing also really bothered me, but just because I don't like swearing in books and it also seemed completely out of character for the highborn women in the book to be speaking and swearing in the same manner as the low born characters.
    And despite the lukewarm reviews that the sequel received, it's after listening to the audio book of Red Seas (which I highly recommend) that I really fell in love with Locke and Jean.

  14. I have this book on my shelf, given to me by a friend.... but I've never read it! I don't know why, but since you've reminded me of it (and given such positive comments) I think I will actually read it!

  15. I thought it was overrated. It goes on too long, the author wasted a lot of my reading time with buckets of exposition and scene setting. The main character is flat and if I wanted Venice, I'd go (again) to the real thing and not a faux version that lacks any of the sparkle and menace of the real place. I won't be reading any more of his output.

  16. Absolutely fascinating review - very insightful.

    May we link here from Locke's fansite at ?



  17. Hi Rob, Thanks for the comment - yes, of course you can link to the review from :-)