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The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
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Book Name: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audio Book / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Crime
Release Date: June 27, 2006

Well, I set myself a challenge just over a week ago. There were 10 days left of 2010 and I wanted to find a fantasy book that had me turning the pages quick enough to finish it in time for our book club on January 1, 2011. I shouted out over Twitter for suggestions and through our forums and after a number of people said it, I went with The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.

The basic story is that Locke, a young orphan, finds himself in the hands of the Theifmaker. It is the job of the Thiefmaker to…make thieves! I’m sure you guessed that concept! Very quickly Locke makes a name for himself and the Thiefmaker realises he is talented at his craft…however…there are boundaries. When Locke gets members of the orphanage killed in an attempt of revenge and steals from the wrong people, the Thiefmaker sees that Locke’s ambition far out does his intended role. Whereas the Thiefmaker just wants him to pick a few pockets and steal a few items from the market, Locke wants to plan elaborate thefts and push the limitations of rules that the criminal underworld have had set upon them by their superiors.

So, the Thiefmaker approaches Father Chains, a blind priest at a local temple. He explains that Locke has a problem, or more specifically…

“His problem,” said the Thiefmaker, “is that if I can’t sell him to you, I’m going to have to slit his throat and throw him in the bay. And I’m going to have to do it tonight.”

It quickly becomes apparent that Chains uses this temple as a means to operate the Gentlemen Bastards. Without giving too much away, the blind priest isn’t a blind priest at all. He is a criminal mastermind who takes in a few orphans: Locke, Bug, Stanza twins and Jean – trains them in a number of disciplines and allows them to plan, plot and execute those elaborate plans that are by say of the criminal overlord, unpermitted. This is because they take scam the richest citizens in defiance of the Secret Peace (an unspoken agreement between the criminal underground and nobility that establishes a toleration of thievery and mischief in Camorr as long as the nobility is not targeted).

As head of the Gentlemen Bastards, Locke has earned a reputation and gained the label: the “Thorn of Camorr.” To draw upon the book’s blurb:

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a ghost that walks through walls. Half the city believes him to be a legendary champion of the poor. The other half believe him to be a foolish myth. Nobody has it quite right.

Slightly built, unlucky in love, and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. He certainly didn’t invite the rumors that swirl around his exploits, which are actually confidence games of the most intricate sort. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else, pray tell, would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny of it. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves.

– – –

Firstly, let me tell you that The Lies of Locke Lamora is a good book, a fantastic book in fact. Let me however add a question to that statement. Is it a good fantasy book? This novel by Scott Lynch is certainly fresh, exciting and different. The characters are loveable, the scene is very, very real (pretty much it is Italy) and the story line is fantastic. Think of Ocean’s Eleven in a medieval kind of world and you will be on the right kind of track.

The book switches between present time and Locke’s youth. In present time, we have a very complex story where Locke is trying to scam a rich nobleman out of a huge sum of money whilst at the same time trying to maintain his cover as a simple pickpocket during meetings with the Capa (criminal overlord). This is all made all the more difficult when he is dragged into an attempt by the feared Grey King who is trying to overthrow the Capa by murdering his most loyal men. The interludes tell us of Locke’s upbringing, his training and his education into becoming one of the Gentlemen Bastards.

So, what’s the bad? Well I personally found the continual following of Locke a little bit much. I’m used to a book featuring points of view from multiple characters. I think the simplicity of following Locke perhaps takes something away from the book. Maybe if we could have followed a few other characters it would have helped to help build up a bit of tension and speed up the page turning a little. As it was, following Locke almost all the way through the book was a little bit too much for me. I still felt the book was going at a good pace, but sometimes you want that little bit of suspense whilst you defer away from the main characters story line and learn a bit more about another character or even have a separate story line.

Someone said to me over the Twitter account that this was unfair because the book is called The Lies of Locke Lamora and not The Lies of Locke Lamora and His Friends. First I laughed, very witty. And then I thought about it. I do see what you are saying; it is similar to how Harry Potter is simply about Harry Potter. But then we have books like The Painted Man and its sequel that follow between three and even seven different characters. You constantly feel that so much is going on and when you go to one character you are dying to go back to another and find out what happens to them. Seeing as this series is meant to be ‘seven books long’ (although only two have been released in five years – with the third due in February), I think it will be very hard to keep following the single character. But hey, I suppose it is possible. Lynch will no doubt have a few tricks up his sleeve.

My final issue was the way that Lynch did the old trick of describing a scene at the start of every chapter. It is a very traditional way of doing things and I sometimes found myself skim reading the first page or two of every chapter because it was pure description. One thing I hate is when people take a page or two to describe a very basic building or city. Sometimes I felt he could say ‘that tall building’ where instead he used about two pages to describe its architecture, etc.

Anyway, backing away from the minor negative aspects of the book…

The story of Locke getting caught up in the acts of the Grey King, the rival to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city is an amazing ride of twists and turns. Who is working with who, who is betraying who, who can you trust? The light-hearted style makes reading very, very easy (minus the lengthy descriptions) and the character of Locke is a memorable one. The way Lynch makes you sympathise and cheer on a thief who himself tells you he is rotten through and through is a fantastic accomplishment.

I would say that if you want a book that is not too big on the fantasy then this is certainly one for you. I like the lighthearted style of the writing. I guarantee at least three or four laugh out loud moments and probable a chuckle a chapter at least. By the time you reach page 350 (of 530), you will be flipping through the pages like one of those animated flipbooks.

The single reason I am not giving this book 5 out of 5 is because in my opinion a fantasy book has to have something in there that makes it fantasy. I can’t define it, but what I can say is that when you feel as though you are reading a novel set in early Italy, and even when the fantasy elements are introduced, still feel as though the book would be fine without them it makes you wonder whether the fantasy elements were needed. To finish on a high though, fantasy or not, this is something different, something memorable and a fantastic way to spend the ten days leading up to the New Year!

You can read more about the Gentlemen Bastards series on Scott Lynch’s website. You can also see what our book club thought of the story in our forums.

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12 Comments

  1. Noobling says:

    Four out of five stars is still a very good rating! This book hadn’t been on my radar, but I’ll definitely add to my (long) list of to-reads. Thanks for the review.

  2. Overlord says:

    I should have let pornokitsch tell you about it – he is a true fan-boy 😉

    I am sure he will be giving me abuse over Twitter this morning/afternoon for shorting it a star 😀

  3. Jared says:

    Ha! 🙂

    Very good review – I won’t abuse you at all, honest! As you say, I’m a huge fan of this book – but I can understand how it isn’t very fantasy for a fantasy book.

    (Still, one of my all-time favorites. Everyone should read it!)

  4. Hatsepshut says:

    I found “The lies” to be one of the best reads I had in 2010, and so was “Red seas under red skies” (and here the fantasy element is more prominent, I think. Very much looking forward to the promised “Republic of Thieves”

    • Overlord says:

      I will be reading ‘Read Seas under Red Skies’ at the end of the year I imagine, I did enjoy this book – just prefer a little bit more magic. For example I have just started on ‘Mistborn’ and I am loving that.

  5. Robert Grant says:

    I absolutely love this book, it’s one the best fantasy novels I’ve read in the last 10 years and I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the fantasy genre. To be fair it is a bit ‘boys own adventure story’ and it is often labelled as Ocean’s 11 in renaissance Venice but it does what it does with such aplomb and using such beautifully rich characters that you can’t help but get swept along with it.

    Don’t wait, just go and buy a copy, or use your local library and borrow it, you won’t regret a single second that you spend reading it.

  6. A.J. Zaethe says:

    This sounds like a great novel. I am going to have to pick it up and I am going to have to find this author’s twitter.

  7. Man alive, I loved this book.

    I felt it did have that fantasy element – the beasts in the water, the glass towers, the blood-drinking roses – but it was very subtle, as everything was always more focused on the characters and the mayhem they got themselves into than the setting. Which is, honestly, how I like my fantasy. I like a world that is immaculately conceived and impeccably well-built, which then fades into the background…

    • Overlord says:

      Haha. Thanks for the comment 🙂 I certainly loved it but it just felt like it was missing ‘something’ you know? I am an epic battle / magic system kinda guy I guess ;P

  8. […] can read Fantasy-Faction’s review of The Lies of Locke Lamora here. VN:F [1.9.16_1159]please wait…Rating: 10.0/10 (10 votes cast)Scott Lynch Interview, 10.0 out of […]

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