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Locke and Me

For Adventurers by AlexToothmany years – particularly my late teens – fantasy was my genre of choice. I devoured anything I could get from my local library (back then, they seemed to have everything) and working there for my first Saturday job felt like a dream come true. I’d spend school holidays reading and role-playing, the characters I created often based on those I’d discovered in print. From the Belgariad to Xanth, Feist to Donaldson, I’d dip my toe in anything and often found the waters to be most pleasing.

By the early 1990s, I’d had enough. I’d grown weary of the same old story, the young boy from a common background who happens to be someone special, that Only One who can defeat the Dark Lord. He’d be part of a team, each of the others with the requisite skills to aid him on his quest for The Item required for the Final Showdown. Doubtless there’d be a wizardly type involved to cast the right spell at the right time, who on occasion would turn out to be a deity or some such. All fantasy was like that, right?

Wrong, in all likelihood, but that’s how it felt at the time. Books have always been special to me – I can tell you where I was when I began Legend, or how I felt when I started reading Magician that Saturday night in my old bedroom – but the ones I was reading were starting to lose their appeal. The excitement at discovering something new had been replaced by disappointment, frustration, and exasperation. Or, had I simply overdosed on the genre?

White Wolf (cover)Admittedly, I did dabble a few times in those wilderness years – mostly Celtic-based stories or Arthurian legend – but nothing that made me want to dive back in. When my friend Paul loaned me Gemmell’s White Wolf, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I enjoyed it; not his best, although it’s safe to say that book kept my head above water, buoying my spirits through a tough time. Yet, the other books I tried at this time were more of the same; disappointed, I slipped off into mainstream fiction. Until one day, everything changed…

I was in a bookshop with Paul, when he told me he was looking for a new author to read. I’d heard of two who had received rave reviews for their debut novels, and suggested he tried one of them. Before They Are Hanged was just out in large format, so he went for The Blade Itself. A few days later, he called to tell me how good it was; so good, in fact, he’d already bought the second book. Soon, I had started The Blade Itself and grabbed Before They Are Hanged as soon as I’d finished. I loved them. Joe’s writing had won me over – fantasy was awesome again! Yet, doubt kicked in; what if Abercrombie was just a flash in the pan?

That second author was Scott Lynch, and his tale concerned the antics of a group of thieves – the Gentlemen Bastards – set in one city. With no epic quest required, it sounded like the sort of role-playing adventure I love to get involved with. I wasn’t immediately hooked, more gently submerged, until the moment of the double-bluff, after which I couldn’t stop reading. As the pages turned, so Locke and Jean and the others were brought further to life with amazing clarity; I loved their antics, their camaraderie, the twists and turns of their lives. I laughed with them, became worried about them; I even shed a tear or two. Joe Abercrombie grabbed me by the lapels and pulled me in, but it was Scott Lynch who sat me down and made me comfortable.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (cover)Not only that, but the story he told was written just for me. It isn’t, of course, but my first read of The Lies of Locke Lamora certainly felt that way, and not just for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Scott’s characters were like those I’ve created for the many role-playing games I’ve been involved in over the years; a thief was and remains my first choice of profession, and I’m prepared to admit I was conniving enough in one game to pay for a cart one minute, then pick the same pocket the next (fortunate dice rolls helping).

After Lies came Red Seas Under Red Skies. Before They Are Hanged proved that the law of diminishing returns didn’t apply to all sequels (in fact, I still rate it as Joe Abercrombie’s best book), so my hopes were high. I wasn’t disappointed; the book opens with a stunning introduction, has plenty of twists and turns, as well as a moment that reduced me to a blubbering wreck. At the time, I enjoyed it more than Lies, but after the recent group read, I’m wondering how that can still prove to be true and looking forward to finding out. As for the third book, Republic of Thieves, due out this month? My excited screams can only be heard by the local canines.

It’s fair to say these books have been an inspiration for me, as has their author. Scott’s fought ill health and created two (and I’m sure the third will be up there) of the finest fantasy novels I’ve read. The Republic of Thieves (cover)As a writer myself, I’ve found his skill and commitment put my own doubts and fears into stark perspective. Scott’s clearly a writer who loves who and what he’s writing about – the world he’s created is unique, interesting and entertaining – and that shines through in his stories.

Without Scott Lynch (and a tip of the hat to Joe Abercrombie) I’d still be searching for a way to tell the story that’s been in my head for years. Scott’s shown that fantasy doesn’t have to be done on a grand and epic scale, that it does not suffer when it lacks mighty warriors and powerful magic. In ensuring those who inhabit the stories are defined by who rather than what they are, Scott makes the reader care for them all the more. It’s safe to say that without this intimacy, I’d still have the blinkered view of fantasy as a tired and clichéd genre. I would have missed out on some fantastic books (old and new) over the last few years, I wouldn’t be writing for Fantasy-Faction, and I’d still be struggling with my own fiction.

Scott Lynch, thank you from the bottom of my heart.



  1. I’ve read a pre-release E-ARC of The Republic of Thieves, and it’s every bit as good as the other two. Really top-class writing.

  2. […] Locke & Me – Scott Lynch, thank you from the bottom of my heart. […]

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