The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. ★★★★1/2
This was my second time reading Scott Lynch’s fantasy heist novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora. This time around, I was reading it as part of a group read, which was one of the first times I’ve read a book in weekly increments over the span of a month.
When Locke Lamora was a young orphan, he ended up in the hands of Father Chains – a conman who focused his energy on training up a group of orphan thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards. Years later and Locke and the Gentlemen Bastards are raking in a fortune, right under the nose of both the nobility’s secret police and the overlord of the city’s criminals. Yet everything changes when a man known as the Grey King begins battling for power within the criminal underworld.
“Someday, Locke Lamora,” he said, “someday, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I’m still around to see it.”
“Oh please,” said Locke. “It’ll never happen.”
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I adore heist plots and con-artist protagonists. I’m a sucker for those sorts of stories. Add in my favorite genre (fantasy), and you’re guaranteed to have a book that will draw my attention. And in this case, I was absolutely riveted, even in a reread. It’s got good writing, fantastic world building, and plenty of witty dialog. Even though it’s actually pretty dark – there’s torture and death and all sorts of horrible things going on – it doesn’t feel as grimdark as many recent entries to the fantasy genre, perhaps due to the humor.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is set entirely within Camorr, a city of canals with a culture reminiscent of Italy. Camorr is just such a well crafted setting. I’ve talked before about how the best fantasy settings have a sense of vividness that makes them feel like they could come right off the page. Camorr has this in spades. It’s got a distinct culture and society that’s realized down to details like the food and monthly festivals and traditional, shark-killing female gladiators. Camorr completely avoids the “generic fantasy” feel.
While I really love The Lies of Locke Lamora, it wasn’t entirely perfect. During the group read, we talked a lot about women in the book (or lack thereof) and their position in Camorr. The good news is that a lot of the background characters of all sorts are female, from guards to alchemists. There are also a couple of reoccurring but more minor female characters who are well developed and do end up effecting the plot. However, among the Gentlemen Bastards themselves, there are no women. I wasn’t super bothered, perhaps due to the scale of the story. The Lies of Locke Lamora isn’t an epic fantasy novel, and it’s more focused on the fates of a small group of characters (the Gentlemen Bastards) than even the fate of the city as a whole. I still notice the lack though. There’s also a female character who’s death could be considered fridging (although given everything else that happens, I don’t really know how she could have come out of it alive). It still merits noting.
The book’s other flaw is that at times the extensive use of split time lines, flashbacks, and interludes throw off the pacing. For most of the book, the timeline carries between Locke as a boy, learning from Chains and becoming one of the Gentlemen Bastards, and the present day where he’s pulling off a con on a nobleman. Then there’s various other interludes as well. On one hand, I did like how these sections interrelated to the present timeline, and many of them were engaging. However, I think near the end especially they threw off the pacing of the book. Where they all really necessary? Could some have been cut, condensed, or moved earlier?
The Lies of Locke Lamora is able to go from light hearted scenes that make me laugh to shocking and painful twists. If there’s one thing I’ve taken from this reread, it’s that The Lies of Locke Lamora is a book about the cycle of revenge. Yet it’s a continual joy to follow Locke as he so magnificently gets himself into and out of trouble. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy heists.