THEY SEEK HIM HERE, THEY SEEK HIM THERE
AN ELUSIVE CON ARTIST FINDS HIMSELF EMBROILED IN THE DEADLY SCHEME OF A FOE EVEN MORE ELUSIVE
The Lies Of Locke Lamora
(Gentleman Bastard Series, Book 1)
Genre: High Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 544 Pages
Date: 1st February 2007 (First Published 2006)
Warning! This book is liable to make your blood boil if (like this reviewer) you have a deep antipathy towards criminals and criminality. The “hero” of the story, and his associates, are not just criminals, they are the unrepentant variety who take great pleasure in their scumbaggery, and the misery they cause. If their victims were also criminals it would be less of an issue; however, as this is not the case, every misfortune that befalls these lowlifes will warm your heart, while, by the same token, any time they escape their just comeuppance will leave you bemoaning how unfair life is.
Now that the public service announcement (or rant, if you prefer) is out of the way, let’s commence with the actual meat and potatoes of this review of the first book of The Gentleman Bastard series.
Over the course of the past decade, American fantasy author, Scott Lynch, has established himself as one of the most inventive voices of the genre; thanks in large part to his debut novel, The Lies Of Locke Lamora. Having been published to great acclaim in 2006, the book has frequently been described as Oliver Twist meets Ocean’s Eleven. It’s a fantastic description, though not necessarily an entirely accurate one as it obviously doesn’t fully encompass the narrative of the book. However, looking past the fact that most of the characters are pond scum, it’s easy to appreciate how and why the novel made such an impression on readers and critics alike.
There is no question that Lynch has done an exceptional job, creatively, with the various constituent parts of his novel; from the world building, that establishes a setting reminiscent of Renaissance Italy (with the added twist of fantastical elements inherited from an ancient, highly advanced alien civilisation); strong characterisation, responsible for a cast of compelling characters, albeit most of whom are not at all sympathetic; an elaborate plot, that is not only engaging, but also unpredictable, making it difficult to anticipate what happens next; plus a narrative structure cleverly constructed to reveal backstory from the formative years of the main characters. All these facets of the book are masterfully wedded together to craft an original, well written story.
To give potential readers a brief idea of what lies in store, Lynch’s titular protagonist, Locke Lamora, is a former street urchin who has grown up to become the head of the most successful criminal enterprise in the city of Camorr, known as The Gentlemen Bastards: a small, tight-knit collective of former urchins trained to be the ultimate kind of thieves; confidence tricksters. For those who are able to lose sight of the fact they are criminals, the camaraderie of the group highlights what an excellent job the author has done with characterisation. The friendship depicted makes it easy to believe that the Bastards are a band of brothers who would willingly lay down their lives for each other.
As an endeavour, The Gentlemen Bastards have been so successful at what they do that, not only have they kept their activities secret from the rest of Camorr’s criminal underworld (that has strict rules of conduct that Locke and co. habitually violate), Locke himself has become a mythical figure among the nobility of the city, though, officially, no one is certain that he really exists; except his victims, of course, who are all too embarrassed to publicise the fact they have fallen prey to the elusive “Thorn of Camorr.”
The principal plot of, The Lies Of Locke Lamora, centres around The Gentlemen Bastards embarking upon their most elaborate, audacious con-job, little suspecting that they themselves are embroiled in someone else’s devious machinations; at least not until things start to go awry. Unfortunately for the Bastards, by the time they become aware of their predicament, it’s too late for them to back out of their scheme as their lives depend on them seeing the heist through to the bitter end.
If you are a reader who has nothing against a protagonist being an unrepentant criminal, lowlife, there isn’t a great deal to dislike about the book. The one aspect of the novel most likely to provoke dissatisfaction is the frequent interludes in the narrative, with which Lynch utilises flashbacks to impart backstory. These breaks tend to be very disruptive to the flow of the story as they invariably occur at rather inopportune moments. Perhaps the most aggravating thing about this narrative choice is that many of the flashbacks often don’t feel essential to the main plot as they don’t serve an obvious purpose. The uneven pacing of the book is the end result of these interruptions, and it’s likely some readers will wish that the annoyance of the flashbacks had been done away with.
Despite any misgivings there might be about the morality, or lack thereof, of Locke Lamora (and just about every other character, for that matter) Lynch never shies away from the fact that his characters are criminals. He keeps to a minimum the romanticising of them as harmless, lovable rogues with hearts of gold. It should come as no surprise, then, that this cast of committed criminals are not averse to meting out unpleasantries, nor should any readers be surprised that none of them are immune to being on the receiving end of gruesome unpleasantries themselves. It’s probably not a spoiler to mention that few characters remain unscathed by the carnage that transpires at various points during the story.
In summation, The Lies Of Locke Lamora is an always inventive, and frequently compelling heist story. Its visceral conclusion will persuade all but the most discontented readers to add the sequel to their “to be read” list, even if for no other reason than to find out if Locke has learned the lesson that crime doesn’t pay. (I wouldn’t put any money on it.) Overlooking, its one (subjectively) notable flaw, all the praise the book has garnered, while putting its author on the map, is well earned; it’s certainly well worth a read.
Telling it like it is. Giving you honest and balanced, spoiler free reviews. Completely devoid of irrational fanboyism, or shameless astroturfing.