Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

26 Apr

It’s a pleasure to re-read (or re-listen) to an old favorite. In an age where readers (including myself) look for new books, new authors, new perspectives, and new good stuff, I appreciate having the chance to revisit something, even from 7 years ago, that, if anything, holds up better for me now than it did when I read it.

Camorr. A Venetian-style fantasy city, complete with canals, a strong mercantile sector that drives the rest of the city and the region around it. A city where the Duke rules, the Dons reign, the Bankers cash in and the ordinary person is caught between them and the nest of thieves who infest the city. By the command of Capa Barsavi, the lord of thieves, who has made a bargain with the duke’s spymaster, the thieves do not touch the Duke, or the Dons, but all others are fair game. And what game they are.127455

But even in a city with a lord of thieves watching their activities, there are thieves who are secret outsiders to this system. Thieves who are willing to covertly breach the Secret Peace and prey on the aristocrats. Thieves who are the leading edge of the art of the con, the deception, the false play. Pioneers in the art of the scam.

Thieves like Locke Lamora, Jean Tannen and The Gentleman Bastards.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006) was the debut novel by Scott Lynch (who has gone on to write two sequels:  Red Seas Under Red Seas and The Republic of Thieves)

The narration of the audio book by Michael Page is top notch. His dry, crisp British voice works extremely well, and the range of characters he can and does perform distinctly speaks to his vocal fluency. His pacing is excellent, and listening to Page relate the Gentleman Bastards’ adventures is a wonderful way to eat up long miles on the road. Notably, Page does a fair amount of other fantasy novel audiobook narrations, including Anne Lyle and Joe Abercrombie. The only issue I have — and it’s a matter of having only so many voices to go around — is that a minor character in the last portion of the book is vocalized in the style of Slartibartfast from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It was somewhat disconcerting to my ears to imagine the sculptor of the fjords of Norway ministering to Jean and Locke.

Although I imagine the elevator pitch for The Lies of Locke Lamora as “Ocean’s 11 in a Fantasy Venice”, the show Leverage, which postdates the 2006 novel, really feels like the better parallel and comparison to hook would-be readers into the concept. Although the Gentleman Bastards are by no means motivated by the altruism Nate and company perform, a lot of the other elements in the series setup are present in Lynch’s writing. Characters have defined roles and positions, and yet sometimes having to improvise their positions, their roles, and their moves in the particular job(s). The story beats, rises, falls, reverses intersections of characters. It’s a rich tapestry of action and character. Why the heck Showtime hasn’t turned this into a series already is absolutely baffling.

On another note, also relevant to my interests, are the roleplaying aspects of this world. Camorr is one of the great cities in fantasy, and the “shading away” of details of the world (in this volume as opposed to Red Seas Under Red Skies and Republic of Thieves) means we get a very strong dose of the city and just enough worldbuilding to satisfy readers. Like a good GM, Lynch keeps the focus where it is important, but there is enough of the world beyond the city that it doesn’t feel like a city on an empty endless plain. It’s a part of a living world. As far as the characters, you  probably could start up and run expys of Locke and company using the Cortex roleplaying system (Locke is clearly primarily a Mastermind, Jean is clearly a Hitter, and so forth).  That is the roleplaying engine underneath the Leverage RPG, and there are now adaptations and extensions for the game to run in a fantasy setting as well. The detail and richness of the world means, too, if you wanted to run a game revolving around a more ordinary thief gang in the city, Camorr is richly detailed enough to pull that off as well.

Listening to the book, immersing myself into Lynch’s first novel after some more years experience reading with an eye to review, I am struck just how good, out of the gate, Lynch’s work really is. I knew and felt it was very good in 2006; the surprise is that, in 2013, I feel that if anything, I didn’t see how brilliant this book really is. It employs all the techniques and structural beats in the best literature. Foreshadowing. Echoing. Character development and callbacks. A strong three-act structure. Chapters, often short, to pull the reader along or to encourage a reader to finish a chapter, or three, before putting it down. Sharp action beats.

The book is long, but it’s lean in that the book puts that word count to use in delving deeply into Locke (and, to a lesser extent, Jean). We learn what makes him tick, what buttons he has, what his makeup and ethos are. I had forgotten that Sabetha, the ghost that haunts this book, is mentioned in the narrative right from the first chapter. She is not physically present in the book, but she provides a heck of a lot of motivation to Locke and his actions in this book. Even the small detail of how Locke presides over the ritual of dinner (and being challenged when he tries to distort it with regards to remembering Sabetha) is a wonderful counterpoint to Chains’ earlier presiding over dinner and the correct forms of the ritual in remembering those absent.

If the idea of Leverage in a fantasy Venice has any appeal to you, with deep characterization, tight plotting and excellent action, rush out and read (or listen) to The Lies of Locke Lamora.

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One Response to “Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch”

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  1. Top 10 Episodes and Blog Posts for May 2014 | The Skiffy and Fanty Show - May 5, 2014

    […] Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch (by Paul Weimer) […]

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