The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

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Author’s website
Publication date – June 26, 2007

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Orphan Locke Lamora leads elite thieves “Gentlemen Bastards” trained by priest Chains. In Venice-like city, as the “Thorn of Camorr”, he stings the wealthy nobles. But the Gray King kills mobster Capa Barsavi’s trusted, and uses Locke as his pawn to take control. Locke vows revenge, but is best skilled at lies. His opponent has more money, men, and power.

Thoughts: The best books are the hardest to review, because it’s difficult to be objective when all you want to do is rave about how awesome the book was, how captivating and engaging the plot was, how smooth the pacing, how amazing was the whole package and how you didn’t want to put it down when the story was finished.

This is one of those books.

If you haven’t yet read The Lies of Locke Lamora, you’re missing out. While it doesn’t have many of the classic elements associated with fantasy (indeed, it seems to stop at rare magics and commentary on an ancient civilization who left an architectural legacy behind), it is unmistakably fantasy, throwing you into a new world with new cultures and interesting people, with inspiration taken from various European cultures in the way of most fantasy, making for a comfortable and familiar setting that allows the reader to focus entirely on the exciting plot without having to pick up the nuances of a vastly different culture.

Not that doing so is a bad thing. But the European influence works well here, and the familiarity really did let me put my focus on the fast and tight plot that was unfolding. Lynch does some wonderful world-building, layering piece upon piece until not only do you have an interesting culture in Camorr, but also a believable one. It’s a city of hidden corruption, hands stabbing as often as shaking, the unwary losing their fortunes or their lives just as easily as they once kept both. But it’s not a crapsack world where everything is dark and horrible; there’s light and hope and fun and all the positive and negative things that make up the life of a busy city of commerce and culture.

The story, naturally, centres around Locke Lamora, orphan and thief with a flair for the dramatic. No score is too big for him, no scheme too complex. If it involves disguising himself as a rich merchant in order to con nobles out of their money, well, all the better! Locke’s sense daring nature is one of the things that makes this book so incredible; you can’t help but admire the guy. He’s the quintessential lovable rogue, the charismatic thief whose clandestine dealings are nothing but thrills and adventure. Even when he’s robbing people blind and scaring them into silence, you can’t help but root for him.

The way the story is told takes a little getting used to, with each chapter followed by an interlude that sometimes tells some of Locke’s childhood and training, sometimes the training of another of Locke’s friends, sometimes little stories and explanations of things in Camorri culture. It isn’t confusing so long as you can keep holding the main plot in your mind, and the back-and-forth method of storytelling is one that I’m quickly coming to enjoy, since it allows for the conveying of greater amounts of information without an awkward infodump or long stretch of exposition that isn’t always in character or situationally appropriate. It doesn’t always work, but I’m finding more examples of ways where it does, and this is most assuredly one of them. In the end, between character conversations and the interludes of backstory, you have the bulk of a character’s life laid out before you, and for revealing things little by little, it works wonders.

The characters… Again, it’s hard to describe some things without going over the top with praise. The characters are a delight to read about. Calo and Galdo, witty twins with somewhat crude senses of humour who finish each other’s sentences. Jean, loyal, tough as nails and with a temper you don’t want to mess with. Locke himself, loyal and quick-witted and creative and not one to suffer a slight without giving back at least as good as he got. The antagonists are well-developed, each other their own stories and complete personalities, and are just as interesting to read about. The only exception might be the Bondsmage, whom we don’t learn too much about except for what we learn about Bondsmages in general, but that was less bad character development and more of the deliberate mystery built up around his character and his profession.

Trust me, if you haven’t taken the time to read this book, you need to correct that. from beginning to end, it was a fast-paced and amazing adventure, one that’s worth every second you spend on it. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s one of the closest to perfect that I’ve ever read. And I hear the rest of the series is just as good or better, and I can’t wait to dive into book 2, Red Seas Under Red Skies, and sink into Locke’s world once again.

Gentlemen Bastards readalong – The Lies of Locke Lamora, Chapters 13-epilogue

It’s been 4 weeks, and the Lies of Locke Lamora readalong has drawn to a close. And what a ride it was! I don’t know why I’d waited so long to read this book, but I’m glad I finally had a good excuse to stop putting it off. The questions and discussion have been a lot of fun, and when all is said and done, I should be writing a finally all-encompassing review early next week.

Speaking of questions, let’s take a look at this batch, before we all move on to the next book of the series.

Question: The Meraggio chapter felt like an Ocean’s Eleven inspired mini-adventure all to itself. What did you think of it? Did it feel a little out of place or do you think that it did well to lighten the book a little after all the dark events that occurred just before it?

I thought it was interesting to see one of Locke’s schemes not going according to plan. Well, not drastically and potentially fatally, anyway.  It may not have been immediately related to the action, but it didn’t feel out of place to me. It was a necessary step to getting Locke where he needed to be, and to have skipped it would have stretched credibility. Locke just happens to have one last awesome set of clothes to continue his ruse, one that escaped destruction or theft? That would have been a bit cheap.

Question: The Interlude about the Camorri brothels is an interesting one. It seemed as if it would have been better coming a little bit earlier. Why do you think Scott Lynch chose to include this Interlude where he did, so late in the book? What do you think it added to the story?

I like the little interludes that shed light on Camorri culture and mindset. This one served as a effective conveyance for how the one hand greases the other, how everyone has arrangements to keep the peace, and if that peace is disturbed, bad things happen. It was a microcosm, a small example of the larger whole, in addition to just being a neat tidbit of info about how some of the less salient parts of Camorr function.

liesoflockelamoraQuestion: Although we had the Bondsmagi, Magic and Mythical creatures were more ‘in the background’ of this novel. It’s worth noting that this was one of the first fantasy novels that, despite being set in a fantasy world, features very little fantasy (many followed / were released around the same time such as Joe Abercrombie’s or Doug Hulick’s books, for example). What did you think of the lack of ‘fantastical’ elements?

To be honest, where often this is a fairly glaring thing to me when I read fantasy without fantastical elements, I didn’t really notice it much here. And it could just be that I’m also in the middle of reading Game of Thrones, which is similar in its lack of fantastical stuff, only moreso, but The Lies of Locke Lamora didn’t seem to have anything lacking. There were plenty of fantasy elements scattered through the pages, mostly hinted at, but the fact that most of the book took place around them rather than including them wasn’t a problem because the story was told in such a fantastic way. It’s hard to notice when a thing is lacking when you’re too enthralled by what is there.

Question: Do you think we’ve seen the last of the Bondsmage or do you think he’ll be back? 

I think we’ve seen the last of him. Though given other things I’ve tried to predict about this book, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest to discover that I’m dead wrong about that.

Question: Do you think the fact Locke saved so many nobles makes him a good guy after all? Do his past crimes deserve to be forgiven for the saving of so many lives?

There’s too much emphasis placed on “good guy / bad guy.” A person can be both, or neither, depending on the situation. Locke saved the day, which was good, but still carried on his schemes and would cheerfully have robbed everyone blind, given half the chance, which many would say makes him a bad guy. I think he’s just a guy defying simplistic categorization, and having a damn load of fun while he’s at it!

Question: What were your favourite and least favourite parts of the book?

That’s a tough one. Least favourite would probably be the Salvaras inviting Locke to the grand party at the end, because that seemed a touch contrived. I suspected that they had figured out a few things about Locke’s disguise and were trying to lead him into a trap; that was how contrived it seemed to me.

My favourite bits were toward the beginning, when we’re seeing more of Locke’s childhood and his early attempts at theft and learning restraint. I have a soft spot for charismatic thieves, and an even softer spot for them when they’re children, because they’re such fun to read about then.

Question: Where does Locke Lamora stand in your list of all-time great fantasy books? Is it right up there or does something hold it back?

Oh, it’s right up there. I wouldn’t call it my favourite, but the story and the writing definitely put it in the Favourites list, where I suspect it’ll stay for a long time to come.

Gentlemen Bastards readalong – The Lies of Locke Lamora, Chapters 9-12

Time for this week’s installment of questions and my overanalyzed answers from the Gollanz and Fantasy Faction readalong for Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora. This quarter of the book was holy-crap-I’m-on-the-edge-of-my-seat exciting, even moreso than last time, and it took a lot of self-control to not just cave and start reading ahead.

So, let’s move on to the questions, and then I can feel perfectly justified in starting in on the final quarter of the novel!

What did you think of Scott Lynch’s system of religion in Locke Lamora? Do you think it is over explained, under explained, perfect?

I think a fine line is generally walked when it comes to creating religions and featuring them in fantasy novels. When it’s done badly, it’s done badly! Happily, this wasn’t the case here. I think Lynch thought things through quite well, and it comes across in the details. We aren’t being inundated with long expository passages about how the religion works and which people believe in which deities, but instead the information’s being dropped casually in the narration and speech patterns of characters, so that we not only pick up the gist of how things work, but also how much of a part it all plays in the lives of the characters we’re seeing.

There was a very long action scene where Jean and Bug fought against Salt Demons. How did you find this scene? Did it fit with the rest of the novel?

To be honest, I found it a little boring. That isn’t to say that Lynch can’t write a fight scene, but my mind was on Locke’s predicament and what would happen next in a larger sense, so I found myself hoping that the fight would end quickly and I could get back to reading what I was looking for.

liesoflockelamoraThe Spider is revealed to be Dona Angiavesta Vorchenza, an old woman who lives in one of the 5 towers. Did you always think the Spider was going to be an older person or did this twist catch you by surprise?

I quickly came to learn, during the course of reading this book, that nothing should surprise me. I can’t say that I expected the Spider to be an old woman, it did make sense that it would be someone older, with experience under their belt, and somebody whom nobody would suspect. So even if I didn’t expect that twist, it does make sense.

Part of me expected the Spider and the Midnighters to be something of an urban legend, something that always happens “to a friend of a friend” but nobody ever experiences for themselves. An urban legend like that still would have been something that Locke would take advantage of, after all.

The Handball story is one of the few interludes that don’t feature the main characters at all. What did you think was the message of this story and why did Scott choose to throw it in here?

It was an interesting little interlude, and did quite a bit to shed light on Camorri culture and ways of thinking. It may not have been about the main character directly, but it highlighted the way that they (specifically, Locke) tends to think, and so gives more insight into his future actions. No waiting to get his revenge!

We lost Bug, Calo and Galdo in this section :( Why do you think Scott Lynch chose to kill them off at this point of the novel? Do you feel their deaths take away the dynamic of the bastards? 

I didn’t expect them to die. But I should have. I liked them. Characters I like in books seems to have an annoying habit of dying, and I really liked Calo and Galdo.

I think the remaining Gentlemen Bastards will feel their loss, on both a professional and personal level. They weren’t just colleagues, but friends, and it’s understandable that Locke took their deaths personally. As for why Lynch killed them… It seems clear that it was done to give Locke a good and undeniable reason to do after the Grey King and take that revenge. he had a reason to start with, obviously, but this just sealed the deal, and in a painful and hard-hitting way.

And yes, there was probably no small amount of desire to make the reader feel the same emotional gut-punch that Locke did. A good writer can do that with character deaths, and Lynch is a good writer. I just wish such interesting characters didn’t have to die…

Were Bug, Calo and Galdo’s deaths a result of Locke’s cockiness and inability to listen to Chains’s advice? Chains told Locke to mind his manners should he ever face a Bondsmage and he did the opposite. He also antagonised the Grey King, not following the rule allowing another person feel they are in complete control of the situation. To phrase the question in another way, if Chains had still been alive and picked up by the Grey King to play him instead of Locke – would Chains have done the deed and kept everybody alive?

First, I doubt that Chains would have been picked by the Grey King, since Chains stayed very low-key and Locke, while keeping himself largely hidden, had a reputation that was very well-known. So I doubt that particular situation would have actually arisen. But if it had… Chains may have been able to keep everyone alive, but I doubt it. The point was for the person playing the Grey King to die. True, this would have left Locke in a position to not be shoved in a barrel of horse piss and thus defend himself and others when the attack came, but I still don’t think it would have made that much difference. There would have been someone dead at the end of it all, no matter what.

While Locke did break the rules he’d been taught to follow, the situation was such that I can completely understand why. It’s one thing to be in control of a con and yet work things so that the mark feels in control of the situation when they’re not. It’s another to not be in control of things from the beginning. It was a whole different dynamic, and the rules went out the window.

Gentlemen Bastards readalong – The Lies of Locke Lamora, Chapters 5-8

So, very belatedly, it’s time for this week’s (read: should have been posted on Monday…) selection of questions for the Gollancz/Fantasy Faction Gentlemen Bastards readalong. Chapters 5-8 of The Lies of Locke Lamora, which of course ended at such a cliffhanger that it was hard to put the book down and prevent myself from reading ahead!

Question: It is interesting that Lynch shows Locke unable to perform in a brothel. Very few authors would show such ‘weakness’ to their male hero. How did you find this scene? Did it fit with the rest of the novel? Did it show – as I guess it was meant to – just how cut up Locke was on Sabetha or did it weaken his character? Maybe both?

Personally, I don’t find that to be weakness, and I thought it fit very well with the established character. It had already been stated multiple times that he was really hung up on Sabetha and had been celebate for years because she wasn’t around. And in a moment of stress, he tries to just give that up and succumb to lust… and his emotions override his, er, more base desires. Rather than finding that to be an expression of weakness, I found it to be very effective at showing his loyalty and devotion, which is something that you see often in novels, but rarely done so well and so realistically. I have to give Lynch some serious props on showing that men can actually be loyal to their mates (or people they like/love/desire) instead of just crude sex-machines.

liesoflockelamoraQuestion: Locke’s conscience coming into play during Chapter 7 is interesting. Before now he could be excused for not comprehending the pain he causes those he robs, now though he has lost this excuse. Is Jean right, are they really Robin Hoods, robbing the rich and greedy who ‘deserve it’ or is Locke right to reconsider his position now the con is on him? 

‘Deserve’ is a relative term. I’m sure that in many ways, the people that Locke and his gang rob don’t need as much money as they have. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t earn it, and it doesn’t mean that Locke needs it. As they clearly don’t. Robin Hood at least tried to redistribute stolen wealth to those in need.

It is interesting to see the tables turned, I admit. Though I can see the event affecting his actions in the long-term, I don’t think he’ll end up reconsidering his calling. From what I’ve seen of him, he’s more likely to step up his game to the point where he can’t be touched, where he won’t have to worry about he or his ending up in a bad situation again.

Question: Can you think of a better plan than Locke came up with to survive both the Grey King and Capa’s wrath or would you have just run?

Me personally? I’d have run. Grabbed what I could, gone into hiding, then made my way to some other city where I stood less chance of being found. But then, I’m something of a coward and wouldn’t have turned to thieving anyway, so my own choices aren’t really an issue here. For the position that Locke found himself in, I think he did the best he could. Torn between danger to himself and loyalty to those he cares about, there really wasn’t much else he could do unless he confessed everything to Barsavi and begged for his help. Which would have been very much out of character.

Question: If not answered above, how would you kill the Bondsmage and get away with it?

Short of catching him sleeping, I honestly don’t know. Everyone can be killed, one way or another, but the Bondsmage would be a tough mark, and there’s every chance that whoever tried to take him out simply wouldn’t survive the encounter. Maybe overpowering him with brute force and hoping for the gods’ own luck?

Question: Do you think Chains’s background fits his character?

I was a bit of a surprise to discover his origins, but not so much of one that his eventual path seemed unrealistic. It was interesting, actually, to hear Chains alk about how similar origins can lead to very different ends, and was yet another touch of realism in a very well-put-together world. I think his background fits, in that it isn’t an uncommon end in the situation that Chains found himself in.

Gentlemen Bastards readalong – The Lies of Locke Lamora, Chapters 1-4

I mentioned before that I’m participating in the readalong for Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastards series, starting with the first book, The Lies of Locke Lamora. Which, by the way, is an awesome novel! I’ve had a long-time love of smooth-talking rogues and thieves, and so this book is keeping me highly entertained.

Part of the readalong involves discussion questions, the first batch of which can be found here, on the Gollancz website. Let’s see if I have anything worthwhile to add to the conversations.

What do you think of Scott Lynch’s narrative style?

It takes a bit of getting used to, with all the time-jumps, but if you’re paying attention and getting into the story then it’s not that hard to follow. And that manner of storytelling not only allows for the present to unfold bit by bit, but also the past, giving the reader lots of hooks into the life of Locke and his gang. It’s an interesting setup, and I at least for my part, it’s working to get my attention, keep me engaged and focused, and I love watching everything come to light.

As for the tone, it’s suitably dark and light in the right place, with the correct amount of gravitas and humour where it needs to be. You get a good feel for how the characters speak, how they act, odd habits they have, and interesting pieces of info about the world without needing gigantic infodumps. Lynch leaves many things hinted at rather than explicitly stated, waiting for the reader to pick up on the subtleties rather than beating them about the head with things. I like that. A lot!

What do you think of the way Scott Lynch weaves, sometimes giving us present day events and then going back and explaining them in a different timeline? 

It’s a different tactic than most authors take, and when most authors try to take it to the extent that Lynch has, it usually comes across as a bit of a garbled mess. It’s a testament of Lynch’s writing that this isn’t the case here. Here, it works, and is a great way to show how the story has been unfolding for years without having to take you through it chronologically and then leave gigantic gaps in the timeline where less important events happen.

liesoflockelamoraWhat do you think of Locke? Is he a good guy surviving the only way he can or is he a bad guy that is too loveable to hate? 

I think there’s a mix of both opinions in there. He had few options as a child, but with his currently-amassed fortune, if he wanted to go elsewhere and start a new life as a tailor, he could afford to do so without worry. He does what he does because he’s good at it and enjoys it, and that’s clear from his personality and words. And “bad guy” is too restrictive a term, I think, to use for Locke. He’s not inherently bad because he goes against established laws. He’s a lovable scoundrel, and no mistake, and as much as he’s the kind of person I wouldn’t want to associate with in real life, he’s a lot of fun to read about.

Other than Locke, who is your favourite character?

A tie between Calo and Galdo. If you could consider them a single character, then they’d be my favourite. I love their banter, their wit, their humour. They may be nearly quintessential sidekicks, but what a pair of sidekicks they make! They complement Locke nicely.

Do you think I am right with my guesstimate of currency? If not, do you have a better working out?

I wouldn’t even try putting their currency into real-world terms. Math has never been my strongest point, and what they would be making in dollars doesn’t interest me much, because it’s not really relevent to the story. it’s said that they could live comfortably on about 10 crowns a year, and assuming that to be about $1500 USD (give or take) would be fine for my own level of comfort if I had no debt… Well, that’s still not hugely applicable to the story. I’d guess the figures that were played with would work out, with a little variation, and they seem sound enough, but it’s not something I would both to figure out myself, even as an idle curiosity. What matters more to me is how what the characters get relates to their own economy, rather than mine.

Finally, what do you think happened to the Elders? Were they human? Were they mages?

Now this is a curious question. In my head, I picture them vaguely as an almost elven race, and I suspect that’s partly because I’ve read many books where the relics of lost civilizations usually get traced back to long-dead elves. And there’s nothing to say that said elves couldn’t have been mages, or else had some interesting technology to make Elderglass. I’m hoping that some more detail gets revealed about them as the books go on, to satisfy my curiosity, but to be honest, even if that doesn’t happen I’ll still be fine with it, because the very presence of their relics even when they aren’t there themselves adds to the depth and realism of the world that Scott Lynch has created.

Gentleman Bastards Readalong

Because I’m foolish and didn’t pay enough attention, I thought this readalong, hosted at Fantasy Faction, started later this month. Nope, it apparently started a few days ago. Well, there’s me with a red face!

liesoflockelamora  The Gentleman Bastards readalong is designed to help people get caught up for Scott Lynch’s newest book in the series, The Republic of Thieves, coming out in October. As for me, this is just a good excuse to read a series that I keep putting off. Much like with A Song of Ice and Fire, I can no longer say that.

This will go at about 4 chapters per week, a fairly relaxed pace, and it isn’t likelt to interfere with me reading other books in the meantime. Expect a Q&A post every now and again as I participate in the more social aspects of a group read. I now have until this Sunday to read the first 4 chapters of The Lies of Lock Lamora.

Anyone else want in on this readalong? Still time to join over at Fantasy Faction, if you’re interested!