The Lies of Locke Larmora“The Lies of Locke Lamora” has received more than its fair share of attention this past year, first with a number of raving and positive reviews, along with favourable blurbs by the likes of George R. R. Martin. As a result of this it was later on involved in a rather distasteful confrontation between several bloggers regarding the neutrality of some of the reviewers, who were accused of falling in thrall with the publishers of the said book, due to being provided with free advance copies and a generally close relationship cultivated in hope of receiving favourable reviews and generating a certain amount of buzz around the novel.

Well lets put all that rubbish to bed; “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is a fine read, written with skill and a deft hand by Scott Lynch, who draws the reader into the story by interspersing the rollicking high-adventure of the primary narrative with so-called ‘interludes’ into the main character’s past as a young boy. For those who don’t know the basic premise of the novel, it follows the misadventures of one Locke Lamora, a thieving, conniving con-man who carries out the most elaborate (and I must say, enjoyable) confidence games with the rich and privileged of the city of Camoor. Known to those he steals from only as the shadowy figure of The Thorn of Camoor, a near-mythical hero thought to steal from the rich to give to the poor, he truly only cares for no one else but himself and his merry band of thieves, The Gentlemen Bastards, so named due to their pitch-perfect ability to mimic the ways of the upper classes of any known culture.

Lynch infuses his created world and city with a rich, layered tapestry, an achievement that shouldn’t be ignored, as so many writers of science fiction and fantasy fail most obviously in this very respect. Keeping in mind that this is merely the first in a multi-novel sequence, Lynch drops tantalizing hints about the history of both the title character as well as the fascinating city of Camoor, possibly to be developed on in future novels. A long dead magical race thought to have built a whole series of astounding cities along the coast, of which Camoor is merely one, are mentioned here and there without much elaboration. It is merely said that humans wandered into these abandoned cities and claimed them for their own, along with all their magical secrets that they held, and one can only hope that more will be developed regarding the history of both the seemingly dead alien race, as well as questions regarding the history of the humans that came to these forgotten shores, such as “Where the hell they came from?” After all, it could hardly be that primeval man in his animalistic state wandered in to these amazing urban jungles and suddenly decided to set up shop.

Additionally, there are several magical and fantastical elements involved in an otherwise renaissance era story: first, the often described and carefully elaborated alchemy of the world that is used to achieve such wonders as creating hybrid plants, powering lights (no candles here) and various other powerful uses from explosives to elixirs. Lynch does an admirable job in introducing this element into a world otherwise stuck in what is perhaps the seventeenth century. He does not overuse it nor uses it as a crutch; he merely shows how such a powerful tool would be used in the various facets of a pre-industrial society.

The world of Locke Lamora is not without traditional magic. Indeed, without giving anything away, I would say that it plays a significant and powerful role in the book. However, its use is carefully and ruthlessly controlled by the ominous magicians guild, the Bondsmagi, who brook no competitors to their art, nor any attack on one of their order. The magic itself, however, seems to be a touch too strong for the world created by Lynch, a single Bondsmagi being able to achieve nearly any thing he desires via his powers. With a large part of their powers coming from knowing the true names of the magic’s target, it seems a little to easy in a world where everyone’s true name and public name are one and the same, so that merely knowing the name of the person you want to affect gives you near total power over them. Traditionally, this element of magic is powerful because true names are traditionally hidden, not broadcast for the world to know. For instance, true names are one’s childhood names that could be discarded (or concealed) by adopting a new name upon reaching adulthood, or it could be that true names are in some esoteric language, revealed via long years of study and by achieving true understanding of the world. Being able to uncover them by merely asking someone on the street and pointing to one’s target, just seems awfully easy. Also the Bondsmagi having already proven to be able to defeat any traditional army, and now existing as the sole wielders of magic, should conceivably be able to reunite the fragmented elements of the once great Therin Throne under their rule. That they haven’t seems puzzling, but Lynch does leave us in the dark about a number of elements not immediately important to the plot, so one can only assume that these issues will be tackled in future novels.

Talking about dangling plotlines, Lynch is actually pretty much on the spot in making The Lies of Locke Lamora a standalone novel, and any lingering questions are largely a result of hints as to the protagonists past that serve to layer the story and provide it with hidden depths, making me all the more eager to read the coming sequel in June. Case in point, a sixth (female) member of the Gentlemen Bastards is sporadically mentioned, and is absent from both the fashbacks as well as the main story line. Yet Lynch makes it abundantly clear that Locke is in love with her, that something has, for some unknown reason, come between them, and that she will surely appear in an upcoming novel. Similarly, the nature of the alien beings that created the glittering city of Camoor, will surely serve as ripe material to be further developed as the series goes on. Yet, by the end of the novel, our main concern is the continuing adventures of the Gentlemen Bastards, after what can only be described as momentous and life-changing events of this current novel.

Lynch writes well, and I don’t mean that as ‘well for a fantasy writer’ kind of well. He knows how to keep the plot skipping along without making us wait around for big events to happen. He pulls the reader continuosly from one direction to another, with break-neck, whiplash-causing speed, and the plot twists are nearly always surprising and eye-popping. He writes his hero in with enjoyable depth and witty banter, and a strong cast of supporting characters, not only among the Gentlemen Bastards but also the rest of the residents of Camoor. The city itself, inspiring images of Venice, is filled to the brim with interesting figures and factions, from the seemingly all-powerful Underground Don (known as the Capa), to the shadowy and hidden figure of the Grey King that opposes him, as well as a well fleshed out nobility that is the target of Locke’s activities. No character comes off as one-note or feels underserved by the story, and the flashbacks provide us with ample backstory for the main characters.

Everything that Lynch writes is meant to add to the sheer fun of reading the novel, and it shows in the end when you put down the book with a sense of both satisfaction at being well served by a talented author, as well as the disappointment one feels when finishing a good book. The Lies of Locke Lamora comes with my enthusiastic recommendation… pick it up and prepare for a few sleepless nights!

Weightloss Saga: Beginnings

January 16, 2007

I have struggled with my weight ever since I left school. As my trainer recently informed me, after one turns 18, the body’s metabolic rate automatically continues to diminish throughout one’s lifetime. And so perhaps the timing of my weight gain is perhaps no mystery, although it was certainly not helped by the fact that it also coincided with the start of my university life in North America, and the infamous “freshman fifteen” that goes along with it.

Regardless, the fact is that after school I was about 10 kilos overweight (around 80kgs) and continued in that strain for most of the remainder of my university life. Recently however, the past 18 months of so has seen and increasing sedentiarization of my life style, resulting in what can only be described as a ballooning effect of my body, which in its supreme comfort sitting on the couch, the computer chair or reclining on my rather comfortable bed, decided that, what the hell, lets aim for an even 100.

And so yes, ladies and gentlemen, my most recent examination of my body revealed that it has hit that terrifyingly scary triple digit figure of a 100kgs. My recent return to India is accompanied by my stark realization that I must, must, regain a more respectable shape, and that a pear is certainly as far from respectable as possible. Of course this realization, though inevitable due to the sheer size of the issue, has been brought into focus through the rather blunt and astute observations of my family and friends, who having not seen me for an extended period of time, now resort to giving me open mouthed and wide-eyed stares that waver between my rather plump face and my bulging middle.

Anyhow, the time has come for some return to sanity, the normalization of my body shape and size being merely the first step. So with this aim in mind, and with the firm encouragement (or should I say insistence) of my mother, and the constant reminder of the rather unfair mirror in my bathroom, I signed up for a gym to achieve this herculean task. Three days ago, after some rather light cardio, I sat down with a rather amiable young nutritionist attached to the gym, who rather starkly laid out my situation and the process I would have to go through to achieve my aims. The end result of that consultation was that I must lose close to 30 kgs, that my body fat percentage is at the dangerous level of 31%, and that my stomach at the level of my navel, has inflated to the alarming size of 44 inches.

Whoa.

That took me back a bit.
Once I regained my senses a bit, I got to the grim determination part of the program. It appears that to lose this weight I shall have to undergo a regimen of a somewhat mediocre diet, which requires increasing the number of meals to 5, reducing the intake of food in each meal, and cut out from my life the wonderful joys of butter chicken, egg centres and of all things… coffee! Now that was just going to far!

So ignoring that last blasphemous item, I have begin affecting the required change in my life and have begun my days with sticky, gummy, yucky oatmeal which in retrospect is really not all that bad, removed the egg yolks from my second (smaller) breakfasts and have cut down on my coffee consumption. So far so good. I also am expected to burn 600 calories per day doing cardio exercises, which I have chosen to mean a mix of jogging on the treadmill, cycling, and looking funny on the elliptical. So far so good.

Speaking of which, I believe it is my time to head off to the gym… so off I go. I hope this serves to remind me of what I need to to. Wish me luck!

UPDATE: So its been a good ten days since I started my workout regimen, and I had the first of my weekly follow up meetings with my trainer. Good news! Lost 3 kilos in such a short time, which seems a lot, and my trainer concurred. Maybe it was a lot of water loss or something… either way, I’ve lost atleast 2kilos of fat and my body fat percentage has fallen almost a full percentage point. Lets hope I can create a trend by next weeks weigh in!