Review: “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch

January 21, 2007

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!

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2 Responses to “Review: “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch”

  1. zeedany Says:

    The way you describe the world this book is set reminds me of the way China Mieville’s New Crobuzon was described.
    Maybe I’ll pick this after finishing Pynchon’s Against The Day.


  2. I haven’t had a chance to read “Perdido Street Station” yet (though I’ve read about half of “The Scar”) so I can’t really compare, but from whatever I’ve heard about Mieville’s fictional city makes it sound a little darker and more oppressing than Camoor. Lynch walks a fine line between the brutal reality of the city streets and the wonderfully magical and enrapturing elements that suffuse nearly every corner of the city.
    Really need to read Mieville though… he’s been on my to-read list for far too long. I ended up abandoning “The Scar” because I felt like I was not fully getting the feel for the world, and I promised myself I would get back to it after I read some of his earlier books… just haven’t gotten around to it.


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