The Lies of Locke Lamora – Review

“There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.”

I happened upon The Lies of Locke Lamora on Audible as a “you may also like…” suggestion after I survived the Eye of the World. I was looking for a riveting fantasy adventure that would keep me listening or turning the page (everything I couldn’t find in the Robert Jordan tome). Boy, was I surprised. This is my review of Scott Lynch’s fantasy heist extravaganza.

Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Author: Scott Lynch

Audio-book Reader: Michael Page

Series: The Gentlemen Bastards (Book 1)

Publisher: Gollancz (UK), 2006

[This review contains minor spoilers]

Overview

Locke Lamora is an orphan in the city of Camorr. He and his fellow Gentleman Bastards have put their checkered pasts behind them so that they may forge their checkered future. They are confidence tricksters and they are good at their jobs. So good that they are trying to out steal the other thieves of the city.

But there is a spanner in the works: a mysterious figure known as the Grey King has his knife out for Capa Barsavi (the Godfather-like figure of the Camorri underworld). Now every cutpurse and brigand and thief master are in danger. They are on edge…Barsavi suspects everyone…and Locke Lemora, “the Thorn of Camorr”, is not as uninvolved as he’d like everyone to believe.

Opinion

I love this book. There are few to compare it with. Think Oliver Twist’s Artful Dodger with a fouler mouth and a sharper mind – place him in a Mervin Peak-like setting – sprinkle with elaborate cons. Plot points pay off, the characters grow, and the world always seems deep and rich.

This book had everything I’ve been searching for in a fantasy book. It is not your typical sword and sorcery, and certainly not a derivative YA dystopian romp. Lemora is smart and fun – yes, fun, that element that gets smothered beneath overly complicated world-building and hard magic systems.

Cons

It’s so tempting to say that the entire book is full of them, but this is no time for jokes. There is little wrong with this novel and even less that I did not enjoy.

The violence and obscene language (see below) might put off some. This novel is certainly for mature readers only. The gore could have been toned down here and there, but it never descends to the level of cheap thrills or blood for blood’s sake.

This is yet another novel where the author opts to self-destruct the brilliant world they have created. I suppose that there is a bravery in being able to do that to the stuff that took you ages to come up with. And I suppose it’s testament to the strength of that world-building that we, as readers, mourn its destruction (a good lesson for us writers there). This is a semi-con (if ever there was such a thing).

“… It’s perfect! Locke would appreciate it.”

“Bug,” Calo said, “Locke is our brother and our love for him knows no bounds. But the four most fatal words in the Therin language are ‘Locke would appreciate it.'”

“Rivalled only by ‘Locke taught me a new trick,'” added Galo.

“The only person who gets away with Locke Lamora games …”

“… is Locke …”

“… because we think the gods are saving him up for a really big death. Something with knives and hot irons …”

“… and fifty thousand cheering spectators.”

– Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lemora

Potentially Offensive Content

Prepare for the most inventive insults and expletives you’ve ever encountered in a fantasy novel. While Lynch certainly deploys the F-bomb, he also treats us to offenses that even the orneriest Gordon Ramsey wouldn’t come up with. This – at times – spectacularly enhances the comedy, but I imagine that this would be off-putting to readers who prefer cleaner fantasy.

Beyond the gutter talk, the narrative takes violent turns. Narrow escapes leave our heroes in John McClain-like states of bloodiness. This no worse than the modern fantasy violence that we see in the likes of the Song of Ice and Fire trilogy and beyond. So, if that kind of thing turns you green (like it does me, sometimes), be cautious of this one.

It is also worth noting that the novel deals with orphans, illness, crime, corruption, murder, fantasy religion, and more crime.

Pros

The world-building stands out – it is magnificent. It is not in your face and it does not impede the pace of the narrative. In fact, learning about the deities, rituals, and political machinations of this medieval Venice-like setting is fun. I found myself trying to figure out what Locke has planned and how he would use these systems to his advantage. Not to spoil too much here, but suffice to say that – if you read it like that – you won’t be disappointed.

I enjoy books that make me laugh and – above all – allows me to fall in love with the characters. Lynch does this well in this novel. I found myself caring about not only the Gentlemen Bastards but their dodgy mentors and violent rivals too. It is a novel that understands people in a way that reminds me of Pratchett and Gaiman. If that doesn’t make it sound like it’s worth your time, then nothing will.

The language of the narrative is clear, witty, flowing, and clever. The novel is a pleasure to read. This is also thanks to the ever-growing tension that keeps you vouching for Locke and his fellow Gentlemen Bastards to succeed.

Excerpt

I’ve got kids that enjoy stealing. I’ve got kids that don’t think about stealing one way or the other, and I’ve got kids that just tolerate stealing because they know they’ve got nothing else to do. But nobody–and I mean nobody–has ever been hungry for it like this boy. If he had a bloody gash across his throat and a physiker was trying to sew it up, Lamora would steal the needle and thread and die laughing. He…steals too much.

– Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lemora

(Click the heading to read the first chapter of the novel!)

Final Score: 9/10

Final Thoughts

Have you read The Lies of Locke Lemora? What did you think? If not, will you give it a read? Please let me know below.

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