Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

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Published: February 2007 by Gollancz
Format reviewed: Paperback, 531 pages
Series: The Gentlemen Bastards Sequence #1
Genres: Fantasy
Source: Gift
Reading Challenges: Once Upon A Time IX
Available: Publisher ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves. The Gentleman Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they have ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…

There is so much to love about The Lies of Locke Lamora. I am a sucker for a number of things in a story–adventure and intrigue being two of them. This book has those in spades. We get to take a ride with Locke as he invents new personae, impersonates other characters and (as the title might indicate) straight-up lies through his teeth. There are muggings, heists, power struggles, quests for vengeance, gladiatorial battles and battles of wit. So much fun.

I also loved the structure of this book and the way it played with time. The story is not told in a precisely linear fashion. Instead, it manages to deliver Locke’s backstory (and certain other important bits of information) mostly by way of ‘interludes’ at the end of each chapter. This never felt like infodumping to me, being as richly embellished as the rest of the story. It was also a good way to build suspense by taking us away from the action of the present day. The pacing was excellently handled and really hooked me in–often by starting in the middle of the action and then backtracking somewhat to explain how the situation came about.

The setting is alive with detail, the description almost meandering but never boring. Lynch takes his time to paint us a clear picture and the result is a vibrant world.

However, I had some trouble with the representation of gender. On the surface, it gave me an impression of being a fairly equal society. There are women represented among the gangs of orphaned thieves, the lower classes, the merchants. The Don and Dona that Locke sets out to rob are represented as having a reasonably equal partnership–if anything, the Dona has more brains than her husband.

Nevertheless, there is an inconsistency between the apparent equality of the sexes and treatment of individual characters. It is hard to unpack this without spoilers. One example is that though there is nominally a female member of the Gentlemen Bastards, we never once see her on stage and she has managed to break Locke’s heart before the action takes place (thus striking her from the good graces of the reader). There is no reason to include her at all except to set up for the third book.

Scratching a little deeper, it is disappointing to note there are no females with overt power and that those with covert power end up being fairly toothless. And why exactly were all the whores female? Where are their male counterparts?

The villains were also something of a let-down. With intrigue and disguise being at the heart of this story, I had rather expected the Grey King’s identity to turn out to be someone the reader stood a reasonable chance of guessing–especially with the whole “Capa Barsavi knows my face” angle. How disappointing to discover this was not, in fact, the case.

The Grey King’s sidekick–a kind of magician known as a Bondmage–made a much better villain. There is a real battle of egos between Locke and the Bondmage, leading to palpable sense of hatred between them. Just as with Sabetha, it makes nice foreshadowing for the third book but weakens this one by undermining the central villain.

Overall, I found The Lies of Locke Lamora to be a very engaging book and an excellent adventure, albeit one with flaws.

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