Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1)The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the novel every sixteen-year-old wants to read. And by "sixteen" I mean anyone who is chronologically sixteen or sixteen at heart. That probably means you (so long as you're not allergic to a lot of swearing and violence - if you can't handle this, find something else). No, it's not a coming of age novel. Not really. I'd pity the sap who had a childhood like Locke Lamora's - an orphan whose "family" was a band of child thieves before being sold to another "family" of thieves. But it is as bawdy, violent, and intelligent as one could ever ask in a fantasy novel. It is also incredibly well-written - elegant, though not baroque or overwrought, limned with brilliant turns of phrase that wrap the reader in the story, rather than pushing them out.

I won't even attempt to go over plot details in this one. First of all, I'm not very good at relating plots; and, second, the many comparisons I've heard to Ocean's Eleven and The Godfather are more than adequate to underscore the complexity of the plot. Suffice it to say that we see the titular thief's beginning, much of his upbringing and those of the other "Gentleman Bastards," we see their exploits as a cocksure gang, including an intricate heist involving the duping of a pair of nobles (brilliantly planned and executed) then, with the entrance of a mysterious figure known as the Gray King, things start to go wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

The wonder of this is that the book is written, throughout, with a chronological back-and-forth dance between past and present. Lynch choreographs this dance more deftly than I have ever seen before. The book progresses chronologically, at first, to the point where Locke is sold to his new garrista, or gang boss, Father Chains. From there, we jump to the present, and from there on out, we weave our way back and forth, following Locke and the Gentleman Bastards' heist and the complications presented by the Gray King in a linear fashion, while dipping back into interludes from the past that provide just enough information about the characters' pasts to give the needed background to understand aspects of the present, but not so much information that it feels hokey. Other, less skilled authors, would make these past sections feel like an awkward interpolation, but Lynch's flashbacks never feel like an infodump.

The setting, the city of Camorr, is mysterious and well-realized. I'm not certain if subsequent volumes of the adventures of Locke and Jean (one of the other Gentleman Bastards) also take place in Camorr, but Lynch has definitely not tapped the potential of the city with this one novel. Imagine a city not unlike Venice, but rife with sharks in the water and human sharks in every alleyway. The city itself is built atop the architecture of some past civilization that we know almost nothing about. This alien architecture is made of some unknown material called "Elderglass" that is sometimes translucent, sometimes opaque, and glows with "falselight" in the evening, lending an eerie quality that is used throughout as a sort of time marker indicating nightfall.

While the other Gentleman Bastards, Jean, the twins Calo Sanza and Galdo Sanza, and the young Bug, are all critical to the story, the focus is, as one would expect, on Locke Lamora. Locke is not the most physically deft person (that would be the Sanza twins), nor is he very strong or a good fighter (that would be Jean). But he is absolutely cunning and a fantastic liar. He is brilliant, and he knows it. But he is also very cautious, which saves his hide several times over. He is more cocksure than brave, but never stupid, even as he derides himself for being so. He is the ultimate Scheisster. As with any very intelligent person, he has a cutting wit, which is actually a common trait among all the Gentleman Bastards. The humor is thick and ribald in the first two-thirds of this book, then becomes grim by the end. Expect to laugh a lot at first, then expect to wonder if you should be laughing or not. For the reader with a dark sense of humor (read: me), this is a hilarious read when it needs to be and becomes more serious when it ought to (though it never loses its snarkyness).

I must admit that there are times when I read a book and am just plugging through it to get through it. I started that way with this book. Yes, I had heard it was good, but it took me a moment to "buy-in". But that was a quick moment. Maybe three or four pages, and I was hooked. The story flows quickly, yet uses intelligent, complex syntax with clever twists of irony. Lynch shows a master author's touch in The Lies of Locke Lamora. I haven't been "taken away" by a fantasy like this in some time. This book will demand all your attention, and it should. It is THAT good!

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