Friday, April 20, 2012

Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Published: Gollancz & Bantam Spectra, 2006
Series: Book 1 of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence
Awards Nominated: British Fantasy Society Award, World Fantasy Award

The Book:

“An orphan’s life is harsh–and often short–in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains–a man who is neither blind nor a priest. A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected “family” of orphans–a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards.

Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.

Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld’s most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful–and more ambitious–than Locke has yet imagined.”

After all those Read-Along posts, here’s my final review of The Lies of Locke Lamora! I’ve heard that this is the first of a planned series of seven books (two of which are currently published), and I’m looking forward to reading them all. I think The Lies of Locke Lamora does stand on its own as a novel, though there is a fair amount of foreshadowing that seemed to be pointing towards later in the series.  In any case, the ending resolved the story arc of this novel, while remaining open enough that I can’t wait to see what happens in the next installment. 

My Thoughts:

I felt that world building was one area where The Lies of Locke Lamora really excelled.   Camorr was a wonderfully realized place, with boatloads of physical description, intricate culture, society, and religion.  In fact, the setting of Camorr had so much personality that it felt like another main character.  I think that a fully developed concept of the world is very important for a novel that focuses so much on confidence schemes.   Without all the details—from the Secret Peace all the way down to the dressing habits of Vadran travelers—it would be difficult to appreciate how Locke and his gang use their targets’ expectations to manipulate their perception of events. 

Even with all of this detail, I appreciated that Lynch did not spell out every mystery.  For instance, I feel like I have a pretty good overall feel for the polytheistic religion of Camorr, but I don’t remember ever receiving significant information on any more than a few of their deities.  Or, for another example, I now know general Camorri views of several foreign countries, but I still know little about the actual inner workings of those countries.  In this way, I think that Lynch struck a skillful balance between fleshing out the world and not overwhelming the reader with unnecessary information.

As much as I loved Lynch’s fantasy world, I also enjoyed reading about the people in it.  Not all of the characters were as developed as Locke Lamora, but, at the very least, they each had some characteristic or personality quirk that made them memorable.  The dialogue contains a considerable amount of profanity, but it seemed like a believable speaking style for the many gangsters, conmen and thieves.  This was also a rather violent story, and one where it seemed that no character was safe from dying a horrible death.  I think this sense of danger really helped to heighten the stakes of the story.  Failure and death were not just abstract concepts to Locke and the others, but rather a constant threat in their daily lives. 

On the other hand, the death and violence in the story also resulted in a pretty high character turnover rate.  Many new characters were introduced throughout the story, and I felt like some people who were very important to the plot were introduced a little too late to be especially dramatically effective.  In several cases, the distribution of authorial attention to characters did not seem proportional to the relative importance of each character. I appreciate that Lynch has no qualms with letting his creations die, but sometimes I wished that the cast could stay slightly more constant.

With all the violence and the ever-changing cast, reading The Lies of Locke Lamora felt a little like riding a roller coaster.  More than once, I thought I knew where the rest of the book was going, only to be promptly proven wrong by yet another unexpected development.  I appreciated that the surprises along the way usually didn’t seem unmotivated.  There’s enough foreshadowing for each development to sense in retrospect, but little enough that the story still feels unpredictable. With its large cast, satisfying plot twists and exciting world, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a thoroughly entertaining story. 

My Rating: 4.5/5

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantastic start to a series, though it can also stand alone as a complete story.  Scott Lynch has portrayed a very detailed and immersive world, and I would love to learn more about it through his future novels.  There’s a fair amount of profanity and violence, but not really more than one might expect from a story about gangsters, con artists, and other criminals.  The many characters were easy to get attached to, which is dangerous in a story where the threat of death is never far away.   As the title might lead you to believe, this story is essentially about Locke Lamora and his confidence schemes, though the plot is delightfully twisted and unpredictable.  I think the main purpose of this particular novel was to entertain, and it does that spectacularly well!

P.S. The Read-Along for Red Seas Under Red Skies (Book 2), will begin next week! More information can be found here for anyone who's interesting in joining the fun!


  1. You are right that this was a fantastic set up to a series: I came away wanting more of everything. The world is interesting, the characters wonderful, the dialogue 'fruity' and the plot was a work of crazy genius. Roll on RSURS! :)

  2. Thanks for your comment! I really need to buy that book tonight and get started :).