The Lies of Locke Lamora: A realistic hero in a fantastical city

Scott Lynch fantasy book reviews The Gentleman Bastard: 1. The Lies of Locke Lamora 2. Red Seas Under Red Skies 3. The Republic of Thieves 4. The Thorn of Emberlain 5. The Ministry of Necessity 6. The Mage and the Master Spy 6. Inherit the Night The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott LynchThe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I finally read The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Other than stunning visuals of a strange and glorious archipelago city, vivid descriptions, engaging characters that we care about, and a story where the stakes are real, what does the book have to offer, really? I’ll admit that the story — the plot — is far from your usual fantasy fare, but are these things enough to sustain seven hundred pages? The answer is yes, not only sustain, but create a book I fell into and didn’t want to surface from, even after I turned the final page.

The plot of The Lies of Locke Lamora is more caper than quest. Other reviewers have compared Locke and his best friend Jean to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and they do seem to be updated takes on those classic characters, in an accurately realized criminal underworld with as many rules and protocols as that of the Duke’s royal court. Lamora and his band of buddies are confidence tricksters, possibly the only ones in the city of Camorr. They pay tribute and (allegedly) allegiance to the Capa Barsavi, the city’s criminal kingpin. While Locke and his team, the Gentlemen Bastards, plot their biggest scam yet, events overtake them; a mysterious assassin is killing all of Barsavi’s henchmen. The assassin alone is one thing, but he is working with a bondmage, the most powerful type of magician in the land. This makes him unstoppable. All too soon Lamora is entangled in this plot and people around him begin to die.

The book is long because Lynch also gives us the background of Lamora and Jean. As an orphan of five or six, Lamora tagged along with a group that had been sold to the Thiefmaker. Very soon, the Thiefmaker traded Lamora off to Chains, a blind priest of the Nameless Thirteenth God. Chains is also the leader and mentor of the Gentlemen Bastards, and teaches his thieves to read, write, do sums, cook, use the correct fork, serve a meal, cultivate languages and accents, and, in short, become professional con men and imposters. The story shifts back and forth between the current events in Lamora’s life and his childhood education.

Lamora is also a refreshing fantasy hero because he is, well, not heroic, at least not in the traditional sense. Lamora is small. He is not particularly handsome. Barsavi describes him, approvingly, as “prudent.” As for the martial arts, well, Chains has this to say:

You and I both know that you have multiple talents, Locke, genuine gifts for a great many things. So I have to give this to you straight. If it comes down to hard talk with a real foe, you’re nothing but a pair of pissed breeches and a bloodstain. You can kill, all right, that’s the gods’ own truth, but you’re just not made for stand-up, face-to-face bruising.

Lamora is smart, and in spite of the fact that he is quite close to being a sociopath, loyal to those close to him, and this is what gets him through the trials he faces in the book.

The setting of Camorr is also beautiful and different. The city exists in a lagoon or harbor and was built in the ruins of an older city, one built by a race that is no longer there. The descriptions of the Elderglass towers and other artifacts of the earlier inhabitants lend an air of true strangeness to what could otherwise be a pretty standard fantasy setting.

The language and the violence in this book are both brutal; just be warned. In spite of that, everything about this book pleases. If you’re one of the dozen or so folks left in the world who haven’t read it, you might want to check it out. Got a vacation coming up? This would be just the thing.


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MARION DEEDS is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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5 comments

  1. I’m actually planning to read this one early next month, so reading your review was a good prep for that. I’m looking forward to it, and I’ve heard that it’s a really good read. And then I’ll no longer be one of the few who’ve thus far missed out on reading it!

  2. I’m rereading this novel right now, and I think Marion’s got it right on the money — though my review will likely highlight a few different things here and there (in a 700-page novel, you can expect that different people will find different things the most impressive). Bibliotropic, you would be doing yourself a big favor if you picked this up and dove in.

  3. I can’t wait to read your review, Terry.

  4. I loved these books, too. It’s been years since I read the first book, but I still vividly remember some scenes and I can still feel the atmosphere. It’s a unique fantasy world that’s hard to forget.

  5. Your review is dead-on and reminded me of how much I liked these books.

    However, I’m not sure if I will read the next one that’s coming out later this year or not. That’s the thing with these authors takes so many years between books; along with forgetting important details of the story, its hard to keep the romance alive. Especially when many of the upcoming authors get it, that fantasy fans have become frustrated by that way of writing series books, at least for me anyways.

    It’s hard to stay committed when they are absent and there are all these sexy stories coming out everyday. :)

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