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.