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.

~Marion Deeds


Trained from childhood as a thief and con-artist par excellence, Locke Lamora employs a silver tongue and quicksilver mind to divest the rich of Camorr of their excessive wealth. No sooner do Locke and his associates initiate their latest scheme, however, than they find themselves at the mercy of the mysterious Gray King, who intends to use them as pawns in his bid to take over the city-state’s underworld. As the Gray King’s diabolical plan unfolds, Locke finds his skills tested as never before as he struggles not only for his own survival, but also for the survival of his friends and Camorr itself.

In this scintillating debut novel, Scott Lynch establishes himself as a rising star of fantasy fiction. Like Patrick Rothfuss, Lynch is a natural storyteller with a keen intellect and a gift for richly detailed, imaginative world-building and intricate plotting. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fast-paced, entertaining, stilettos- (and hatchets-) against-sorcery tale that is both self-contained and well-positioned as a cornerstone for further adventures. It does have its share of weaknesses: excessive and gratuitous profanity; good but not deeply developed characterization; a few locales that are either too complex to describe or else inadequately described; and a lack of any comment on the human condition or truth that will change one’s life. In short, it’s a tale intended as pure entertainment… and as such, it admirably succeeds.

Highly recommended for fans of thieves, caper movies, and well-written sword-and-sorcery. Recommended with a caveat to fans of high fantasy and anyone distasteful of profanity and violence.  Four gleaming white-iron stars.

~Rob Rhodes


Scott Lynch has created a unique and fascinating world full of wonderful creations such as a crime boss who rules his empire from a houseboat, his little daughter who sits on his lap drinking ale and kicking subordinates with her steel-toed boots, a blind priest who begs for alms and eats gourmet meals off fine plates in his luxurious cellar, noblemen who live in glowing glass towers, a blood-sucking rose garden, alcoholic oranges, and women who fight jumping man-eating sharks for sport. Not great literature, but truly entertaining!

~Kat Hooper


In many ways, this is one of the better adult fantasies I’ve read in quite a while. Locke Lamora is a con artist, with the emphasis on both “con” and “artist.” He’s the leader of a close-knit gang of five con men.

“Locke is like a brother to us, and our love for him has no bounds. But the four most fatal words in the Therin language are ‘Locke would appreciate it.'”

“Rivaled only by ‘Locke taught me a new trick,'” added Galdo.

“The only person who gets away with Locke Lamora games—”

“—is Locke Lamora—”

“—because we think the gods are saving him up for a really big death. Something with knives and hot irons—”

“—and fifty thousand cheering spectators.”

The brothers cleared their throats in unison.

Locke and his gang gleefully plan and execute elaborate cons to swindle the rich nobility in their city of their gold, for no real reason other than their love of putting one over on other people (the money they get mostly sits around their hideout unused) and because this is what their mentor raised them to do.

Locke and his friends are in the middle of an excellent con, when their lives — and the lives of everyone in the underworld in the city of Camorr — are complicated by the arrival of a deadly foe known only as the Gray King, who has a seemingly unbeatable sorcerer, the Falconer, assisting him. The Gray King is insistent on Locke playing a role in his plans, and as those plans slowly unfold over the course of the novel, the stakes keep rising and the body count goes higher.

The story is set in a fantasy world where some people (mostly ruthless ones) have magical powers, the wealthy live in lovely, glowing, indestructible towers built by some mysterious alien race before their time, and deadly animals like wolf sharks and salt devils (dog-sized spiders) are anxious to kill you. The world-building in this novel is outstanding.

The narrative jumps back and forth between Locke’s boyhood days as an orphan and his adult adventures. It was a bit confusing at first, but once I got into the flow of it I really appreciated the insights into the growing-up years of Locke and his friends, and how the past informs the present. In the end the two timelines tie together in some very soul-satisfying ways.

This is an imaginative, well-written and well-plotted novel, but it gets pretty grim and bloody in some scenes, and countless F-bombs litter the pages like confetti. It’s a bit too much for me personally to totally love this book or to continue with the series, but if you like hard-hitting fantasies, this is a very good one.

Content advisory: lots of gore; lots of swearing. Not for kids or clean-reads-only readers.

~Tadiana Jones


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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, 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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ROB RHODES was graduated from The University of the South and The Tulane University School of Law and currently works as a government attorney. He has published several short stories and is a co-author of the essay “Sword and Sorcery Fiction,” published in Books and Beyond: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of New American Reading. In 2008, Rob was named a Finalist in The L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. Rob retired from FanLit in September 2010 after more than 3 years at FanLit. He still reviews books and conducts interviews for us occasionally. You can read his latest news at Rob's blog.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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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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