RogerBW's Blog

The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch 29 August 2014

First of a projected seven-book fantasy series. In a decaying imperial city, a thief and con-man just wants to be left alone to get on with his business. But people keep interfering.

The present-day narrative is interspersed with scenes from Locke's childhood and apprenticeship as a thief. His origins remain a mystery, as does anything more about the love of his life than her name and hair colour; this is meant to be a seven-book series, after all.

Essentially this is a caper story: The Sting in fantasy-Venice. Lamora's principal operation as described here is a classic long con, offering rich if slightly illicit rewards in return for lots and lots of cash up front. (Though it is needlessly sophisticated by an additional wrinkle that in a conventional long con narrative would be held for a post-resolution twist, where here it's revealed as soon as it's happened.) But other things are going on too: the city's senior thieves are being murdered by a mysterious Grey King, who turns out to have much grander plans which spread out in multiple directions. Too many of them intersect with Lamora.

The plot is tangled and complex, and inevitably the resolution disappoints just a little: oh, his motivation was that, was it? How commonplace. Still, the various parallel and intersecting machinations are never difficult to follow, and while one regrets the paths not taken they would only have made the story even longer and more convoluted.

Nobody in this story is ever at a loss for the perfect line. Lamora's gang, the Gentlemen Bastards, are epicureans and "good guy" thieves who only steal from the city's nobles (breaking the secret deal made between the nobles and the master thieves twenty years ago, but that won't come back to bite them, will it?). You may find this enjoyable or irritating; for me it stayed barely on the right side of the line, while always threatening to be just a little too pleased with itself in much the same way that our heroes do.

There is a lot of this book. Even without the digressions into legendry, we get sudden long lush descriptions of an unbreakable glass garden, the habits of the city's floating market, or a particularly gruesome and gory killing. Lynch is a good enough writer to keep these interesting, but I suspect that in a market less demanding of great fat fantasy blockbusters the book could have been aggressively trimmed and might have been better for it. Pacing may be a little slow for some readers, especially at the beginning as the various parallel narrative frames are being set up. Characterisation is also quite light at first, but this does settle in as the book progresses.

Magic is played quite lightly. The unbreakable glass is one part of it; various alchemical treatments of plants and materials are another (ranging from particularly good-tasting brandy to making things glow, but all sorts of convenient things are justified this way); and there is an actual magician, though he's as intimidating for the pledge of his guild that they will all act against anyone who kills one of their number as for his undoubtedly powerful magical skills. (It's perhaps a shame that these are never clearly delineated; both his great power and his inevitable defeat feel like authorial fiat rather than clever manipulation of rules and limits.) Indeed, Lamora's own cleverness and fighting spirit seem to ebb and flow with the needs of the plot; he immediately backs down in the face of one threat, but later casually goes up against a much greater one with no plan or hope of success. (He's also blatantly lucky to an exceptional degree. For him, something will always work out. This again is just a shade unsatisfying.)

This isn't a favourite book, and I don't see myself rushing to re-read it, but it was still highly enjoyable and I intend to read the sequels.

A film is to be made of this book. Never mind; we don't have to watch it. Followed by Red Seas Under Red Skies.

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  1. Posted by chris at 10:07am on 29 August 2014

    "(He's also blatantly lucky to an exceptional degree....)"

    There's a reason for that.

    I have just finished Volume the Third. (The Republic of Thieves.)

    heh heh heh

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