Third review: February 28, 2015
I was a bad boy and only recently purchased Republic of Thieves. Instead of starting it immediately, I decided to delay the pleasure. It feels strange to think that the last time I read The Lies of Locke Lamora was five years ago. As I suspected, I had forgotten almost all of the actual plot details. I’m glad I decided to re-read this, and to read Red Seas Under Red Skies again, before I start the third book. Why read one great book when you can read three?
My appreciation for this novel has only ever increased. You can read my first two reviews below. I don’t have a lot to add to those. The book itself hasn’t changed, but I have. I’ve graduated from university, spent two years teaching in England, and now I’m back here, kinda-sorta teaching. I’ve grown up, might be a little more cynical and definitely more sarcastic than I used to be—so I thought I wouldn’t necessarily like this as much as I used to. I was wrong. The Lies of Locke Lamora took me back to the basics; Scott Lynch reminds me of how much I love stories about con artists and heists. Yet beneath that decoration, it’s more accurate to say that this is a book about friendship and loyalty.
Every major character, no matter where they lie along the spectrum of protagonist or antagonist, in this book acts how they do out of loyalty. The Grey King’s entire modus operandi is to avenge the deaths of his family. Doña Vorchenza is the Duke’s most loyal servant. The Salvaras have a touching marital loyalty going on. And then you’ve got the Gentlemen Bastards. It’s no accident, how all those flashbacks Lynch includes are object lessons in loyalty, perseverance, and trust. I know that in my first review I thought the flashbacks were more of a nuisance than not, but I enjoyed them a lot more this time. They’re an efficient way of building Locke’s character without constraining the story to a boring, linear trajectory.
As for Locke and Jean’s friendship … well, I want to keep this review spoiler-free, so I’ll only say this: “I don't have to beat you. I just have to keep you here ... until Jean comes.”
I mean, damn.
(Plus, if you’ve read Red Seas Under Red Skies, you know what happens. You know what I’m talking about.)
In this reading I was also struck by Lynch’s amazing ability with worldbuilding. He makes the world seem much bigger than what we actually see on the page. Some authors don’t have a very clear conception of what their world is like—there are a lot of blank spaces on their maps. Others have detailed biographies of every minor character—but the trouble is that they feel the need to share all those details with the reader! Lynch is among the elite rank of authors who’ve done the research, done the creation, but don’t drown the reader in extraneous exposition. He has invented months and a way of naming the years after the gods and whatnot, but he doesn’t include appendices explaining these systems, and he certainly doesn’t shoehorn such explanations into the text. We just roll with it. It sounds just familiar enough that it becomes part of the flavour of the novel, just alien enough that it helps build up some character for the setting.
It’s also worth noting that this is a dense novel. The paperback edition I have has normal-sized print, but it has slim margins and eschews any headers or footers besides modest page numbers at the bottom. It’s a long book too. That’s because Lynch packs a lot in it—plots within plots within plots within cons and schemes. And it’s awesome.
Other than that, I think my second review covers most of the bases. The Lies of Locke Lamora is, simply put, delightful. It’s a fantasy book I would recommend to anyone thinking, “I don’t read a lot of fantasy, so where can I start?” Magic exists, but it isn’t too in-your-face. And Lynch manages the whole gamut of emotion, from humour through farce and dialogue to the gutwrenching, stomach-punching tragedy of losing the ones we love.
It’s like a movie that you really like: even when you remember the details and the characters (which I didn’t this time around), you take such pleasure from hanging around them and watching them in their element. (I think this would make a great TV series and could work well as an adaptation—but that’s neither here nor there.) After reading The Lies of Locke Lamora three times, I’m starting to see why I keep re-reading it. And I’ve no doubt I will read it again, and again.
Second review: October 9, 2009
In case the following new review doesn't make it absolutely clear, on a second reading, my admiration of The Lies of Locke Lamora has only increased. Even though I knew what would happen and anticipated every twist, I still enjoyed the book. While I don't think "re-readability" is a requirement for a great book, it certainly helps.
I quite enjoyed the story. It starts out as a con game and quickly becomes about intra-city politics, class warfare, and revenge. No one is whom they seem to be. There's just something so satisfying about watching Locke Lamora and his gang of Gentlemen Bastards execute a confidence game. Maybe I'm a sociopath; certainly it's a valid criticism that the protagonist of the book is a thief. As thieves and rogues go, however, Locke and his bunch aren't bad—they're certainly better than the cutthroat brigands who form one of the two antagonist groups. And the other antagonist group, the largely clueless nobility led by the slightly-less-clueless Dona Vorchenza, isn't much better—there's a reason we switched to democracy, right?
Locke Lamora is everything you expect from the brains behind a con game: sneaky, devious, and a smart-ass. He'll talk back to anyone—even the most scary character in the book, the Karthani Bondsmage known only as "the Falconer." When he's not patronizing you, you should be worried, because that means he's playing you, like he plays Capa Barsavi, once the most important criminal in Camorr, and Dona Vorchenza, Duke Nicovante's secret spymaster.
I suppose I should also telegraph my love for Jean Tannen, Locke's sidekick and muscle. Lynch has a nice way of introducing Jean: he beats up young Locke. Yay, I like when the main character gets taken down a notch! Jean's got brains too—he reads books—but prefers to let Locke build the schemes even as he cuts down anyone in the way. Their symbiotic relationship is perfectly summed up in one flashback scene, which is actually foreshadowing for the climax: "I don't have to beat you. I just have to keep you here ... until Jean comes." Awesome.
Camorr comes alive through Lynch's description of the way the city and its inhabitants operate. There's a great deal of exposition in this book, but it seldom interrupts the unity of the story. As a result, we learn all about the culture of Camorr, how other peoples view the Camorri, and what it's like to be a thief in the city. In a way, the city itself is a character.
And it fits perfectly into this novel's tone of badass underdogs versus ruthless villains. Both groups are equally matched when it comes to wits too; Lynch expertly balances the schemes of both the protagonists and antagonists to create a nice element of risk toward the climax. The first time I read this, I certainly didn't know exactly what the Grey King had up his sleeve; every time he stood up and pontificated his "actual" plan, we'd quickly learn it was just the uppermost layer of a Xanatos Gambit! And he's not the only one with a plan. Of course Locke is going to win in the end—at a terrible price—but along the way he suffers many setbacks. He's awesome, but he's flawed and far from invincible, which makes him a believable character.
Instead of learning about the Grey King's actual totally ultimate evil plan from his own mouth, we refreshingly hear it from the mouth of a tortured henchman whom Locke and Jean capture. In fact, although this book has a lot of exposition and flashbacks, it makes up for this by defying expectations when it comes to direct confrontations between two major characters. I cheered aloud when Dona Vorchenza jabbed Locke in the neck with a poisoned knitting needle, proceeded to tell him how he would now surrender, and he punched her in the face and stole the antidote before running away. Finally, a hero who does logical things when at the mercy of an antagonist! My relief is palpable.
Have I extolled The Lies of Locke Lamora enough? Are you crying out, "Enough, already! We get it, Ben; you liked the book!" Hopefully I've given you an idea regarding whether you'd enjoy reading it. This book is fun, while at the same time maintaining suspense and a sense of danger. If so inclined, you can grow attached to some of the characters. That's often difficult with even the best of books, but Lynch's style and way with dialogue make it easy here.
Of course I have some criticism to offer. It's much the same as what I said in my first review, however, so I won't repeat it here. I've included my first (and less well-written) review below.
First review: September 10, 2008
The Lies of Locke Lamora offers entertaining characters who all seem to have schemes of their own, exciting action scenes, and equally excellent exposition. Scott Lynch has created a refreshing fantasy story that revolves not around "the chosen one" but around a thief. While this may not be original, Lynch's Locke Lamora is a charming thief with whom I bonded as he becomes the underdog through successive struggles in the story.
Alliteration aside, I enjoyed this book in a way I haven't for a while (mostly because I spent the summer reading The Sword of Truth series). When I reached the climax, I couldn't wait to turn the next page--unfortunately, I had to go to class. Lynch is a good storyteller; he keeps the reader interested while still managing to convey enough details to create a rich setting. Camorr is Venice, with a pinch of magic sprinkled among pseudo-science. I appreciate how Lynch seamlessly integrates magic into his setting: no endless speeches explaining the rules of the author's pet system of magic. I hate that!
Locke Lamora is an orphan who rises to become the leader of a gang of thieves for whom misdirection is everything. They regularly breach Capa Barsavi's Secret Peace--that the thieves of Camorr, or "Right People" as they call themselves, will steal only from commoners and merchants, not from nobles or the "yellowjacket" city watch. Yet to everyone outside their group, the Gentlemen Bastards seem to be nothing more than mediocre thieves. Unfortunately, Lamora's penchant for disguise catches up to him when he becomes a reluctant pawn in a power struggle for control of Camorr's thieves.
While Lynch does a good job weaving backstory into the book using flashback, some of the backstory seems superfluous, and that broke the unity of the story. I would pause and think, "Oh, that's nice. Can I get back to the plot now?" Some of the scenes could have been cut to tighten up the writing, and I would not have missed them.
The book was rushed toward the end--climaxes tend to lead to an increased pace, of course, but in this case I felt that the need for the climax drove the story toward an artificial resolution rather than the other way around. I can forgive Lynch for this simply because I derived great enjoyment from his characterization of Lamora toward the ending.
This edition includes a sneak peek at the second book in the series, and I must say that I can't wait to read it!