The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Series: Gentleman Bastard, #1
Published: 2006, Bantam Spectra
Genre: Adult Fantasy
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“Some day, Locke Lamora,” he said, “some day, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I’m still around to see it.”
“Oh please,” said Locke. “It’ll never happen.”
I’ve resisted writing a review of this book for nearly a month. Yes: resisted. It’s time I own up to that fact. It’s easy enough to say that other things - that life - got in the way of me recording my thoughts on this book, but that’s not entirely true. It’s just that I lack the words to properly describe my experience reading this book. At first it was a bit of a struggle to read. I liked it well enough, but was having trouble connecting to both the plot and the characters, which made this already-hefty book feel even longer. Then the second half of this novel hit and, while I still wasn’t reading it very quickly, I found myself savoring each and every detail. And now I still can’t get this story and these characters out of my head. Yes, The Lies of Locke Lamora was well worth the time it took for me to get fully invested in it.
As a child, Locke Lamora was one of the few lucky survivors of the Black Whisper, a plague that decimated his childhood district in the city of Camorr. Few options are available to children orphaned as he is, none too pleasant. But the seven-year-old Locke takes fate into his own hands by sneaking along with the children conscripted by the Thiefmaker, a petty criminal who lives in the city’s graveyard Shades’ Hill. He takes boys and girls to be his eyes, ears, and hands in the city of Camorr. Although he allows Locke to stow away with him and become part of his “family,” the Thiefmaker gets more than he bargained for, for Locke proves not only to be extremely adept at thievery, but puts their entire enterprise at risk with his outlandish schemes.
Desperate, the Thiefmaker offers to sell Locke to Father Chains, the Eyeless Priest, a servant of the penitents’ god Perelando. Locke joins a smaller group of initiates of Perelando, only to learn that their supposed servitude is a front: they are actually disciples of the Nameless Thirteenth god, the god of thievery and deception. By joining their ranks, Locke finds a greater purpose and puts his prodigious talents to good use at last.
The Lies of Locke Lamora actually tells the story of Locke’s life on two separate timelines. The beginning of the book focuses on Locke’s life during the few years after he became orphaned. The vast majority of the book, however, features an adult Locke who is now head of the small initiates of the Nameless Thirteenth, the god of thieves and tricksters, and refer to themselves as the Gentleman Bastards.
The worldbuilding in this novel is quite impressive. As a reader, I felt as though I was given a glimpse into a complex, multifaceted world replete with history. In Camorr itself, readers are introduced to a new pantheon of gods, a strict hierarchical and social system (which makes for some fascinating inter-class relationships), and an absolutely brutal quasi-Medieval world. Grief, suffering, and death are omnipresent in this world, from the Black Whisper plague to the mafia-like power of the self-appointed lord of the underground thieving world, to a ducal system that focuses on morbid forms of entertainment. The novel may only take place in the city of Camorr, but the hints of history and interaction between other parts of the world make it very clear that Lynch has envisioned a much larger world than what is shown here. And hopefully new parts of this world will become clearer in further installments of this series.
As I mentioned earlier, the vast majority of the plot of The Lies of Locke Lamora focuses on Locke and his fellow Gentleman Bastards: twins Calo and Galdo, Jean, and Bug. They continue the charade started by Father Chains, calling their home a temple of the god Perelando, not above accepting donations or providing comfort to those who need it. The thief world, led by Capa Barsavi, is aware of the fact that Locke and his friends are not really priests of Perelando. But as long as the Gentleman Bastards give the Capa his allotted portion of their profits and stick to the thievery rules of Camorr, they’re free to live as they choose. They’re viewed as petty thieves, not worthy of much notice by anyone.
And that is where everyone is wrong. For the Gentleman Bastards are so much more than they appear to be. They’re thieves who flout the restrictions that Capa Barsavi and his men have put upon thieving in Camorr. Instead of targeting only the lower class, they go after the upper class (supposedly protected by both the government and the thieves’ guild). The penalty for such actions is probably death, but the Gentleman Bastards are so good that their work is virtually untraceable. The majority of The Lies of Locke Lamora, therefore, deals with a particular con job that the Gentleman Bastards have set up on the wealthy noble Don Salvara and his wife.
In some ways, the basic premise of this story can seem a bit derivative: thieves stealing from nobles who are much richer than anyone expects and are so good that they’re unsuspected by all. But the plot twists taken are unexpected and really, really good. This is no “Robin Hood” type of story. Nor is it a fantasy Ocean’s Eleven. Lynch’s work is distinctly his own, as each new revelation makes abundantly clear.
It’s worth noting that nothing in this book is glorified. Not thievery, not the fantasy world, not even the extremely successful skills that Locke and the Gentleman Bastards possess. Camorr is not a place I’d want to visit, nor would I ever want to interact with any of the characters. And yet, it’s quite the compelling world and quite the compelling story. It’s escapism, yes, but it’s also so much more than that. It’s the type of story that has the power to stay with you long after the final pages are closed.
Rating: 4.5 stars