Monday, February 11, 2008

Scott Lynch - The Lies of Locke Lamora (Book Review)

Camorr, a bustling city-state reminiscent of renaissance Venice, full of prosperous merchants and boisterous nobility, whose riches are ripe for the taking for those daring and smart enough to evade the consequence of being caught – a hang man’s noose on the Black Bridge. A small band of master-thieves, naming themselves the Gentlemen Bastards, and their ingenious garrista Locke Lamora, believe themselves just the ones for the job…until one of their most ambitious con-jobs goes awry, as the Midnighters - the Duke’s secret police - get a whiff of their trail, and the ruling seat of Capa Barsavi, a godfather like figure of Camorr’s underground, is being played against by the mysterious Grey King, whose identity and motivation eludes all.

Scott Lynch is a magnanimous new talent, who provided us with a playful, stylish, rich and shadowy debut sprinkled with high-octane thrill rides, witty dialogue and intriguing and well defined characters. The flash-back subchapters explain the genesis of the Gentlemen Bastards and reveal their childhood backgrounds, thus making their choices and motivations more transparent. These flash-backs might disrupt the pacing a bit, but are more intriguing and definitely preferable to large info-dumps taking the form of whole paragraphs/chapters.

One of the biggest advantages of Lies of Locke Lamora is the unparalleled world-building – the living and breathing city of Camorr, a most vivid experience for a susceptible audience. One can almost smell the stench of the canals, through which various barges plough in a similar way that cars navigate our cities. Camorr feels dense, smelly, busy, corrupted, but what is most important: never unrealistic and always shifting, just like a real metropole should be. The sea life and the decadent festivals that take place upon which, where prisoners and paid mercenaries fight ferocious, unrelenting and unique sea predators in an gladiator like manner, are also unnaturally tangible.

Locke Lamora and his fellow Bastards are possibly not always the most sympathetic of people, nonetheless all of the characters deserve the reader's respect, since their actions comply with the rules of plausibility and can be thus rationally explained, when exposed to scrutiny.

The narrative flows smoothly as Lynch is obviously a competent (an understatement!) storyteller and a most able writer in making. Lies of Locke Lamora is an utterly compulsive page-turner, I haven’t got the slightest idea, when it was the last time that I was so spellbound by a book until it was finished.

Some reviews I’ve managed to read present the book and especially the dialogue as intrinsically funny, but while I’d agree that Lynch is an intelligent writer with a sense of humour, I would not comment on the book as saturated or marked extensively by these “lighter” elements. The comparisons drawn between LoLL and the Ocean’s movie saga (Ocean’s 11, Ocean’ 12 and Ocean’s 13) is not completely undue (intelligent and able crooks, stealing from the rich, heist as the prevalent focus of the plot, occasional humorous banter etc.) but not entirely accurate either (LoLL has some “darker” elements than the movies mentioned in comparison, it is also not as overtly optimistic in tone, neither is as polished).

Despite all the praise, the book deserves just criticism as well. One of the rare things that bothered me, but it did so profoundly, is the resolution of the main plot and the ending. Without giving away too much, I must confess that I found the machinations behind the main storyline quite prosaic in comparison to what I was being led to expect from the sheer brilliance of exposition and ingeniousness of the main protagonists – especially Locke Lamora and his ability to outwit the devil himself. Also, the power of magic is just off-the-scale ridiculous and suspiciously feels like a deus ex machina that topples anything that stands in its path and as well covers for the plot holes, especially those behind Grey King’s unexplained power. The other thing that bothered me as well, is the occasional grittiness or rather bloodiness of the tale, which contrasts the more prevalent neutral-storytelling in quite an ungainly manner (for this reader anyway; and I am usually not against explicit content).

All things said, Lies of Locke Lamora remains one of the most visceral, compelling and fun fantasy reads that I’ve managed to lay my eyes upon. By now, the second part of the Gentlemen Bastard series (seven books are announced), Red Seas Under Red Skies, is already available and the third book is on the way; therefore if you like what you’ve read in this review and if you enjoy light but well written and highly exuberant read, I warmly suggest that you get your hands on your own copy of the book, it is definitely worth your time (and other resources as well).


- Thrinidir -

1 Comment:

EZ said...

I mostly agree with your review, Lies of Locke Lamora is a quick and dirty heist novel with a lot of wit and cynicism thrown in, but with some obvious and fatal flaws. First off while it starts great, like you said, with a stormy exposition and fast moving action, it loses the charm, really fast near the middle and then completely and utterly fails with its lackluster ending. I wouldn't necessarily agree with the movies analogy, I found much more similarities with the character Flambeau in Father Brown novels, well mostly the non reformed Flambeu and similar old school mystery novels (Arsene Lupin to name just and extremely obvious one). The deductive side and careful planning of Father Brown, the intricate care that Lynch puts into characterization of personas , and the nearly masterful tempo that the book has combined with the flamboyant and morally ambiguous cliche of a Gentleman thief, leads to a lot of brilliant scenes. Then it's all mostly fucked by the crazy weak ending, that literally robs us of a few excellent characters, leaves a squadron of GAPING holes and open plotlines, that I'm sure he 'plans' to address in the next volume (err... not really, so maybe in the next volumeS), and the blatant disrespect mr. Lynch is showing the reader, because he obviously thinks that the cliches of the mystery genre won't even matter in the fantasy one, and that he can pretty much do anything and get away with it. Judging by the second volume of the Gentleman Bastards series, well... I'll leave that one be for now.


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