The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

Article published on January 24, 2012.

I have to say that, despite the spelling, I found the title of Lynch’s début quite misleading. I wonder if it was deliberate on his part, or maybe it’s just me? Before I read the blurb, I assumed it was about a place, perhaps in Scotland. No. Locke is the protagonist of the tale. And what a tale…

Reprinted as part of the Gollancz 50 celebrations, this eye-catching edition features an introduction by one of the modern stars of fantasy fiction, Joe Abercrombie. He claims jealousy at how good the following fiction is, and calls Lynch a bastard. He would, as this is billed as Book One of the Gentleman Bastard sequence. I usually steer clear of self-styled ‘book ones’ as they make certain assumptions, such as book will successful enough to warrant further publications, but more importantly, that people will be interested enough in the characters or the scenario to keep coming back for more. Let me state now that I’m sorry I missed The Lies of Locke Lamora when it came out in 2006 and I’ll be hunting for the second book soon. Thank you to Gollancz for rectifying what would have been a missed opportunity.

Locke Lamora is a thief. In grand tradition, however, he has a moral compass. He is as loyal to his gang as to call them brothers. He is somewhat of a socialist in that he only steals from the very rich. However, he is no Robin Hood and the Bastards are no Merry Men. We join Locke and his cohorts Jean (the muscle), Galdo and Calo (the twins) and Bug (the boy apprentice) as they are executing a plan to relieve some members of the aristocracy of Camorr of a significant part of their fortune. Elsewhere in the city-state, the gangs are supplicant to a Capa who rules hard by fair. The Duke is mostly unaware of what happens around him, as his Spider takes care of all true affairs of state. And what of the Grey King? Recently arrived and causing disturbing waves in the criminal underworld.

The novel is long but not an effort. It is set out in a series of short books, with chapters and sub-chapters. At the end of each chapter there is an Interlude which takes us into the gang’s past, where they met, where they learned lessons, and how they came to be the people they are in the main narrative. There is an incredible cast of characters, all drawn deftly and distinctly. Locke is a man of beguiling cunning and intelligence who knows how to use people to his advantage, be that good or ill. The Grey King is shown to have deep motivations, although I was expecting more of a clever twist than I received. In my opinion, however, the star character and perhaps the main flaw is the world itself.

The world-building in Lies is on par with some of the greatest I’ve ever read. I’m thinking of Lord of the Rings, or perhaps more appropriately, Dune or Meiville’s Bas-Lag. While Lies is billed as fantasy, I would say it has an almost science fiction truth about it. It is set on another world which is similar to medieval Italy, with its city states. It is similar to our own but different enough to be alien. The main problem with this of course, is that in order to give it a believable familiarity, Lynch has had to mix fantasy tropes with recognisable features, such as the food at a feast or the love of ale and inns. Of course, he could have easily replaced salmon with a made up fish, but chose not to. So maybe not SF, but not quite traditional fantasy either (although there is magic).

There is great enjoyment to be had in Lynch’s world. I finished the 530 pages of the Gollancz 50 edition in no time at all and found great satisfaction in almost every page. Some of the descriptions of the world’s culture and history could have been a tad tighter and (mild spoiler alert) I was surprised that Locke was not more devious in the end. Maybe the second book in sequence will show that he was.


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