Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard #1)The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure I’ve ever had such trouble rating a book with such excellent writing. The truth, though, is that, while it is exceedingly well-written, it’s convoluted and faces so many different plot options it is hard to stick with the story.

Let’s start with the good stuff: Lynch has wrought a fantasy-tinged world in greater detail and clarity than the real world. His Camorr has layer upon layer of complexity, beauty, grime, seediness, character, and mystery. Despite the ample attention to detail, I wanted more. I wanted to know about the incredible Elderglass towers and how they were created, and how humans came to occupy them. I wanted a calendar of all the holidays in the city and descriptions of each festivity. I wanted to peek inside the temples of each of the 13 gods. It is rich and detailed and effortless; characters curse and revel in this very real world without a hint that this is fiction.

I’m also quite pleased with the confidence schemes that Lynch has concocted. They are as much of a joy to the reader as the characters committing them upon unwitting folk. Locke Lamora sells his false-face activities well, and I hungered for more of the like. In fact, I wished the whole book were nothing but a testament to the way Locke got himself in and out of one scrape after another.

That’s also the problem: from the first 1/3-1/2 of the book, that was what I thought I was reading: a lighthearted and amusing tale of a con men pulling a con. And I liked that. It was great fun trying to guess how Locke was going to manage the next touch against his enemy, wondering how close he could get to being caught.

But then the book took a sudden and dark turn, literally out of nowhere. It felt like this was not really one book, but three, smooshed together. To the point that, as much as I liked the characters and the overall world, I’m not sure I want to read any more adventures. I felt like the book I started and the book I finished were not at all related; the plot got twisty, and not always in a good way.

Possible spoilers to follow. Read at your own risk.

In vague terms, here are the major plot intersections I can identify:

  • Locke, as a child, is taken up by the Thiefmaker.
  • Locke, as a child, finds a new home with Chains.
  • Locke and his gang, now grown, are pulling a big con on some wealthy folks.
  • It seems the secret police are onto the con… oh no! Oh wait, no, that’s just more of Locke’s cleverness at work.
  • While doing a typical errand, Locke is encumbered by a marriage engagement he can’t easily escape. What will ever become of him?
  • A bad guy, heretofore unknown to the story, kidnaps Locke and requires he perform an impossible task.
  • OUT OF FREAKING NOWHERE, the bad guy kills the girl Locke was supposed to be engaged to, less than two chapters after it was introduced, forcing his boss to require Locke to help him fight the bad guy.
  • Double-cross by the bad guy. Things are not going at all according to plan.
  • Everyone you love is murdered. Locke swears revenge.
  • More murder, almost excessive. Bad guy takes over.
  • Other villain only previously hinted at turns out to be real and hatches a plan to get Locke.
  • Locke overcomes multiple obstacles and difficult situations to win the day, much the worse for wear.

 

I gotta say, I felt like I couldn’t really enjoy the book after the marriage-proposal feint. I’m not even sure what point it served; it feels like that could be cut entirely from the book without a mark of incident. It just seems too convoluted, and it made it hard to know what I was supposed to be cheering for at any given moment. Plus, dark-revenge-tale is deeply different from the lighthearted caper we were enjoying at first.

My other beef is the situation with female characters. Though there are ample women used as setpieces and secondary characters, some even with some mild action, this book is a sausage-fest. There’s even plenty of opportunity for a female character: one is mentioned repeatedly but never shows up. You could change one (or more) of the characters in Locke’s gang into women without at all changing the story. A few women toward the very end of the book see some action, but it seems half-hearted. Though characters–even a whole chapter!–claimed that women were not to be trifled with, it seemed more sentiment than truth, and made me wonder if Lynch was somehow afraid to write women characters (which is foolish, because his background ladies were really interesting! Just…not a lot to them.)

I’m not sure I would recommend this book. It feels like those who would like a fantasy caper might not like the end (like me) and those who might like a gore-heavy revenge story might not get through the lighter beginning material to see the stuff they liked. But it is incredibly well-written and I’m impressed with Lynch as a whole. Perhaps I’d like one of his books that ran shorter than 720 pages.

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