Monday, October 20, 2014

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Posted by Yuma County Library

Reviewed by: Becky Brendel

What I Read: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Find It @YCLD: Here!

What It's About: Locke Lamora is the head of a group of thieves called the Gentlemen Bastards, who steal from the rich despite a secret agreement between the government and the city of Camorr's underworld. When he starts being used as the pawn in other people's political games, he has to play the biggest cons of his life in order to stay alive - and maybe save the whole city in the process.

What I Thought: Sometimes there's a difference between being able to recommend a book and liking it oneself. I can wholeheartedly recommend The Lies of Locke Lamora to anyone looking for a great caper novel, a fantasy story with unique world-building, or some really clever turns of phrase. It's kind of hard NOT to recommend a book that could best be described as a Hollywood action movie version of Robin Hood as written by George R.R. Martin! Yet the further into the novel I got, the less impressed I was with the actual plot. Each individual reader's mileage will vary there, however, so I'll try to highlight both the good and the bad.

The best thing about The Lies of Locke Lamora is the setting. Lynch's Camorr - a vaguely Italian city built around the indestructible remains of a past society - seems larger than life and yet wholly feasible. When Lynch means to awe, he awes; when he means to incite horror, I shuddered, reread passages, and shuddered again. Glass roses that drink blood, people being killed in increasingly gruesome yet creative ways, a terrifying procedure for "gentling" animals that robs them of their personalities - this book will give you the shivers, but because the stakes are so high and the ways to die so varied, you'll keep reading anyway. This novel is not for the faint of heart, but in a good way.

Lynch has also constructed his novel effectively. Rather than telling the story in a linear fashion, Lynch intersperses flashbacks to Locke's childhood as a parallel plotline to the one set in the "present day", so that the novel has two interwoven narratives that reference each other. This structure allows Lynch to create a lot of suspense in both plotlines - the action is constantly being put "on hold" to return to a different time - though he's also not above using this structure to drop in-joke quips. (Everyone, and I mean everyone, speaks "cocky antihero" in this book.) But as long as you don't mind a book where everybody sounds more or less the same, there's nothing bad to be said about the craft of Lynch's debut novel.

The actual plot when all is said and done, however, sputtered and fell on its face. After taking the time to build up to his villain's identity and master plot, the former's extremely stock and the latter's so hugely telegraphed that "Chekhov's gun" feels more like a sledgehammer. I couldn't bring myself to feel horrified or awed about the villain once I learned his motivations, and his right-hand man - an extremely dangerous and thus extremely annoying sorcerer - resorts to tried-and-true fantasy magic staples like name magic and animal familiars. In a novel where everything else feels unusual and new, I was intimidated by the man's power but unimpressed with the nature of the magic he wielded. (This didn't keep me from cheering when he got his comeuppance, though.) Lynch also makes the mistake of creating an interesting and fully-realized female character only to kill her off in order to provoke action from the male characters, which offended me more for being cliche than for being sexist.

It's a tribute to the strength of the rest of the novel that anything remotely "stock" irritated me so much, however. There's good stuff in here - it's just not the plotline around which all these incredible parts are assembled. I won't be continuing this series, but with three novels out of a projected seven published, those who can overlook Lynch's ultimately predictable plotting can find a lot to like in Locke's adventures.

Readalikes: Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal (for more con-artist shenanigans with magic), Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (for more fast-paced fantasy that pulls no punches)

Or look this book up on NoveList!