The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first novel in the Gentleman Bastards series authored by Scott Lynch. The book was first published in 2006, but I only recently heard about this book while watching a YouTube video recommending fantasy books. While this book is technically classified in the fantasy genre, it is not a book of high fantasy à la The Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. At its heart, The Lies of Locke Lamora is really a heist/crime novel with some fantasy elements sprinkled in for some extra flavor. However you want to classify the mixture of ingredients, it is damn good, and I highly recommend the book. With that said, the following is a spoiler-free review.
The story takes place in the city of Camorr, which is a network of islands linked together with canals, waterways, and bridges. The world is not Earth, but there is a Venetian, Renaissance, pirate feel to Camorr. The city was not built by humans, but a long-gone race called the Eldren. Most of the setting would be familiar to any reader, but there are also a few fantasy elements built into the city, mainly elderglass, a glass-like material that absorbs light during the day and glows at night and is nearly indestructible. There are numerous islands that make up Camorr, and the islands range from the poorest hovels to vast markets to the towering homes of the Five Families atop the sociopolitical hierarchy. Scott Lynch does a great job in building a believable society, governing structure, culture, and economy for Camorr. Additionally, there are other cultures and lands introduced in the book, which only gives Camorr greater depth in a larger world. Other areas of the larger world are explored in later books in the series.
Perhaps the best element of this book is its characters. They are well fleshed out, and each character is unique. The story is mostly told through dialogue, and there was never a single moment while reading where I did not know which character was speaking, even while reading multiple paragraphs of continuous dialogue. Each character is easily identifiable and interesting. The main character, also the title character, Locke Lamora, is an orphan who is adopted into the Gentleman Bastards gang. From childhood, Locke is a thief and conman, but he is almost too competent for his own good. We get to see a lot of development with this character as he grows to adulthood, but the initial essence of the character is never lost. The rest of the Gentleman Bastards gang is a great complement to Locke, and no one character is all-powerful or the “Chosen One.” Each member of the gang has his unique talents, and the tight bonds shared between the gang members is what sets them apart from others in the thieving underworld.
There are two elements of Scott Lynch’s writing in this book that I found particularly interesting. First, plain and simple, Lynch writes fantastic, witty, and engaging dialogue. Lynch writes by the adage of show don’t tell, and he shows us the story through the witty banter of his characters. There is little exposition, and the plot and character development is all masterfully woven with dialogue. Second, Lynch utilizes a unique time-jump mechanism. There are numbered chapters, but between virtually every chapter are unnumbered interludes. It is through these interludes that the backstories and childhoods of the main characters are told. At first, I found the interludes to be a little jarring because the numbered chapters would end on cliffhangers, and the interludes were quite lengthy. However, every interlude had a purpose and was setup for something to come in the main story line. Also, as the story progresses and the cliffhangers get more intense, the lengths of the interludes decrease.
The two main themes I took away from this book are brotherhood and revenge. The theme of brotherhood is strongly portrayed through the Gentleman Bastards gang, which is comprised of orphans who come to rely on each other for their survival. The gang members are like family, and the closeness of their bonds is unquestionable in the narrative. The other main theme is revenge. I cannot say much about this theme without including spoilers, but perhaps you can glean something about the revenge theme from the theme of brotherhood.
I give The Lies of Locke Lamora 4/5 stars. I will be reserving 5-star ratings for only the best of the best books. I almost gave the book 4.5 stars, but something about the Venetian style and Italian names was just a little off-putting for me. This is likely a weird personal preference thing for me. With that said, 4/5 is damn good, or in the words of Locke Lamora, “double fuckdamn good.” I hope to read the next book in this series soon.