The Lies of Locke Lamora centers around the Gentlemen Bastards, a group of confidence men masquerading as sneak thieves in a fantasy version of Venice. There’s a huge, organized criminal underworld and they’re very profitably breaking all the rules. As they say about themselves (but not to anyone else) they’re smarter and richer than everybody else. This all gets turned on its head when someone new comes to town bent on revenge.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is set in and around Camorr, a sort of city-state amongst the fading ruins of a deceased empire that was itself built upon the bones of an ancient civilization. It’s a city of canals and waterways, where wagons are useful but oftentimes a boat is more useful.
There are a couple flashback sequences that leave town, but this isn’t a travalogue book. Thankfully, Camorr is such a very rich location that you don’t really feel a lack of variety. Lynch definitely didn’t fall into the trap of making things homogenous. You see everything from vile slums to the palaces of the rich and famous.
Locke Lamora is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards and the primary viewpoint character. We get to see his origin story interwoven as flashbacks along with the story in the current timeline. He’s had a really rough life, and while absolutely loyal to his friends, he can be an absolute bastard to anyone else.
In a refreshing change of pace, Locke has no supernatural powers or exceptional fighting prowess. This is so incredibly rare in fantasy literature that it’s almost worth reading just to see it. If he doesn’t win by outsmarting the other guy, he gets his ass kicked. Repeatedly. This really helps keep the tension up. He’s walking a tightrope; there’s no safety net; and the water in the bay is full of sharks.
The book is told in third person limited. You don’t get a lot of Locke’s thoughts most of the time, but occasionally Lynch tells us what someone is thinking. There’s very much a story telling feel to it.
There are three main plots. The first is is about how Locke became the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards. You see him growing up, starting around age 6.
The second and third center around an epic level con that the Gentlemen Bastards are pulling on a noble and Locke’s attempts to keep them from getting entangled in a power struggle at the top of Camorr’s criminal society.
There are some nice twists and turns along the way. This was a re-read for me, but I’d forgotten several of them. The early life story line is the most straightforward, but even there Locke managed to surprise me a couple times.
In a lot of ways, this feels like a caper novel. Locke has to out-think and out-plan everyone, so it naturally falls into a rhythm of planning, execution and recovery. That’s not to say that it lurches along, but rather that you get pauses from the tension at regular intervals. Sometimes Lynch will cut away from present time to something that happened as Locke was growing up and make you wait for resolution. This doesn’t get annoying, because he always cuts to something else that’s interesting.
This doesn’t feel like a first novel. This feels like Lynch was well up the learning curve by the time he wrote it. The followup novel (Red Seas Under Red Skies) is also excellent. I’m sad that there hasn’t been a third yet.
On that note, it sounds like a third novel is coming soon. You can sign up for a mailing list to be notified here. While you’re at it, Scott’s been posting bonus material to his livejournal. So far he’s up to three bonus info posts. Well worth reading if you’re a fan of the books.