Back in the days when I was in school, I used to play Dungeons & Dragons, and this led me to books in the fantasy genre. I enjoyed series by authors such as Raymond E. Feist and Terry Brooks, but in the years that followed, I gravitated more towards espionage thrillers by authors such David Morrell, Craig Thomas and Daniel Easterman. Then, at the back end of 2006, I became aware of a debut fantasy novel that was getting pretty much universal acclaim from all quarters.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch single-handedly rekindled my interest in fantasy novels, and the fact that well over half of my reading time is spent in this genre these days can be traced back to the purchase of this wonderful book. It’s the first in the, ahem, “Gentleman Bastards” series and tells the tale of a group of con artists robbing the rich folk who reside in the city of Camorr.
So, what makes this novel so good? First, the city of Camorr itself is based on a medieval Venice, complete with miles of canals and all manner of elaborate buildings. Lynch brings his city alive with all the sights, sounds and smells that you’d associate with such a place. The story gets off to a Dickensian start, with the young orphan, Locke Lamora, being taken in by a Fagin-like character who teaches the young children in his care the art of stealing; simple distraction and street theft techniques. In an echo of what is to follow, Locke proves himself adept at such activities and quickly demonstrates that he is a cut above your average street urchin. The story really takes off when Locke meets up with his next mentor, Father Chains, and some of his future comrades in his Gentlemen Bastards band. I don’t want to give too much away for those that haven’t read the book, but suffice to say that from here, the stakes are increased as the story progresses through the years.
Scott Lynch presents The Lies of Locke Lamora in an interesting way; the heart of the story is Locke and his band of brothers pulling off an elaborate con, but every few chapters, we get a short segment of backstory in which we learn about certain key events and characters from Locke’s past. Whilst this sounds like it might be jarring, trust me, it isn’t, and I love the way that Lynch cleverly segues from the present to the past and back (or is that forward?) again. It’s masterfully done and even produces one the books laugh out loud moments when transitioning from a grave warning in the past to an I-don’t-care-I’m-going-to-do-it-anyway-and-what’s-more-I’m-going-to-hit-them-twice-as-hard moment in the present (if that makes any sense). The novel is laced with a black humour that readers of a cynical disposition will enjoy, and as if all this wasn’t enough, the novel features delicious plot twists and left-turns that I certainly didn’t see coming.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book in a planned seven-book series. It was followed by Red Seas Under Red Skies in 2007 and then The Republic of Thieves in 2013. Both these books take Locke’s story forward, whilst conjuring up wonderful descriptions of the world that he and his friends inhabit, in Lynch’s trademark style; his writing is simply superb. Like many readers around the world, I am waiting with baited breath for the forthcoming novel The Thorn of Emberlain. Scott Lynch has suffered with health issues in recent years, and this has caused delays in the publishing schedule, so I’m not entirely sure when the next book will be available. However, the signs are good that it might be sometime in 2018, but when a writer is this good, I’ll more than happily wait however long it takes for the next instalment.
It may be a fantasy, but it’s not fantasy that follows the usual tropes associated with the genre. I’ve recommended this book to several people over the years, and most of them love it. This includes a friend who is absolutely anti-fantasy, so I consider that high praise indeed.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is quite simply the best book that I have ever read.