Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

lies-of-locke-lamora-cover

Rating-Christgau-three-star-honorable-mention

RATING: 3 Stars

“I’ve got kids that enjoy stealing. I’ve got kids that don’t think about stealing one way or the other, and I’ve got kids that just tolerate stealing because they know they’ve got nothing else to do. But nobody–and I mean nobody–has ever been hungry for it like this boy. If he had a bloody gash across his throat and a physiker was trying to sew it up, Lamora would steal the needle and thread and die laughing. He…steals too much.”

[THIS BOOK IN ONE SUPERLONG SENTENCE: Locke Lamora has led his cheerful band of thieves in numerous heists against nobles and other wealthy citizens, but deep in the harbor city of Camorr, trouble is brewing that won’t stop until it messes with more than Locke’s life.]


The Lies of Locke Lamora is often hailed as a lovable mix between Game of Thrones and legendary tales of merry thieves. So, naturally, I picked it up. I’m obsessed with Game of Thrones, and when a bookstore is telling me that this will feed my embarrassing dragons, death, ‘n’ hot medieval dudes addiction, I am powerless to resist.

Woah there, is that a George R.R. Martin review on the cover? Lemme devour it!!!

But this novel is not a Game of Thrones dosage. The further I got into the book, the more I was fuming. In fact, I said something rather uncouth to my mother that I truly regret. With an exhilarated sigh, I announced that I was finished. She asked how I liked it. My reponse? “700 pages of poop.”

I hate even uttering such a phrase about a book. I know how hard writers work; their creations are their babies. It brings me no joy to tear a story down. But I just couldn’t get into it, no matter how delicious the original premise had promised to be. The worst part is that this book COULD have been great.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is not bad, and it’s certainly not poop, contrary to my earlier feelings. It’s mediocrity created by a good writer and intricate world-builder.

Let’s discuss the whys, hows, wheres and whats… in a spoiler-free critique, of course.

* * * Skip down to the MY THOUGHTS section for my opinion and review only; the MY SUMMARY section explores the book as an unspoiled synopsis.

MY SUMMARY:

There is but one rule for being a criminal in Camorr: Don’t break the Secret Peace. Don’t touch the noblemen or the guards, but commoners — the criminals’ own people — are fair game. Anyone who doesn’t follow it, man, woman or child, will be hanged in the harbor city’s gallows.

Criminal syndicates, cutthroats, pickpockets and other malefactors litter the streets of Camorr. They are the Right People—wrongdoers who pay their dues to Capa Barsavi, lord of lawbreakers. None of them dare to break the Secret Peace… except for Locke Lamora and his gang of thieves. Some who have never met him whisper that he steals from the rich to give to the poor, but Locke’s gang has its own set of morals that goes beyond simple generosity.

Locke’s the mastermind whose face is so forgettable and average that can he change his identity with hair dye and a fake accent. Calo and Galdo are the dark and handsome twins; they’re the backbone of Locke’s many clandestine operations, and they’re also whore-lovers with a confident flair. Bug’s the cheerful little 12-year-old who can sprint atop the tallest buildings and fool every member of the city guard into looking the other way. Jean’s the toughest member; this once-sniveling merchant’s son carries twin blades known as “The Wicked Sisters” that do almost as much damage as his fists.

The gang’s early days are showcased in alternating chapters that explore what befell when Locke first became a member of the Gentleman Bastards.

All of this comes to fruition in present-day Camorr when the leader of Camorr’s criminal syndicates, Capa Barsavi, is challenged by the Gray King. The Gray King is bribing those who are corrupt and killing anyone who’s loyal. Locke’s activities are so well-hidden that he believes his gang is immune to the politics of the underworld. As the group continues to break the Secret Peace, dining with noblemen and taking money for nonexistent investments, a bloodthirsty problem looms closer and closer… until its shadows are at the Gentleman Bastards’ front door.

MY THOUGHTS:

Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy The Lies of Locke Lamora as thoroughly as I wished to. Some of the plot was problematic. A portion of the writing needed to be touched up. The characters that I actually cared about were put on the sidelines as I adventured with an adorable albeit foolish thief named Locke Lamora. Sorry Locke, but you’re just not enough for me; frankly, your characterization is foolhardy at best and annoying at worst.

The city of Camorr, its surrounding towns and faraway lands are elaborately described. You really get a feel for the world that you’re exploring. Camorr is a harbor city set in medieval Europe where children who steal get hanged and noblemen guzzle wine that’s more worth more than a Camorr peasant’s 10-year pay. A lot of the plot is focused on planning and precision, though there are scuffles and battles scattered throughout the book. Politically, criminally and financially charged conversations are the backbone of much of the dialogue.

Every aspect of the story was aptly described, from the drinks to the battles to the color of a man’s cloak. Some readers might call it purple prose, but I don’t when the descriptions are effectively utilized. The author’s world-building is beautiful and profound. His lengthy verses tied the world together, but unfortunately, those threads started to awkwardly snag on each other when the plot and characters came into play.

The Lies of Locke Lamora quickly became a hopelessly ruined written embroidery that made it almost impossible to keep reading. I was so disappointed.

Locke’s supposed to be a master of disguise with the most forgettable and plain face in town. The antics he got away with were just too unbelievable to the point of irritation. Dying your hair, putting a mustache on and changing your accent is definitely not enough to fool someone into thinking they’ve never met you before. I don’t care if you’re the Thorn of Camorr. I don’t care if you’re the Thorn of the entire goddamn World; you’re not cool enough to pull that off.

The gang itself tries way too hard to be cool. The characters don’t, but the writing does. Locke is not as smart as the author thinks, which makes the novel a tad irritating as I have to read about supposedly successful tricks that would just be silliness in a solid, reality-based fantasy world. (I know, duh, fantasy’s not reality.) Real opponents would need a lot more convincing to fall for the Gentleman Bastards’ games. Real people aren’t as stupid as they’re forced to be in this story.

I have to discuss the female characters. There are plenty of them: haughty Doña Salvara, matriarchal Doña Vorchenza, tough-as-nails Nazca Barsavi, heart-wrenching Sabetha, the vicious Berangias sisters, & various unnamed whores and priestesses throughout the novel. I feel like the females were only used as plot devices, but the author tries (and fails) to ensure The Lies of Locke Lamora isn’t sexist by making a bunch of cliche “strong” females.

All but perhaps one or two of these “powerful” females are only used to further the devices of the male characters. Perhaps I’m bitter because my favorite female character didn’t deserve her characterization at all, and she’s superior to Locke and the rest of the gang. (She is also much more entertaining.)

Lynch would have fared better in this novel if he hadn’t been so obvious in his attempts Not to appear sexist. By attempting not to be a sexist, you kind of become one by forcing women into trope-like roles. I can see that the author was at least trying; Lies was his debut novel, so maybe his knowledge of the female psyche has improved since this publication.

This novel royally effed up my favorite female character after the first 200 pages, so the rest of my reading experience was soured. And then the author messed up again with his treatment of the Gentleman Bastards. I won’t say how, but god, dude; you really know how to ruin a good story.

Nevertheless, a lot of people have loved this novel, and I did enjoy the writing style and had high hopes in the beginning. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a book that could have been great but never made it.

I’d recommend this book to lovers of medieval fantasy and the merry thief archetype.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was originally published on June 27th, 2006 by Bantam Spectra.

7 thoughts on “Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

  1. Carolyn says:

    Hi! I definitely think the first book is the weakest one of the three. I hope you decide to continue because I think they get exponentially better. I kind of disagree with you about the female characters part. In epic fantasy, a lot of the times, you don’t get to see females in the background having the same roles as the male. I appreciated the fact that actually a female was just as likely to have a role as a male. I don’t feel like they were just plot devices besides maybe Nazca because they all had separate desires and goals. And I liked how he subverted the trope of the all powerful, mysterious male at the end when it just turned out to be an old lady. As for the “strong” female trope, I felt like there were other qualities to them besides being “strong” and emotionally unavailable as is common of the “strong” female trope.
    However, I agree that the lack of significant female characters needed to change and he fixes it in the second book.

    Like

    • lovablewriter says:

      See, I got that response on Tumblr too! They’re saying that the second book’s a lot better and that I’d finally meet Sabetha. Nazca’s my favorite character, so I think that’s kinda what spoiled the book for me. I really hated the direction her character took.

      Liked by 1 person

    • lovablewriter says:

      Same here. I got some pushback on Tumblr when I posted this review from big fans of the series, and apparently the female characterizations do get better. But that was just one of my problems with the overall story. I just found the plot to be quite silly and contrived, and the female characters weren’t given the respect that they deserved!

      Like

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