Scott Lynch has made a name for himself in fantasy circles with The Lies of Locke Lamora. It is an enjoyable read that focuses on the initiation of a roguish Locke into the underworld of Camoor, a city that bears no small resemblance to Venice (minus the sharks, I suppose). It is populated with interesting characters, has a swiftly moving plot, and takes place in an interesting fantasy setting, so there’s something to appeal to most fantasy readers.
From the beginning, dialogue is a strength in the writing. I found myself laughing at the very beginning at the banter between the Shadowthief and Locke, and them and Father Chains. Clever stuff, although I would have to agree with some of the reviewers who feel the cursing is both off-putting and incongruent. Nonetheless, the dialogue is snappy, building exposition and character in a dynamic way from the very beginning.
The story is told in pieces, with chapters alternating between Locke’s growth with Father Chains and the Gentlemen Bastards, and the current time. The technique works surprisingly well, as Lynch does a nice job of breaking the sections to somehow relate–the past often partly foreshadows or illuminates the present. He does such a good job of building tension, however, that I was skimming the past parts by the end of the book so that I could find out how Locke extracts himself and Jean from the ultimate fiasco.
Locke has a fatal flaw a mild wide, and it’s apparent from a very young age. Father Chains goes through great lengths to help him learn this lesson, but it becomes apparent the message has bypassed Locke. Unfortunately, it means his own cleverness usually outmaneuvers him and puts loved ones at risk. It’s a bloodthirsty book, from the “games” prisoners can go through to win lighter sentences or freedom, to the shark-dancing women performing on special occasions. Locke’s final justice to the Falconer is bloody, and it too will come to haunt him.
There’s a section told by “Spider,” head of the secret section of the Duke’s security, and it’s a confusing bit. While well done and interesting, it truly does not well fit the rest of the story. Maybe Lynch was at a loss for how to build greater tension. I’m guessing that’s the best reason for the section about her, as it otherwise fails to fit into the general narrative. When I first started reading the chapter, I half expected it to be about the female Gentleman Bastard the guys keep referring to–that would have made more sense.
There’s also a tiny narrative bit near the end from the Grey King, a piece that seemed unimportant. Lynch had done such a good job of building him as a villain, it hardly mattered what his background was. The attempt to humanize him mostly fell short as it was a boilerplate family revenge tragedy–maybe the point is that he is the same as Locke? Could be, could be. It does contribute to the overall sense that pursuing revenge will ruin you. In that, Lynch achieves a very delicate balance. While many will applaud Locke’s daring and ingeniousness, in the end, revenge is cold comfort.