The Lies Of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

The Lies Of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

By Jayaprakash Satyamurthy
Friday, 17 August 2007
“It’s been too long since I’ve read something in the genre that approaches that level of sheer fun and wonder, without being hopelessly derivative or just plain badly written.”


I’ve read a lot of fantasy fiction over the years, most of which I’m perfectly happy never to read again. Others I’ve been surprised, challenged and impressed by – path-breaking classics that have changed my vision of what can be done within the fantastic genre, and even approach the condition of literature by illuminating concerns far beyond the usual good vs. evil dynamics. And then there are the books which I return to time and again, simply because I want to, because they’re fun – Fritz Leiber’s tales of the arch-thieves Fafhrd And Grey Mouser, for example, or Jack Vance’s chronicles of his very anti-heroic anti-hero, Cugel, or even Robert E Howard’s robust, lurid tales of Conan The Barbarian. It’s been too long since I’ve read something in the genre that approaches that level of sheer fun and wonder, without being hopelessly derivative or just plain badly written.


Scott Lynch’s debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a lot like these stories. It’s incredibly kickass and gripping storytelling, which also functions at a very high level of creativity, without weighing itself down with delusions of profundity or tricky avant-garde literary foppery. This is a fairly long novel, at just over 600 pages in paperback, but it never feels lengthy. Lynch hits the ground running with a cast of memorable, engaging characters who inhabit a genuinely intriguing and richly detailed world, and he keeps us locked into their travails and triumphs with sufficient transitory cliffhangers to sustain the pace, alternating between the main narrative and a slowly unfolding backstory.


The novel revolves around Locke Lamora, one of many petty thieves in the Venice-like city of Camorr, and the leader of a small band of thieves – the Gentlemen Bastards. The Bastards maintain the appearance of a thoroughly minor gang, one of the local godfather, Capa Barsavi’s smallest associates. In reality, the Bastards, trained by the canny, devious Father Chains, a mentor figure whose absence from the present-day thread will no doubt be explained in future volumes, are the most succesful confidence artists the city of Camorr has ever seen. They prey exclusively on the wealthy nobility, pulling off capers that would put to shame the collective skills of however many accomplices Danny Ocean is currently surrounding himself with at the box office.  In fact, they are almost too succesful for their own good, having stolen more wealth than they know what to do with. Still, conning is the only life they know, so they keep on with it in a sporting spirit, while making sure that no one knows just how wealthy they really are – an important precaution in the cut-throat atmosphere of Camorr.


When the story opens, they are seting up a typically cunning ploy to relieve a young noble couple, Don and Dona Alvara, of a considerable chunk of their fortunes. It’s an elaborate, drawn-out scheme which requires Lamora to worm his way further and further into their confidence, making them transfer more and more money to him until he finally makes away with a spectacular haul. This is a well conceived and audacious plan in itself, and I’d have been perfectly happy to read the fantasy equivalent of a caper film about such appealing, if untrustworthy, characters, but then Lynch raises the stakes. A mysterious figure known only as the Grey King is systematically wiping out Capa Barsavi’s most loyal and well-protected gang leaders one by one. Lamora has to make sure he himself, and his men, are safe, an effort only made harder by the fact that everyone suddenly wants Lamora to be a part of their plans both Capa Barsavi and the Grey King, to say nothing of the city’s mysterious thief-catcher, The Spider, who has determined to capture Lamora, who, in his character as Camorr’s most audacious and succesful conman is known to the world only as the Thorn of Camorr.


Things get more and more complicated Lamora and his friends, and there is much bloodshed, dark magic, betrayal and heartache along the way. Of course, I already knew that Lamora will survive because there’s a sequel, but there are times when Lynch really makes you wonder how he’s going to pull it off. Quite apart from the hi-jinks, Lamora and his accomplices are a real coup – they’re witty, argumentative, and really stand out in your heads as an ensemble of memorable characters, rather than a gallery of talking heads. The interaction between them is one of the major charms of the narrative. It gives the novel that vital touch of humour, and it never descends to the banal levels of banter in a David Eddings novel.


Somewhere halfway through the novel does seem to bog down a little – the backstory sequences seem more intrusive as the main story really takes off, and there’s a shift to darker tone, but bear with Lynch. There’s no self-indulgence going on here, no worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding - every little aside and interlude has a bearing on something crucial later on in the story. This really is a very economically told story, for all its comparative length.Thre are no wasted words or ideas in it, except the ones that one assume serve as set-up for elements which will be dealt with in the larger series. But there’s little enough of that, and The Lies Of Locke Lamora is that rarest of entities in contemporary fantasy – a rollicking, roistering yarn that provides entertainment without condescencion or cliche.