reviews

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch - Book Review

Write on: Tue, 19 May 2020 by  in Jed's Reviews Read 2412
The Lies of Locke Lamora - it had me from the moment I saw this incredible cover. The Lies of Locke Lamora - it had me from the moment I saw this incredible cover.

I’ve described The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch as ‘The Godfather meets Renaissance Venice - with magic!’ If that premise made you excited, stay like that. The book is every bit as amazing as it sounds, and then some. 

The Lies of Locke Lamora follows the Gentlemen Bastards, highly skilled con artists who steal from the rich nobles of Camorr (not to give to the poor, but because the rich are the only ones worth stealing from). Two plotlines interweave: in the present, the Gentleman Bastards struggle against a mysterious Grey King, who’s trying to take over Camorr’s criminal underworld (hence The Godfather allusions). This alternates with interludes describing Camorr’s rich history and the backstories of the Gentleman Bastards.

Camorr is a fantasy version of Renaissance Venice, with canals and gondolas coexisting alongside magical alchemists and soaring towers crafted by a long-extinct race. Venice has always intrigued me. In a former life, I was an architecture student, and we often explored Venice during our history lessons. Not only am I fortunate to know a bit about its architecture, but I’ve been lucky enough to explore it in the flesh. Wandering through its crooked back streets, away from the bustle of tourists and puttering boats, squinting through grey mist as rain fell from the sky – it was mysterious and elusive and intriguing. It’s always felt like a fantasy world to me; a preserved sliver from another universe. 

Lynch built upon this rich foundation to craft one of my favourite fantasy worlds. Camorr takes everything awesome about one of the world’s most unique cities, then blends it with his own incredible imagination. Throughout the book, we get plenty of interludes that give us deeper insights into Camorr. In a less-skilled author’s hands, these might’ve felt grandiose and self-absorbed, like he was presenting us with an encyclopedia instead of a story. Not here. Lynch weaves these threads into a remarkably cohesive and fascinating tale that makes me so impressed as a reader, writer, and architecture enthusiast. 

These interludes are a great demonstration of Lynch’s writing prowess. I’ve read far too many books where backstory-type chapters feel distracting and annoying. Did that happen here? Not a chance. There wasn’t a single interlude that felt out of place. They all deftly wove into the plot, characters, theme, and world building with breathtaking skill. Here’s a snippet from one of my favourite backstory interludes, when Locke is a 14-year-old child, talking to his thieving mentor, Chains:

“Someday, Locke Lamora,” he said, “someday, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I’m still around to see it.”

“Oh please,” said Locke. “It’ll never happen.”

And I haven’t even reached the plot! The Lies of Locke Lamora is fundamentally a heist story. Like all good heists, it’s even cleverer than you expect – and I was expecting a lot. Locke’s ability to overcome setbacks through improvisation was phenomenal. The pacing is perfect, the tricks are varied and logical, and the reveals are jaw-dropping. Lynch makes incredibly brave choices throughout. I definitely didn’t expect his more heartbreaking choices, and while my inner reader wailed, my inner author cheered with respect. For his debut novel (this came out in 2005), he shows a deft hand for plot. 

What really shines, though, are the characters. From the first chapter, I knew that Locke was exactly my type of guy: a quick-witted yet complex rogue who wins through brains instead of brawn. The other characters, too, are rendered with loving detail. I came for a fast-plotted, twisty heist – and I certainly got it – but I stayed for the attachment Lynch created for the characters. When bad things happened to them, I grew genuinely emotional and felt desperate for them to see their way through the mess. 

My only critique is the ending. Compared to the rest of the novel, it feels a little rushed. Likewise, both Locke and the Grey King’s thinking seems less clever and logical than it was earlier in the book, and some plot threads were resolved too easily. It’s a shame that my brain works like this, but I tend to overvalue endings. Unfortunately, the relative ‘easiness’ of this ending took it from being ‘one of the best books I’ve read, EVER’ to ‘probably in my top 2-3 books this year.’ That’s not to say the ending was horrible. It was incredibly cathartic and not without a few grin-inducing surprises. For me, however, it just didn’t quite match the awesomeness of the previous 80% of the book.  

Overall, this is one of my favourite books I’ve read so far this year, along with The Lessons Never Learned and Good Omens. Locke is probably one of my favourite fictional characters of all time, and Camorr takes the prize for being one of the best fantasy worlds I’ve ever experienced. I’m going to dive into the sequel (Red Seas Under Red Skies) as soon as I can get my sanitised little hands on it. If you love fun heist stories, inventive fantasy worlds, and complex characters who make incredibly interesting choices, then this is the book for you.

Character: 10/10

Setting: 10/10

Plot: 7/10

Overall verdict: 4.5/5. 

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If you've read The Lies of Locke Lamora, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below (although please keep it spoiler-free for those who haven't read it yet!).

Jed

Jed Herne is a fantasy author from Perth, Western Australia. His books include the #1 Amazon Bestselling fantasy novella, Fires of the Dead, and the epic space fantasy novel, Across the Broken Stars. His short stories have been published in The Arcanist, Scarlet Leaf Review, Flintlock, and more.

Outside of writing, he hosts The Novel Analyst Podcast, where he extracts writing lessons from his favourite books, and interviews authors to pick their brains on the craft of storytelling.

When he's not reading or writing, you can find him falling off walls in a bouldering gym.