|Submitted by Karen Burnham |
(Nov 03, 2006)
“The Lies of Locke Lamora” kicks off debut author Scott Lynch’s first series (projected to be seven books total) with panache. Working in the grand tradition of the gentleman thief, the series is logically called “The Gentleman Bastards.” Inasmuch as the gentleman thief is always distinguished from the bad buys by his aversion to killing and his preference for thieving out of pride for a craft rather than sordid greed, Locke Lamora will likely fit on many bookshelves comfortably with such other loveable rogue heroes as “The Stainless Steel Rat,” and Jimmy the Hand from Raymond Feist’s Midkemia universe.
The world of the series is decidedly not Earth, although it is as pseudo-medieval as your average fantasy. While the people go around in leather and cotton and fight largely with swords and knives, the city consists of the ruins from some elder departed race – the buildings are made of an indestructible material called Elderglass that glows at dusk. The world building is consistent; most of the technology is focused on alchemy instead of typical industry, so instead of cooking fires you have slabs of a material that heat up when you pour water on them, light comes from alchemical globes, etc. However the arts and crafts are protected by a guild structure that any reader of fantasy will recognize, and the government is borrowed from just about any Renaissance era European government you could name. As are the names: the upper-class names all sound vaguely Spanish or Italian, but always just altered enough to fit his world instead of ours. In tone the style reminds one of Feist again: light hearted and serious all at once, with characters written wittily and with a good sense of humor (although without the same epic stakes, at least not yet).
The city that Locke starts out in is one of a series of cities that seem to inhabit an archipelago – all surrounded by varied and deadly sea creatures. This leads to some fun with imagery when prisoners being thrown to sharks for the amusement of crowds on a feast day is coincident with dialogue setting up fraudulent business dealings. It’s the little touches that make Lynch’s narrative such a wonderful adventure to read.
We follow Locke in two threads, one describing his youth and upbringing, and one describing his con games and mortal peril as a mature man. In his youth he is almost a fantasy criminal version of Ender, although his precociousness discomfits even those trying to train him. The “Ender’s Game” parallels continue in the mature story-line, when an apprentice named Bug has a hint of Bean about him, especially in his willingness to injure himself for the cause. The younger days storyline introduces us to most of the world-building and backstory that we’ll need, as well as throwing out numerous plot hooks that obviously won’t pay off until a book or more in the future. In this way it’s nice to see that Lynch is planning ahead: he won’t be caught out without material as this (undoubtedly popular) series goes forward.
“Lies” can work as a stand-alone; the main plot involves Locke being drawn into the higher levels of rivalry for the control of the criminal gangs of the city. Although as a gentleman rogue he has no desire to be involved in those sordid power games, he has to protect himself and his gang as others try to use and abuse them for their own ends. In the end the story is basically resolved (after Locke takes more physical injuries than it seems possible to survive, but that’s why we call them heroes), but there are plenty of questions left to be answered. Some of them have the potential to fall into pure fantasy cliché territory, but after seeing Lynch’s deft handling of this beginning chapter (where some things are telegraphed well in advance, but other bits will surprise you), I certainly will be giving him the benefit of the doubt and looking for the second book, “Red Seas Under Red Skies.”