Book Review – The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora (hereafter “TLoLL”) was pure entertainment, start to finish. Lynch managed to balance adroitly on two different tightropes: pacing/description, and tone/content. What do I mean by that?

TLoLL barreled along at what felt like a brisk, exciting pace. I never felt like I was waiting around for something interesting to happen. This is a page-turner, no mistake about it, and every minute of the day I wasn’t reading it, I felt an itch in my brain. And yet, thinking back, there was a ton of straight-up world-building description, often in dense blocks. How Lynch delivered all of that without bogging down my reading experience is a testament both to his engaging prose, and to his sense of timing as he meted out his action and plot advancement.

Regarding tone/content: TLoLL can be absolutely vicious. Violent things happen to a lot of people (including good people), things that wouldn’t be out of place in a GRRM novel, and they are described in unflinching detail. There’s murder, torture, the works. But the book never exuded that ugly god-I-hope-my-mom-never-picks-this-up vibe of black brutality that permeates the Grimdark sub-genre. The prose is delivered with a wry wink, a kind of laughing cynicism, even as characters are maimed, mauled and murdered.

If I had to level a criticism at TLoLL, it would be regarding its characterizations. Don’t get me wrong – the protagonists, a band of thieves called the Gentleman Bastards, are entertaining to read about. I cared about what happened to them. But they are not particularly differentiated. Yes, they’re clever, wisecracking con-men who deliver top-quality Witty Banter™ from page 1 to page 720. But they’re ALL that way. Even most of the villains are that way. Every character in the book seems to have gone to an amazing finishing school to learn how to deliver the perfect entertaining quip, every time. The dialogue is a strength of the book – probably the author’s greatest strength – but I couldn’t tell you much that made any particular character meaningfully different, interior-wise, from the others. Yes, they have different skillsets, but when they’re sitting around a table chatting, they all feel pretty much the same. Let the record show, though, that this realization did not particularly hamper my reading experience. I didn’t even notice until I finished devouring the book and started reflecting upon it.

My only other quibble was the lack of major female characters. The main group of heroic ne’er-do-wells is an all-male club, and the main villains are likewise men. The most prominent women are a couple of secondary characters and some one-dimensional minor villains. Granted, the secondary characters are fascinating – probably MORE complex than some of the heroes. But in terms of pure screen time given to lead roles, women got short shrift.

All of that said, TLoLL was fantastic. Beautifully written, gripping to the end, full of rich world-building, highly kinetic action sequences, and cleverly-conceived cons, deliciously blended together. (By the last page, the Italianesque city of Camorr, where the action takes place, felt as real as any fantasy locale I can think of. Oh, and speaking of delicious, I’d put Lynch’s mouth-watering descriptions of gourmet foods up against anyone’s. Mmmmmmm.)

I certainly plan to acquire and read the sequels. The heaps of accolades and recommendations piled upon TLoLL are well earned.

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