THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA by Scott Lynch
Bantam Books, 2007, 722 pages, 978-0-553-58894-1, Mass Market Paperback, $6.99
Well, there’s one thing that I can say for this book, at least insofar as it relates to my experience with fantasy—it’s certainly different.
Different in a good way, to be sure, but I’ll admit that I had some difficulties getting through this book at first. Sure, there’s always that first lurching step into a new world, but it took me more than a hundred pages to feel like I knew which way was up. It was disconcerting, and I didn’t understand it, and then all of a sudden I figured it out.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is all about the setting.
Okay, okay…not all about the setting. But there is an immense amount of worldbuilding in this novel. More than that, there’s a lot of set design. I don’t think I’ve ever read another book in which the setting played such a huge role or where it took up such a large part of the descriptive narrative. And if there’s one thing Scott Lynch does well, it’s write descriptive narrative about his (very, very detailed) setting.
Not only that, but he does it in omniscient point-of-view. If something was going to trip me up, that was going to be it. I mean, you hear about this mythical point-of-view in your English classes as early as middle school, but you don’t usually get to see it—at least I never did. Liberal third person, sure, but never something as sweeping and externally narrative as this. Yeah, there are times when the focus narrows down to one particular character, but it doesn’t stay there, and it’s not meant to.
What did I think about that? Well, I thought it was incredibly cool once I’d figured out what I was looking at. The only examples of omniscient pov that I’d ever seen were bad examples—seeing it done right was just as surprising as it was sort of educational.
So, why is all of this important, you ask? Well, it might not be important to you at all. For you this might be standard working procedure. But it isn’t for me, and I’m pretty sure that this is the first fantasy novel that I have ever read that was quite like this (though possibly I’ve read something more like it in science fiction). I usually read fiction that is pretty tightly focused on one or two characters, so this was something mindboggling and amazing for me.
And I loved it.
But I’m just putting it out there, for people who might feel the way I did when I started this novel—absolutely do not stop reading. Locke is worth it, and the setting is worth, and Lynch’s style is worth it. You’re going to love it, too, just as soon as the vertigo clears up.
The Lies of Locke Lamora takes place in the city of Camorr and focuses almost exclusively on the happenings of the city’s underbelly. More specifically, it focuses on Locke, a sometimes rash but always brilliant thief who caused more trouble before the age of ten than some of the city’s veteran criminals managed in their entire careers. The story’s narrative switches between two timelines (which might be a tad confusing at first, but you quickly get used to it), one revolving around Locke’s childhood and training, and one that shows him leading the Gentleman Bastards on a long con job against one of the city’s prominent citizens.
But, naturally, there are complications, and Locke is nothing if not resourceful.
One of the interesting things about this book is how it manages to just keep going. Where another novel would have stopped and claimed an ending, this novel brings you to what you think is a climax and then goes on for another two hundred pages. Ordinarily I might take issue with that, but for The Lies of Locke Lamora it was the only logical course. I mean, the story wasn’t done yet, and it most certainly didn’t slow down — there was no aimless meandering that needed skimming. In fact, I spent most of the last half of the book flying through the pages and running around in my anxious what’s-gonna-happen-now dance as I wondered whether or not Locke was going to get royally clobbered.
But what do I have to say about Locke himself? Well, all I can really do is laugh and think “What an absolutely delightful (and brilliant) little brat.” Which I expect is the same thing his mentor thought when he wasn’t making him absolutely nuts. Locke is one of those people who can turn on the high-beam charm and act his way into or out of just about anything. And if he wants something from you, you’ll probably give it to him regardless of what your better sense might be telling you. Locke is an immensely fun character to follow, no matter what he’s doing and regardless of whether he screws it up or succeeds.
Of course, it’s this very strength that made me wonder whether or not I’d see much of the other characters. That is, enough to make them individuals to me rather than just names. Bug, Jean, and the Sanza brothers started out a little foggy, but the longer the story progressed, the more they fleshed out, and I found that, yes, they were quite individual. I found myself looking forward to the parts that featured them more heavily rather than grumbling that the story was deviating from Locke. Although, even then, the story never actually deviated from Locke — everything had a point in the end.
I’m definitely excited about the continuation of this series. After purchasing Red Seas Under Red Skies, I learned that there are far more books slated for Locke Lamora than I’d heard about, and I’m really looking forward to seeing how Lynch pulls them off. It should be a pretty sensational journey.