This year, I thought I could do this introductory bit to my favourite books, one book at a time, second to last Sunday of every other month. So, without further ado, here is the first one!
SCOTT LYNCH: THE LIES OF LOCKE LAMORA
Published: June 27th 2006 Gollancz (UK) / Bantam Doubleday Dell (US)
Series: The Gentleman Bastard Sequence book 1
The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.
Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentleman Bastards.
The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…
In the summer of 2009 I decided it was time to broaden my fantasy horizon. SFX Magazine’s book special was a great help, and this is where I found Mr Lynch. He was number 88 on a list of 100 authors, and I’m not sure what set him apart from the others for me, but I have a feeling it was the use of the word “swashbuckling”. I got the book from the library, expecting very little, and then spent about a month reading it (my reading pace back then was not what it is today).
The beginning made me frown slightly:
At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.
“Sendovani, Thiefmaker, Camorr, Perelandro… Too much new fantasy stuff to learn,” said my brain, but I kept on reading. At this point in time all my knowledge of Dickens’s Oliver Twist came from the Disney movie from the 90s, but the prologue – describing Locke’s time with the Thiefmaker – reminded me greatly of Fagin and his street urchins. “Hmph,” thought I, but still went on.
Then began “the book proper” as I like to think it as. Part one is furnished with an excellent quote from the Bard, and it is well in accordance with what will follow:
Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile
And cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart,
And wet my cheeks with artificial tears,
And frame my face to all occasions.
(Henry IV, part 3)
And then we get the opening of the first chapter, which still makes me giddy every time I read it:
Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this – a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever. This time around, he planned to spend those three seconds getting strangled.
From then on, the book is an absolute joy ride. Actual chapters tell us the main story, that of Locke and his gang of con artist thieves and the sudden obstacle that gets set in their way. In interludes, between chapters, tell us more about Locke’s childhood, mostly the training he and the other Gentleman Bastards receive under Father Chains. To the reader, the City of Camorr becomes a comfortable home, the thieves become friends, and the twelve (or thirteen, if you feel so inclined) gods become so familiar I find myself saying things like “Thirteen!” or “Perelandro’s balls!”
It is hard to describe Lynch’s style, and I have been trying to come up with suitable adjectives. It is flowing, fresh, crispy – there’s a wit, and a grittiness, and an edge to it that I enjoy. There is a lot of swearing, violence and sex, and while I understand most people might feel this not necessary and take offence, to me it is very refreshing. Besides, it is done with such flare and happy wordplay that it is hard not to laugh. And then there are the games the Bastards play – Lynch has said in an interview that he practices a strict policy of show, don’t tell, and that is more delightful than I can put to words. We see the thieves plan, and scheme, and use their “education” in accents, cultures, economy, religion and other things. Terminology and names are also easy to understand, as they are similar to familiar European languages, such as German, French, and, Camorr being based on Renaissance Venice, Italian.
For the fourth time in as many years the Gentleman Bastards were drawing a bead on one of the most powerful men in the city of Camorr. They were setting up a meeting that might eventually divest Don Lorenzo Salvara of nearly half his worldly wealth, and now it was up to the Don to be punctual.
But do not take Lynch for an entirely happy-go-lucky author. Oh no. As the book progresses, the darkness increases, and when we get to the end things get very nasty indeed. Let me describe my feelings when I finished the book for the first time on a warm, sunny summer’s day. I had been reading in our little garden, and came inside with eyes red from tears, clutching the book, agitated beyond belief. I kept walking in circles in the living room, ranting to my family about how horrid it was the book ended, how I needed to get more. I went into a slump, and the next book I read felt flat and boring in comparison to Lies.
The Gentleman Bastard Sequence will be seven books long. The second one, Red Seas Under Red Skies, was out in 2007, and all who have read the first two are eagerly awaiting the next one, Republic of Thieves (hopefully out this year, although it has been pushed back several times).
I bought the second book in the autumn of 2009 and read it in three days. For Christmas I got my own copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora. And since then I have acquired a second copy of both – a Gollancz 50 hardcover of Lies and a bigger paperback edition of Red Seas. I also have the 2010 anthology Swords and Dark Magic – the New Sword and Sorcery (edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan), which includes Lynch’s short story “In the Stacks”.
So go to your bookstore, be it physical or virtual, or to your library, and get your hands on The Lies of Locke Lamora. It is worth it. It is entertaining, hilarious, exciting – and I for one can’t even look at said book without wanting to read it.