BY ARTHUR MCCULLOCH
2006, Bantam Spectra
Filed under: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch has created an incredibly unique world, populated it with engaging characters, and orchestrated a driving, action-filled plot.
This book features one of the best, and most pertinent, prologues written in the fantasy genre. We get introduced to the protagonist from the eyes of two very different thieves—Chains and the Thiefmaker. Most prologues are written from incredible distance and only give a sense of pre-destiny, myth, and/or a generic world setting. Lynch delivers main character backstory while simultaneously introducing us to his world. After exiting the prologue, I was aching to know more about Locke Lamora and what thievery and mischief has got him into so much trouble.
Locke Lamora is an unassuming master thief operating in a corrupt and violent society dominated by a ruling elite class and a gang-filled criminal underworld. Locke needs every bit of his skill, and cunning, and luck to survive. From the very onset, each of Lynch’s characters is in a state of jeopardy and one can’t help but wonder if someone will perish at the turn of the next page.
Lynch possesses a good sense of timing and an awareness of reader’s expectations as well. The slow initial development of the Lockes’s latest ploy, which dipped a little to near a paean of how great a thief he is, is righted when Lynch deftly turns the story. Locke (along with his gang of Gentleman Bastards) is not, in fact, too smart by half. Lynch raises his characters only so far before putting the screws to them. He thrusts them into a near impossible scenario whose unfolding propels the reader through the remainder of the book.
Locke Lamora is told in the third person omniscient. The knowledge possessed by the narrator manages to broaden our understanding of the world while showing restraint from peering too deeply into any particular character’s motive, thus avoiding the sloppy narration that too-often plagues fantasy novels by giving away what is about to happen and cheapening the unfolding drama. The “he would later learn that” crutch is rarely employed, sustaining the reader’s fear for the characters’ survival. By interweaving the backstory of both the characters and the world throughout the chapters, the exposition is inserted in a way that never feels forced or shoehorned. Never is an interlude disruptive, irrelevant, or something you’d rather skim past.
Lynch also writes setting well. He teases out his wonderfully realized city of Camoor in a way that immediately grasps the reader’s attention. There are no spoon-fed explanations for the details of the world, he instead places his trust in the reader, allowing for a world of greater depth to grow in the reader’s imagination. Lynch’s world is one that has eked out an existence from the ruins of a former great society. The former civilization possessed a technology and science well beyond the reach of the current society and the evidence is in the architecture and lighting of the main city, Camoor.
Magic, too, is uniquely handled in this story. It is predominantly alchemical. That’s not to say that there aren’t mages in Lynch’s fantasy though. There are, and one in particular–the Bondsmage–plays a pivotal role. Mostly about mind and body control rather than more than the traditional sorcery of lightning bolts and fireballs, the magic in Lock Lamora is a combination of witchcraft and voodoo. Despite the absence of “flair” in this type of magic, the Bondsmage in this story is incredibly menacing.
Unlike many of its fantasy contemporaries, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a stand alone novel. It doesn’t need to be part of a series: rich characters, an immersive world, and strong plot puts Lynch in the elite company of George R.R. Martin and the like. I recommend this to anyone seeking a rewarding break from the sweeping fantasy epic form.
Similar Reads: Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, The Black Company by Glen Cook, The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny
Reviewer’s Note: I read this book based on a friend’s recommendation. Thank you, Todd!