Note: This review contains mild profanity used in quotation.
Goodness but Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is incredibly fun. Hold, though, I’m getting ahead of myself. Like any mature genre, fantasy has fragmented and splintered and calved until you can find just about any unique little sliver of content that you want. Looking for obsessively detailed secondary worlds, silly satire, noir-infused grimdark, military-themed maneuvering, or literate mythopoeia? It’s out there. However, what’s harder to lay hold of is a fantasy book that reads as though its author really enjoyed writing it. But that’s just what Lynch has managed to do with his debut novel. And the best part? He throws in most of the best elements of contemporary fantasy to boot.
Locke Lamora came to Shade’s Hill, the abode of the Thiefmaker and his pupils, the same way so many boys and girls did: He lost his parents. But whereas most of them were orphaned by a recent plague, Locke had lived on his own in the city of Camorr (a watery metropolis not unlike Venice) for a long time. He steals to keep ballast in his belly and enjoys the process of pilfering almost as much as its rewards. That troubles the Thiefmaker. He likes his underlings to be capable, confident—and without imagination. But Locke is criminally creative if nothing else. And when one of his more spectacular stunts draws the ire of Capa Barsavi, head of Camorr’s underworld, the Thiefmaker has two options. He can either kill the boy outright or sell him to Father Chains, priest of the Crooked Warden, the patron of confidence men and a heretical addition to Camorr’s pantheon of deities. The Thiefmaker never likes to turn down a profit. So coins jingle, and Locke finds himself under the tutelage of a schemer who promises to teach him all skills of swindling. As the years roll by, Locke learns how to impersonate the poorest mendicant or noblest lord. He’ll need those skills, because Camorr will soon face an enemy targeting everyone from the lowest thug to the Duke in his perch on Raven’s Reach.
If Patrick Rothfuss and Chuck Wendig decided to pen an Ocean’s 11 pastiche, they’d probably create something like The Lies of Locke Lamora. This is the kind of book where, after receiving counsel that may keep him from dangling at the wrong end of a rope, a character can solemnly intone, “Very noted. Received, recognized, and duly considered with the utmost gravity. Sealed, notarized, and firmly imprinted upon my rational essence.” Or be described as having “got larceny in his heart, sure as the sea’s full of fish piss.” Or intoning after an untoward development that “this is the damndest damn thing that ever dammed things up for us.” Lynch is obviously a bright fellow, but he doesn’t take his intelligence keep him from having a little fun. Some readers may find the occasional “torrent[s] of polysyllabic blasphemy” either too precious or obscenely over-the-top, but they more or less fit the book’s lighthearted tone—at least for the first half. After that, The Lies of Locke Lamora takes a turn for the darker. Think the stomach-churning action of Low Town cut with a healthy dollop of grue. Gritty stuff, but expertly executed all the same. The only point where Lynch errs is with some loose plot threads. No fibbing: Lies is a stupendous read.
(Picture: CC 2007 by Juan Salmoral; Hat Tip: /r/fantasy)