The Lies of Locke Lamora is Epic Fantasy without all the Epic.
Since Scott Lynch’s third book in the Gentleman Bastards series, Republic of Thieves, just came out to great fanfare. I decided to check this series out.
It’s no secret that I find the bane of Epic fantasy all the tedious description and navel gazing about the world. I understand the point is to immerse the reader, but far too often I find it to be nothing but voyeurism into the mental masturbations of the author. Worse yet, all that nonsense rarely adds anything to the story itself. No guidance for the characters. No direction for the plot. Mind you, I’m not a scene-sequel junkie that requires nothing but action thrusting the story forward. I find these stories just as tedious because all you get is the next “raising of the stakes” and no plot intricacy and slim character development.
I want balance!
The Lies of Locke Lamora delivers. The cast of characters is fairly small for such a long fantasy tale, but because the story is presented in two threads, one in the past and one in the present, you get two for the price of one on many of the characters. You also get to see how the characters develop into who they are. Scott Lynch does a marvelous job switching back and forth between relevant interludes from the past and back into the present. This can be hard to pull off. All too often, flashbacks are either thrust into a story ham-fisted and seem clunky, or they have no relevance to the current plot and are simple character info-dumps. If you hate flashbacks, you need not fear them in this story, the past and present are woven together very elegantly.
The point of view is principally from Locke’s vantage, but 5-10% of the time it does switch to other characters. This doesn’t bother me. I don’t need to have everything from one PoV, or balance amongst the other eyeballs we see through. However, without getting into any solid spoilers, there was one major plot point where one of the main character dies that would have been nice to see, but we only get to see the aftermath from Locke’s perspective. This is just a detail. Far be it from me to tell Scott Lynch how to present a story. For all I know, such a scene was in there, but was edited out to prevent redundancy.
The story itself is interesting because it is not what one expects from the initial promises. The Gentlemen Bastards are grifters, and the story begins with the group running a long con on one of the nobleman. Though, about 30% of the way in, a new plot wave sweeps in and takes the characters for different a ride. From a meta point of view, this is unusual precisely because it creates a number of promises to the reader that go, not so much unfulfilled, as meaningless to the true story. I suspect many that don’t like this book don’t like it for just this reason.
For my part, I thought it a brilliant writing device. Basically, all that meaningless Epic exposition I find so tedious, was written as a meaningful story that is swallowed alive by a greater story. That said, I could see such a technique getting over used and not done half as well. So my hat goes off to Scott Lynch for writing such a seamless transition of one story morphing into another (while writing the seamless transition from past back into present!).
This story is well known for being a bloody tale, so be warned there is a lot of violence, though I would not describe it as “graphic” in its gratuity. The created world, Camorr, is a violent place. The characters are simply a product of such a world. I would classify it as ’80’s rated R. Today, a director would probably let the most bloody of actions happen just off screen and be happy with the PG-13 rating.
Overall, I was really impressed with this story. As a reader, it’s the porridge that’s neither too hot, nor too cold, and turns out to be just right. As someone who would like to write someday, it is a marvelous example of breaking many rules of the trade in just the right way to make a compelling story.