I’ve had Locke Lamora on my shelf since it was first published. I asked for it, I got it, and I never read it. It has sat there, as desperate and dutiful as only an unread book can be, and I have ignored it in favour of other things for far too long. So, with the opportunity to attend GollanczFest with many SFF authors in attendance including Locke Lamora’s author Scott Lynch, I decided it was about time I read it.
And I hate myself for waiting so long…
When a young orphan is bought by the strange old priest Father Chains, he has no idea what he’s been thrown into, but he knows from the start that he loves it. This small gang of thieves aren’t just the pickpockets he’s used too: these guys know how to put on a show.
As Locke Lamora, garrista of the Gentlemen Bastard gang, he’s set up the ultimate trick to pick up the biggest score from Don and Doña Salvara, masquerading as a wealthy brandy merchant, setting the gang up for life. But there’s more than just being caught out by Camorr’s elite to contend with, with Locke also needing to fool his deadly boss, Capa Barsavi, in the process or be literally fed to the sharks. And now another player is in the game – The Grey King – who has begun attacking Barsavi’s people without mercy and positioning himself into great power. But how? And what exactly has all this got to do with Locke?
If someone would just tell him the truth about what’s going on, maybe he could lie his way out of it.
Let’s get some small comparisons out of the way: yes, it is a mini Ocean’s Eleven set in a fantasy version of Venice. All of those things in combination make me happy. Lynch’s execution of said combination makes me even happier.
What got me from the start was just the ease of language, the way the writing flows to enrich the world and the characters from the beginning. I could see and hear and (unfortunately in some places) smell the world being built up around me, and that kind of craft invites you to love a story at every level. Camorr is a diverse place, but kept well within the boundaries of its construction, the waterways and dark streets blending seamlessly between districts, dividing and connecting, much like the story itself.
I love Locke. I love him. I love Jean Tannen even more. Jean is Locke’s right-hand-man and massive and vicious with weapons (I genuinely want a pair of his hatchets – the Wicked Sisters – mounted on my freaking wall), and utterly adorable in his teasing and affection. Bug is a fab little character, Cal and Galdo are the twins that play off each other and everyone else beautifully. Those are the Gentlemen Bastards. They even have the cutest little speech that makes me so happy. It’s clear that Lynch loved writing these characters just as much as readers love to read them, the genuine care and affection for them coming through in every word. The bad guys are suitably bad, with enough backstory to give them some depth that’s believable, and the poor dupes of the whole situation develop nicely as a centre from which everything hangs.
So I love the setting and I love the characters. You can probably tell by my lack of “sophisticated” analysis that I just loved this book. It is a fun read, and that is perhaps the most important thing. There is a great amount of humour that cuts through the book, allowing you to engage with these wonderful characters and just enjoy it. Yes, there are some plot points that are a little bit of a stretch, with Locke’s pleading at the end being very, very, very lucky indeed (and I’m not sure how he survived in the casket, to be honest, as he’s in there for a reeeeeally long time), but that doesn’t matter to me. I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway.
Beyond this emotive response I return to the writing. There is, in all fairness, a lot of description in this book, a lot of world-building. In some books this can be incredibly tedious and drags the pacing right down to the point of irritation. But Lynch has built a world through the senses and through their structure within the plot. We’re not instantly given a layout of the whole city, but instead shown throughout how the city plays to Locke’s advantages and against them. The districts fit into the character’s lives and shape them. Lynch, in his intricate fantasy, has managed to replicate a real, human existence and experience and clearly had fun doing it.
If you haven’t read it, do. There are another two books in the series (Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Republic of Thieves) with a fourth one on the way and I will be buying all of them and devouring them as soon as I can.
And I promise I won’t wait so long to read a book so good again.