No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, September 04, 2006

#80: The Lies of Locke Lamora -- Scott Lynch

This is a rather belated write-up -- I read the novel over a month ago -- but I do remember enjoying this much-publicised book more than I'd expected to, though I'm not convinced it is the Next Great Fantasy Epic.

Camorr lies, conceptually, on the trade route from Venice to Bas-Lag. It's a maritime city with nasty things in the harbour; magic that works; elderglass towers that glow at dusk, relics of a forgotten elder race help, I'm stuck in a 70s rock lyric!; a cast of vividly eccentric, almost Dickensian characters (criminals, noblemen or both); and a great deal of apparently-irrelevant digression that reminded me, more than anything, of Pratchett's footnotes.

Locke Lamora is an orphan who, through an innate talent for deception, tricks his way into an education as a thief, and a career as one of an elite band of confidence-men -- the Gentlemen Bastards. Locke is not a hero in any traditional sense: his crimes are selfish and self-serving -- 'He robs the rich. And that's it', to quote the Plunkett and Macleane tagline -- and he doesn't really fit the heroic mould, being short and unmuscular, and not especially accomplished with any weapon except his wits. That weapon, though, is sharp indeed, and Locke talks himself out of (and, to be fair, into) a number of risky situations.

Lynch's pacing is excellent, switching between Locke's childhood and his adult adventures (though there's still a teasingly mysterious gap between one thread and the other), building up expectations and then switching perspective, endearing us to characters and then ... well, there's some pretty nasty events in this tale. Plenty of bad language, too, which gives the prose a very modern feel (compare and contrast Fritz Leiber's career criminals, Fahrd and the Gray Mouser) and, though plentiful, is never superfluous -- always in character. And there's a broad streak of farce which reminds me of classic B-movies: escaping via a window only to discover that another fellow's doing the same one floor below; improvised disguises that don't quite cut the mustard; double- and triple-dealing that blurs an already complex plot.

I like Lynch's prose, his characters, his world: I'm hoping he doesn't prolong this 'sequence' (an unsettling term for a series, in that it offers no concrete expectation of arc and finale) beyond the point where it ceases to entertain and becomes merely (if enjoyably) indulgent.

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