A group of swashbuckling thieves, eventually led by Locke Lamora, are in a turf fight for the city with a mysterious figure attempting to take over the world of organized crime. This is swashbuckling light-hearted fantasy at its best, bringing a setting reminiscent of late-medieval Venice and giving it an Ocean's 11 flavor. For a debut novel, it is a story told with power and skillful prose.
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In the Venice-lookalike city of Camorr, a successful group of con artists known as the Gentlemen Bastards use scams and other tricks to defraud the wealthy citizens of Camorr after gaining their trust. At the start of this novel the Gentlemen Bastards consist of its leader Father Chains (who is priest in the temple of the god of thieves), an expert fighter called Jean Tannen, a pair of twins named Calo and Galdo Sanza, a young novice named Bug, Locke Lamora himself, and a woman named Sabetha, who doesn't appear in this first book in the series.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is unusual in that its structure is very unique. Two stories are told simultaneously: one is the past story of how the young orphan boy, Locke Lamora, came to join the Gentlemen Bastards, and one is the present story, of the Gentlemen Bastards' schemes and tricks, and their conflict with a dark new force in the criminal underworld. The chapters alternate between the past story and the current story until the past meets the present. It is the present story that is the guiding force, however, though Scott Lynch's narrative structure is unusual and very effective.
By the time of the present story, Father Chains - who rescued Locke as a boy from an abusive orphanage when he recognized that Locke was a genius - is dead, and Locke has become the new group leader. The present story takes off with the Gentlemen Bastards performing a con on the nobleman Don Lorenzo Salvara, while unknown to them the chief of Camorr's underworld, Capa Barsavi, is under threat. His most trusted captains are killed, as is his daughter, a friend of Locke's. The person behind these murders is the Gray King, who has a powerful Bondsmage on his side. His motives are unclear, but he is clearly a cruel, frightening, and powerful villain. When Locke and Jean return to the temple where the Gentlemen Bastards live, after meeting Capa Barsavi, they find that the twins Calo and Galdo have been murdered by a burglar, who then also kills Bug. Locke knows the Gray King is behind this, and wants vengeance. But when he returns to Capa Barsavi, he arrives just in time to see Barsavi and his family, as well as Barsavi's loyal captains, get murdered. And the Gray King emerges from this carnage, proclaiming himself Capa Raza and effectively taking over the criminal underworld.
A desperate and personal battle for Camorr, and Locke and Jean's personal vengeance, begins in earnest, but to their frustration the Gray King is always one step ahead of them. There are a lot of interesting and flavor-lending touches that describe how everyday sorcery in the city works and some of its sinister consequences, and now the tale has turned from fun-swashbuckling fantasy to deadly earnest Sicilian vengeance tale. The Gray King's Bondsmage nearly overwhelms Jean by using his true name, only to be attacked by Locke, whose true name is not known. Locke tortures the Bondsmage for information, which takes the novel to a darker place. While Locke searches for a way to get at Capa Raza, he finds that Capa Raza has other matters on his mind. In a bid to make Camorr's nobility pay for the death of his family, Capa Raza plans to destroy the nobility by turning them into wraiths, using hidden bombs that will emit the gas that will cause this transformation. Locke finds the time bombs in time and defuses them as Capa Raza prepares to depart the city. In order to defuse the bombs, Locke has to go through a series of cons and deceptions with the nobility. Eventually Locke manages to find the Gray King and stall him long enough for Jean to kill him. With nothing left for them in Camorr now, the novel ends with Locke and Jean leaving on a ship in search of a fresh start.
This debut novel was very good. Scott Lynch put a lot of effort into the world building and it shows. The city of Camorr is so well realized that it is almost like another character in the novel. I also loved that it was based on Italian culture. The cons were very well thought out and the complex narrative made it engrossing. It is a very light-hearted read and the writing is often laugh out loud funny, so approach this book as a fun adventure.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really loved the style and language of the writing, it was refreshing and sharp. And I loved the setting a lot.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is probably the creepy little moment, during a visit to a brothel, when we are introduced to a horse that has been Wraithstoned. It's the foreshadowing plus the introduction to a very sinister and creepy aspect of sorcery, which is used so casually for everyday domestic purposes, that makes that scene stand out to me.
Opinion about the main character:
He's cocky and kind of two-dimensional, and I don't like his justifications for being a thief.