The Lies of Locke Lamorra isn’t a good book. It isn’t a great book. It’s a really good book! I’ll admit it has some flaws that keep it from being a great book though.
Lies is about the adventures of Locke Lamorra, priest of the Crooked Warden (God of Thieves) and leader of a gang of second story men called the Gentleman Bastards. He’s also a near mythical con artist called the Thorn of Camorr, who preys upon the greed and gullibility of the nobles of Camorr. Normally, committing a crime against the nobility of Camorr simply isn’t done, because of the Secret Peace between the ruler of Camorr and the leader of Camorr’s underwold. The book is also about how Locke became a Gentleman Bastard, his friend Jean Tannen became one as well, the City of Camorr, its history and how all of these interact to make life interesting and adventurous for Locke, Jean and the rest of the Gentleman Bastards.
There are many characters involved – the Thiefmaker, Father Chains, Calo and Galdo Sanza, Bug, Capa Brava, Nazca Brava, her borthers, Don and Doña Salvara, and the Grey King all play prominent roles. However one gets left out in all the reviews I looked at: Camorr.
As readers, we get a fair amount of history through Chains education of the young Locke and info dump flash backs, that tell us how things came to the current state of affairs. I was particularly taken with the emergence of independent brothels, the tale of handball and revenge and why killing a Bondsmage is an incredibly bad idea. All of these little things give us the character of the city and its inhabitants. These become very important in how it shaped Locke, the Gentleman Bastards and the Grey King, just like a parent shapes a child’s personality and worldview.
All of these things are part of the arsenal of Chekhov’s guns that Lynch places in the book. From the alchemical gentling of animals and people, the plague that orphans Locke, how Capa Brava came to power and kept it, to the Pennance Day gladiatorial bouts against sea life and the professional gladiators that fight in them and the Secret Peace. All of these are hung, and eventually used.
Camorr’s character is also worth exploring. Its obviously inspired by Medieval and Renaissance Venice (and maybe, Merovinge). It is a center of shipping, drawing off the wealth of trade routes and industry. It has wealthy nobles and merchants, an organized police force and a secret police force. It also has Elderglass towers, skyscraping fortresses of the Eldren where the elite of the nobles make their homes. They’re also all but invulnerable to what humans can throw at them. Camorr is a vital and bustling place. It’s also a brutal one, with weekly hangings (including children), no organized charity, disappearances by the government, gang violence that is beyond the pale and regular gladiatorial bouts against vicious carnivorous sea life. It’s an interesting place. Not one I’d want to live in, but I don’t mind visiting though.
I liked the characters that were fleshed out, specifically Jean and Locke. I liked Locke for all that he is mostly larceny and nerve. He’s also human with flaws. He loves a woman that’s a thousand miles away from him because of their relationship. He’s loyal to a fault. He also has a mind like a broken backed snake and is greedy enough to attempt stealing the stars from the firmament. And, he can’t fight worth a damn. He’s not an omni-competent hero, but very competent within his vocation.
My biggest gripe with the character of Locke Lamorra is that in the early portions of the book, he seems overly favored by the author. He’s wonderful, the best conman in the world who’s got a gang at his back and pulling off the most successful con ever. This is eased when the Grey King and the Falconer take him down several pegs and take away what he values most.
Jean is interesting. He looks big and soft – like the scion of a merchant house, a scholar or a noble. He’s also very good with numbers, able to do complex sums in his head and likes to read. He’s also the muscle of the Gentleman Bastards, being both a brutally effective fighter and possibly a chosen of the Lady of Long Silences (the Goddess of Death). He’s an interesting mix of traits and feels real – sort of a two fisted Meyer Lansky.
Now, the book does have weaknesses. Many of the characters never move beyond brief sketches, particularly Nazca, Calo, Galdo and Bug. This is a weakness because we’re supposed to emphasize with Locke and Jean when horrible things happen, and they take vengeance. Because of the lack of depth, it felt forced. Another is the opposition. The Falconer particularly rankled me, because he is a mustache twirling villain. Or perhaps a child with a magnifying glass and an ant hill to torture. At his best, he’s petty, spoiled, thin skinned and never has been thwarted at anything before. Then he meets Locke… This isn’t something I’d expect from a mercenary mage. I’d expect a higher level of professionalism.
The Grey King is better though. He has reasons for what he does. In his own mind he is a hero for what he does and those reasons make sense for that. But then he goes well beyond what is expected from his actions and it takes him into the irredeemable. Still, he’s a sketch only gaining life near the end.
It also badly fails the Bechdel test. There are no female lead characters at all. Oh, Doña Salvara and the Countess Amberglass emerge in the last third of the book, but not soon enough. Worse, they spend their time talking about the Thorn of Camorr…
Still, it is a really good book, easily worth four stars.
● The fleshed out characters of Locke and Jean.
● The city of Camorr.
● The fight scenes.
● Locke and Jean’s apprenticeships in the Gentleman Bastards.
● The sheer number of Chekhov’s Guns scattered through the novel.
● The fact so many of the characters away from Jean and Locke never became more than sketches.
● The Falconer. Yeah, he’s fun to throw peanuts at, but I’d have expected better.
● The lack of strong female characters.
● Apparent meta-ficitonal elements with Locke seeming like a Marty Stu.
Suggested for: Fans of the Merovingean Nights series, The Sting, Vorkosigan series, The Golden Globe and, maybe, The Name of the Wind. Also for fans of heroic rogues and thieves.