I had zero expectations coming into The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. It reminded me, most of all, of the dialogue in Planescape: Torment. The language was unique, but relatable. The cast of characters were funny, interesting, and yet still repulsive. The plot fell apart by the end, but The Lies of Locke Lamora still managed to be one of my favorite fantasy novels in recent memory.
The book follows the early life of Locke Lamora, an orphaned boy with a natural talent for thievery. While most of the thieves in Camorr are content with honoring something called the Secret Peace, Lamora breaks it from an early age and continues to do so, thus earning the ire of some the city’s most important factions.
“Don’t call me ‘master.’ Makes my balls shrivel and my teeth crack. Just call me Father Chains. And while you’re sitting there, let’s see you tip that kettle and count all the money in there.”
The various factions are key to understanding what is in play throughout the novel. The city’s thieves have all banded together into hundreds of smaller gangs, all united under the banner of a leader called the Capa. His rise to power ended with a brokered peace amongst the city guard and the city’s criminal gangs, which created a Secret Peace where thieves will not steal from guards or the city’s noble ruling class. This dynamic proves to be interested throughout the novel, which is great because chapters alternate the present day of Locke Lamora and the past history of both his upbringing on the streets of Camorr, as well as the upbringing of other members of his small gang.
I never got tired of these chapters. Both Locke and his partner Jean are great characters in their own right. The best thing about The Lies of Locke Lamora is the dialogue, which adds so much charm and personality to the cast, be it the main characters, the supporting cast, or anyone with a single line before they are forgotten. This novel was genuinely funny, though often in rude or dark humored ways. Perfect for someone with my tastes, but be forwarned.
Carefully caged, starved, and maddened by blood, wolf sharks are the key to the customary highlight of the Shifting Revel. Other cities have gladiatorial games; other cities pit men against animals. But only in Camorr can you see a specially armed gladiator (a contrarequialla) battle a live, leaping shark, and in Camorr only women are allowed by tradition to be contrarequialla. This is the Teeth Show.
As much as I loved the characters, I loved the setting more. Camorr has a rich, mysterious history, but the novel never breaksdown just to point that out. These days, most fantasy novels I read are more concerned with world-building in the sense of setting up an epic adventure where the stakes couldn’t be higher and clear lines between good and evil must be draw. The Lies of Locke Lamora is not one of those novels. While the city has a past, the novel remains firmly rooted in the present, only adventuring back in the timeline to add much needed context. As for good and evil, well, this is a novel literally and figuratively drapped in shades of grey. Exploring Camorr and meeting its denizens was why I read this entire book and why I may eventually read more in the series later.
Despite the good, I did dislike the main plot of The Lies of Locke Lamora. The mystery initially intrigued me, but it lost me once everything was revealed and the novel’s final scenes began taking shape. I would have much preferred if the novel focused on the heist elements it initially hooked me with, but I do appreciate that the entire book is one complete plot. There are allusions to other characters yet to meet, but I walked away from The Lies of Locke Lamora not feeling like I needed to sink the next 100 hours of my reading life in this one series. That’s a rare feat with most fantasy novels these days.
“Yes!” cried the woman. “Now throw him out the window!” “For the love of the gods, madam,” snapped Locke. “Can you please pick one man in your bedroom to cheer for and stick with him?”
If you are looking for a dark humored read that focuses less on a white knight and more on a grey thief, then look no further. This is a fun novel, from top to bottom, that includes a fantastic cast, some wonderful set pieces, and dialogue so well-written that you will scarcely find anything of equal quality elsewhere. It also works well as a one-off, though don’t blame me if you get hooked on the characters enough to keep reading the rest of the series.
“Someday, Locke Lamora,” he said, “someday, you’re going to fuck up so magnificently, so ambitiously, so overwhelmingly that the sky will light up and the moons will spin and the gods themselves will shit comets with glee. And I just hope I’m still around to see it.”