First Published: 2006
Pages: 537 (Paperback)
Series: Gentleman Bastard #1
The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.
Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Lock Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen bastards.
The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of those fantasy books that, if you’re into fantasy, it’s impossible to avoid people telling you how brilliant it is. And, as is almost invariably the case, it doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It’s a fast-paced, fun read with lots of great characters, a wonderfully creepy atmosphere, some interesting world building, and some surprising twists and turns, so it’s definitely not bad. I certainly won’t be giving people who recommend it as ‘the best fantasy in recent years’ the side eye in the same way I do Joe Abercrombie fans (that trilogy should have been one book, tops!). In fact, they may well be right. It’s a good novel, very good in places but, for me, those places fell mostly in the later half of the book and it didn’t quite come together enough for me to love it.
The book is set in the fantasy canal-city of Camorr and opens with Locke Lamore (the self styled conman the ‘Thorn of Camorr’) and his band of merry men starting a scheme to con a local nobleman out of all his money. These are not the most moral or idealistic or protagonists. But they have a strong bond that lots of readers loved and I found almost instantly tiresome. There’s a lot of banter and teasing, boasting, and laughter in the first half that, for me, felt like watching a group of incredibly self-aggrandising men that I don’t know making in-jokes about how great they are to each other. And my pervading thought was mostly ‘yes, you’re ‘Gentlemen Bastards’, well done, I got that, you’re the best, but where are the women?’ ‘Why are there no women?’.
There are women in the book actually, several of them are pretty hardcore in fact. But they’re only on the very periphery of things and only start moving into the main action in the last portions of the novel. To be fair, Lynch is obviously setting up for an important woman from Locke’s past to show up in the sequels at some point – with repeated references to Locke’s ex (and a member of the Gentlemen Bastards in her own right who is off doing her own thing somewhere else) – but these all feel clumsy and shoehorned and without ever meeting her or being given any real idea of who she is, it’s hard to care. With even flashbacks to Locke’s childhood notably contrived so that somehow she is never in the scene, the air of ‘mystery’ around her actually has the exact opposite effect – making me hope she never shows up. At this point she’s just a vehicle of Locke’s manplain, and it’s sad that that’s what we got rather than having an actual female character as a present and three-dimensional part of the gang.
So my first impressions of the book weren’t great – not bad, but not great. But, when the real plot comes along and shit starts to get real, that’s when I started really getting into it. It took me the best part of a month to reach the ‘turning point’ of the novel (approximately halfway through), and after that just two days to finish it – so that shows just how much I though it improved once the stakes were raised and the ‘banter’ stopped. There’s suddenly action, adventure, subterfuge! (well, more subterfuge!) And the strong bonds of friendship between the main characters are actively demonstrated rather than an informed attribute. From not caring much for the characters I became genuinely fond of (and incredibly concerned for!) both Locke and Jean (mainly Jean).
This improvement in pace and action doesn’t quite hide the weaknesses in the plot – a main villain who’s motivation is something I could barely care about and the second ‘shadowy person we assumed was a man is actually a woman!’ twist that I’d read in just two months (not a major spoiler, I promise. there are lots of shadowy figures). No. I actually hadn’t assumed the nameless figure could only be a man; that would be stupid – and this novel doesn’t have the excuse the other one I read did of being written/set in the sexist 1950s – Lynch actively chose to make this a ‘twist’ in his fantasy world where sexism was never alluded to directly prior to the reveal. And, while I liked the character, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at all the ‘I thought x would be a man’ ‘no one suspects a woman’ comments.
Is it really so hard to create a fantasy world where society-wide sexism isn’t really a thing? Is it such a hard concept to imagine? Lies of Locke Lamora is far from the only book to do this (*cough* A Song of Fire and Ice) but it didn’t bring any clever commentary to the issue (i.e. ASoFaI‘s various female point-of-view characters), and I’ve just grown a bit tired of it. Weary, is perhaps a better word. It’s not an unforgivable sin, the book does feature some amazing women (the Berangias sisters), but the whole replication of real world sexism is beginning to feel trite and tired and actually kind of boring. Fantasy writers, please start being more original.
Feminist rant over though! I genuinely did think that this was a very good book. After a slow start (that I know plenty of other people loved) it hits its stride around about the middle and from there never lets up. I loved Locke and Jean’s relationship, I felt for the characters, the secondary villain was awesome and threatening, the stakes were high, and the action scenes were brutally nasty. I cannot love this book, but I did really enjoy it. And I will be reading the next book in the series. Probably from the library. But, if that continues on the trajectory of the last half of this book, I’ll def consider adding the whole series onto my ‘buy’ list.
4 stars. Doesn’t quite live up to the hype and it has a few flaws but I still really enjoyed it in the end.