The Lies of Locke Lamora is the first book in the Gentleman Bastard sequence. Not trilogy, not anymore – the plan is for seven books in the series, maybe even more. The book was published in 2006 by Gollancz, and followed a year later by Red Seas Under Red Skies. There was over six-years break between the second and the third installment, and The Republic of Thieves hit the shelves in October 2013, to be followed by The Thorn of Emberlain in 2016. It took some time, as Lynch puts it, to recover his abilities to push the story forward, but recover he did, and the books keep coming. His is one of the rare cases where rights to the first book were purchased when the book was not yet written – Lynch had only sixty pages of it.
But what is the sequence and, more importantly here, the first book about? The title says it all – an individual called Locke Lamora makes a living from cheating everyone and everything. He’s the ultimate Danny Ocean, for he doesn’t need Eleven, or Twelve, or Thirteen. He’s happy with five, and he could do perfectly well with two, himself included.
Lamora is a con genius. He’s brilliant, funny and tenacious. He’s charming and loyal, with a multitude of ideas hitting him every few seconds, but never fear – he can also be incredibly stupid. And suicidally proud. That’s why he needs a second – his best friend, a great cook, a ruthless brawler, and a trained assassin, Jean Tannen. These two, left to their own devices, would burn hair from inside their noses only to see what happens. And that’s why they required a teacher, a mysterious individual called Father Chains. Father Chains is a boss to an elite gang of con artists, the Gentlemen Bastards, who prey on the peerage of the Venice-like city of Camorr. The gang numbers five or six, depending on when you make the count (one member is studying abroad for the length of the novel), and all members are trained in a plethora of activities, practices and ideas. Together they become a fine tool, honed to perfection – and that’s when, inevitably, complications arise.
I will not dwell on the description of the story arc – it is satisfying, even if it has its sleepy moments. Instead I will say that I found this book… problematic. It’s a pretty decent book: funny when should be, gruesome when necessary, filled with characters coming alive on the pages. There are some things which I found irritating – such as nauseatingly romantic feeling between the star-crossed lovers, one of whom never even appears in the book, or a few unduly long, technical descriptions of certain conning activities (I’m all for showing the tricks of the trade, but rather afterwards, not in the middle of the action), but they were minor. I very much enjoyed Lynch’s style of writing – funny, light, slightly ironic (although apparently this book proves that there are instances when there’s too much of the good thing). The Lies of Locke Lamora managed to keep the lively pace for most of the time (undeniably, there was a long lull before the grand finale, and I started a different book around that time, because I couldn’t make myself finish this one), and it ended in a satisfactory way, nicely wrapping up the two separate timelines that existed in the book: past shown in the interludes and present depicted in the main chapters.
Lamora has enough weaknesses to be likeable, and you have to admire his dogged persistence. Tannen is a very nicely rounded (pun intended!) secondary character, who grows in importance throughout the story, and comes to the fore for the betterment of it. The enemies are suitably strong, loathsome, and cunning, tragedies and hard moral choices abound, chases through streets and towers, duels and thefts are aplenty. Plus, the world created by Lynch is really intriguing – filled with artifacts of an earlier, more advanced race, picturesque, colorful, and very detailed. But.
I think my main problem with The Lies of Locke Lamora is that I’m not a big fan of con artists – even if they prey on the gullibility of those terribly, and unfairly, rich and powerful. It’s not Robin Hood, mind you – I’m all for Robin Hood! There are no deep moral questions or motives, it all is about “I do, because I can”. It’s Ocean’s Five, or Now You See Me, set in a fantastical Renaissance city. It’s very entertaining, granted, but I just couldn’t commit to it fully. As I said, I had some problems in finishing the book. It’s long, the pace is slightly uneven, fast with periods of lulled boredom, and my feelings toward the protagonists were lukewarm at best. They could have been deeper and more complex, less the two-dimensional motors of action that they ultimately were. I admired their skill, but I cared not one whit what would happen to them. They lived – fine. They didn’t – a pity, I guess. I just never got engaged in, or thrilled, or gripped by the action or the characters. To steal half a comparison from Forrest Gump, this book was like a box of chocolates – not that you never know what you’ll get, but that it looks pretty, it tastes nice, and that in the end it’s just empty calories.
I will read the second book, maybe the third too – it was good enough for a second chance.