Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Over the last few years, I've been plugging big gaps in my fantasy pedigree (the Wheel of Time series, for example). So when someone brought up The Lies of Locke Lamora to me, I added it to my list of big name series to start and picked up the book when the opportunity arose. I finally got around to reading it a few weeks ago.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is set in the Italian-inspired city of Camorr, where Locke and his crew of thieves, the Gentlemen Bastards, have been quietly violating the unspoken truce between the city's criminal underworld and its guards and nobility. But before they can pull off their most ambitious scheme yet, they're drawn into a conflict between the head of Camorr's underworld and an upstart crime boss - a man who has his sights set on vengeance and will use or kill every person in his way to get it.
There's one big, huge thing I disliked about this book, so I'll just get it out of the way right now. The tone of this book is so didactic. As a fantasy author myself, I know well the dangers of info dumping - of throwing world information at the reader instead of actual story. But apparently nobody told Scott Lynch. It felt like at least a third of this book was unnecessary worldbuilding that could've come straight out of an encyclopedia.
The constant interjection of extremely distant explanations about this-or-that piece of the world made it hard to get close to or empathize with the characters. I almost quit reading it about a third of the way through, and even though I didn't, it still took me a lot longer to get through it than its page count would normally suggest. Look, I love immersive worlds (and Camorr is certainly fascinating), but at the end of the day, a world without a story is boring.
That said, I did love the book's structure. Pairing present-day chapters with flashbacks to Locke's early days definitely added to his character. The flashbacks ground present-day Locke and help explain why he reacts the way he does to the Grey King's tactics.
Locke himself is a fun character to read: clever, quick-witted, and possessed of an unsinkable determination in the face of even the most difficult obstacles. We see his flaws from the get-go: he can be careless and reckless, and he's so clever that he has a hard time dealing with being outsmarted.
Jean is probably the next best developed character; a few of the flashback chapters focus exclusively on him. He's a loyal friend to Locke, the muscle to Locke's brains (though Jean isn't unintelligent by any stretch). Unlike Locke, we know Jean's past and how much it damaged him, whereas Locke remains an enigma.
The rest of the cast are interesting or forgettable by turns. Capa Barsavi is almost pitiable in places; the Grey King isn't a particularly memorable villain, though the mage he employs is terrifying and extremely cool. The other members of the Gentlemen Bastards don't strike a particular chord with me, but their banter is fun.
But where are the women, you say? An excellent question, reader, and one I asked myself many times. It's not that there aren't women here; there are. The problem is how they get shunted to the side. Barsavi's daughter, Nazca, was promising in her early appearances: feisty, opinionated, willing to manipulate her father. Then she promptly got fridged to provide a reason for Capa Barsavi to directly confront the Grey King. So much for that.
Sabetha gets mentioned several times as a member of the Gentlemen Bastards, but her whereabouts are nebulous. It's never mentioned why she left, and she's left largely as a mystery love interest so that Locke can be heartbroken.
Dona Sofia is interesting, far more so than her husband, but she gets minimal pagetime. Likewise, the Duke's Spider is fan-freaking-tastic and exactly the type of character I want to see more of (an older woman who runs a spy organization? YES PLEASE), but she too sees very little pagetime, and doesn't even appear until the book's second half.
Speaking of which, the book moves pretty slowly until its midpoint, dragging through the set-up of the Gentlemen Bastards' latest scheme--which turns out to be almost wholly unimportant to the book's real plot. Once the Grey King enters the scene in earnest, the pacing picks up considerably, and the book's last half is an engrossing, exciting and (in places) nail-biting read.
So where does this leave me? I liked it, but I came nowhere close to loving it. It evens out in the middle for me. I'll probably pick up the second book eventually, but I'm in no rush.