Friday, February 7, 2014

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

You know that feeling of being stuck on the outside, looking in? Like you're there, but not quite, caught between the bounds of half-knowing and exclusion. That's how I felt when I was reading "The Lies of Locke Lamora," the first installment in Scott Lynch's "Gentleman Bastard" series, at least at first. But, like every story, I'll start from the beginning. I picked up this novel after seeing review after review of fanatic readers raving about it, and I naturally just couldn't resist. There's something undeniably magical about fantasy novels, something that weaves an encompassing world around you until you find yourself enraptured. Unfortunately for me, it took me a little while with the world of Camorr--but better late than never!

An orphan's life is harsh--and often short--in the island city of Camorr. But luckily enough, Locke Lamora was blessed by the Thirteen Gods with quick wit and a gift for thieving, dodging both death and slavery. Under the tutelage of an eyeless priest named Chains, Locke flourishes into the Thorn of Camorr, notorious for pulling off the most outrageous of games. Along with his new, light-fingered brothers, the Gentleman Bastards, Locke has even the criminal underworld's most feared ruler, Capa Barvasi, into thinking that they're petty thieves. But when someone called the Grey King begins killing off the Capa's most trusted men--and using Locke in his plot to seize control of Camorr's underworld--a bloody coup is sparked. And as he finds everything and everyone that holds meaning in his mercenary life disappearing before his eyes, Locke vows to beat the Grey King at his own game--or die trying.

Arguably the most crucial part of any great fantasy novel is the main character, since, after all, you'll be following him or her across the great span of 500 pages or so. Locke Lamora is undeniably an intriguing protagonist, one with unparalleled cunning and a knack for theatrical thievery. I completely fell in love with his devil-may-care attitude and his thirst for the rush of adrenaline he gets from trickery--even till the very end--but what really made him a great hero was his unwavering loyalty toward his fellow Gentleman Bastards. His adoptive family means the world to him, and this compassionate side to him really gave him his driving force when things were forced to get down and dirty with the Grey King. Chains, Jean, Bug, Calo and Galdo, who make up the gang, are all such instrumental members in creating the dynamics in the Gentleman Bastards, and hearing their banter and seeing their close-knit camaraderie undoubtedly added to the story. The other characters, like Capa Barvasi, the Grey King and the Spider, were likewise well-developed and intriguing to read about, and I think Mr. Lynch has really created an exciting cast of characters in his debut novel.

Remember what I said about feeling like you're half-in, half-out? Well that's what I felt as I read the first few chapters of "The Lies of Locke Lamora." I don't know whether I'm explaining it right, but there was a sort of disconnect between myself as a reader and the book I held in my hands, like I just couldn't get into it. The more I read, however, the more I came to realize the reason behind this: the writing style. Don't get me wrong--Mr. Lynch's writing is great, which lends itself to the fantastic and intricate plot of the novel. What comes to mind are the amazing descriptions of the culinary concoctions of the aristocratic parties--imagine miniature palaces spun out of candied jellies and sweetbreads, and a fusion of cooked animals, with the head of a cow and the body of a fish. But there were times when there were just too many adjectives and adverbs lying around, cramping up the descriptions. It's no easy feat to create an entirely new world in any genre, especially fantasy, but I think if Mr. Lynch had toned down on some descriptions, things would've flown a lot more smoothly and sped things up a little. There were times when the sentences and paragraphs were too bogged down with auxiliary words, and I found myself skimming over lots of them as I tried to get to the actual meat of the story.

Which, of course, brings me to the plot. The storyline of "The Lies of Locke Lamora" was pretty interesting throughout, but, more than that, extremely clever. I loved seeing the way secrets and plans were revealed as the story progressed, along with the underlying unease that comes with the ever-present tension. Another thing I really appreciated and enjoyed was the way in which Mr. Lynch interspersed the chapters of the main storyline with interludes, jumping back and forth between the past and the present and giving his readers a more solid idea of both Locke's childhood and the world we are presented with. Like I discussed earlier at length, it did take me a little while to actually dive into the story, but it definitely does pick up a few long chapters in, leading up to the climactic ending of the novel!

Overall, "The Lies of Locke Lamora" is an intriguing fantasy novel, complete with a dynamic cast of characters, an undeniably clever hero, and an equally clever storyline. While it might not be my absolute favourite novel, it is definitely a solid fantasy story, one that you should definitely check out for yourselves!

Rating: 3.5/5

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