Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Hype – it invokes both eagerness and dread, and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch has certainly had its fair share of hype over the last year. Rumblings began in 2005 with a few lone voices like Jay Tomio exclaiming excellence. It peaked in 2006 when and unimpressed reviewer stepped over that invisible line and actually accused other reviewers of taking bribes, invoking a virtual firestorm across the net. Since then, the book has topped many best-of lists of fanboys/girls and bloggers. All the while I’m sure Lynch can barely contain his excitement of the attention his debut has received.

So, does The Lies of Locke Lamora live up to the hype? Was my bribe big enough to make me sing its praises? The short answer is yes to the former and that I’m still waiting for that mythological big payout I’m sure to receive for all the positive reviews I write.

Everybody loves a good story about con artists – and this is a very good story about the Gentlemen Bastards, con artists extraordinaire. We meet the young orphan Locke Lamora and follow him though moments in his childhood as he is trained to become the infamous Thorn of Camorr. In parallel we follow an older Locke, leading the Gentlemen Bastards in a grand scheme as he relieves a noble family of disgustingly large sums of money. As we expect, things get complicated on a number of fronts – a power grab for the rule of Camorr’s underworld and the secret police manage to snare Locke and his brilliantly mischievous gang.

The Lies of Locke Lamora delivers in spite of the hype because it succeeds exactly as advertised – this book is just plain fun. The writing flows decently well for a first novel and the plot grips you early. Lynch taps into that unexplainable sympathy and magnetism we all feel for that loveable rogue – the guy we know is bad, a bastard, but secretly are convinced is actually a nice guy – that guy that the women hate to love and men love to hate. The witty dialogue, while overdone at times, captures that ideal and genuine like for a merry band of thieves sticking it the upper class.

Characterization is present, but to be honest, only one or two characters really come off greater than some paper-machete cliché. It’s the plot that succeeds here. The story that’s told is fun, contains numerous twists that are both anticipated and not, while not being too perfect and wrapping everything up in a neat ‘happily ever after’ ending.

Now, this book is far from perfect – it suffers, greatly at times, from the inconsistency of a first-time novel. The dialogue ranges from witty and realistic to silly and awful – the first time I read the word ‘savvy’, a clear copy right out of Pirates of the Caribbean, I had to put the book down for a while. I could have screamed at a few oversights that were made by a supposedly brilliant gang of con artists that could keep their secret so well and fool everyone. There are also at least one too many instances of survival in a situation of certain death.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is not a book offering new and wondering insights to the human condition. No political statement is made. It is simply a great story – action packed, full of humor, hate and revenge. I couldn’t have put the book down during the final hundred pages if…(fill in the blank with something good).

The Lies of Locke Lamora earns a solid 7.5/10 – the plot should pull it even higher, but the minor annoyances of the first-time novel keep slightly lower. This book is easy to recommend to nearly anyone. As you may expect with such a successful debut, a sequel (actually 6 of them) is in the works (Red Seas Under Red Skies is due out in July ’07), but this book stands on its own for those of us not looking to invest in yet another unfinished series – don’t let the fear of a series stop you from reading this one.


Carl V. said...

It is interesting because I don't think I was aware of book hype prior to becoming a regular internet/blog reader. It is one of those things that is probably a mixed blessing, especially for readers. I am guilty of hyping books that I fall for, what else can I do? When a book overwhelms me I cannot help but share it. The disappointment comes when someone else reads it and is less than enthusiastic about it. It is okay, but I find it interesting how the internet can really spark genuinely interesting debates about the merits, or lack thereof, of certain books. Glad you didn't let hype stop you from reading it and making up your mind for yourself. Sounds like you were rewarded with a very enjoyable reading experience for your effort.

Neth said...

Hype is a tricky thing - 3 years ago I wouldn't have had a clue about books being hyped. Even a year ago if I claimed a book was being hyped it would be because I'm repeating others. Now I'm 'tuned' in enough to see it first hand - but others are still tuned in more.

Some people see hype where it starts - direct from a publicist. They know what books are being pushed and how hard - Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and His Majesty's Dragon seem to be recent examples of hype originating at a publicist level, achieved by circulating books to as many high-profile authors and reviewers as they can at a pretty early date. The hype around The Lies of Locke Lamora seems to have originated a bit more with fans - though early positive reviews and blurbs were certainly a big help.

Anyway, it sounds like you haven't read this one yet, Carl - you should.

Carl V. said...

Jonathan Strange is another of those interesting novels. I heard about it loooooong before it was published when Neil Gaiman did a blurb about it on his blog and, only because of his recommendation, I picked it up right away when it came out. It wasn't until long after that that I was made aware of all the hype. Thirteenth Tale is another good example of this. Thankfully I read it right away. Now it is very hyped and people either love it or hate it, there doesn't seem to be any in between

omninaïf said...

I think you said it best with 'this book stands out on it's own'. It didn't leave you white knuckled wondering what could be next, but only happy that you read it. I liked the way he played with the chapters, reading a past event and 150 pages later understanding why you read it. My only beef really was the lack of education this book held on the world, surronding lands, and the history of the land. Even a breif two paragraphs here and there would have made me happy. But, I'm an epic type of guy.

Neth said...

Yes, this novel is what it is - and it's just fun.

The parallel story was interesting, if not quite a realized as it could have been. I like how the two stories mirrored each other - particularly in the first half of the book.

Race said...

This was my favorite book of 2006. I dont remeber the last book I read that was that fun. My only real complaint about it was the change in style of the interludes, from character flashbacks to history lessons.

Neth said...

The infodump interludes did interupt the flow of the book quite a bit - hopefully he'll improve on that with time. Some of them were quite well done and even could serve as short story all their own, but a better intergration into the flow of the narrative would have helped.

Moses Siregar III said...

So I'm just a wee bit late to this party, but I'm reading Locke right now and I'm really enjoying the crisp, fearless prose. Sure, it's uneven at times, but when it's on it's on like ___ (something witty that rhymes with on).


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