Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I read this at the recommendation of tuftears.

Let me start with this: it's 719 pages and I finished it, which pretty much means I had to like it a fair bit. If this were a bad book, I'd've swapped it for something else two days ago.

I should also note that The Lies of Locke Lamora suffers from not being Post Captain, which is the sequel to Master and Commander and the book I really want to read why has the library not produced it for me IT'S BEEN DAYS. This is not at all Scott Lynch's fault, but alas, these things happen.

It's an epic fantasy/conman story, set in the city of Camorra: a crapsack world* with a miserably impoverished and crime-ridden underclass, a wealthy and privileged upperclass, a corrupt city watch, and abundant organized crime. The protagonist is a conman, and one not above taking advantage of people's better instincts as well as their baser ones. Still, it's a crapsack world; the reader doesn't meet very many people who actually seem decent, so the protagonist comes off pretty well by comparison.

The squalor and splendors of Camorra are vividly described: the author puts quite a lot of detail and attention to his setting, enough so that even a reader like me who skims most of the description could pick up a feel for it. The characters have a certain charm, and the narrative spends enough time among people who actually like each other and aren't torturing people that I didn't feel ground down by the ambient misery of the setting. The main protagonist and his crew -- the "Gentlemen Bastards" -- have a certain charm, especially in their loyalty to one another. The author did several things that took me by surprise, and a few things that mystified me. Overall, I am going to give it a 7.

And now, I am going to complain at undue length about the reasons why it only gets a 7. I apologize in advance for the rant. It will be somewhat but not overly spoilery.

Okay, first, there's the flashbacks. The narrative alternates between Locke's childhood and the current-day story set when he's somewhere in his mid-20s or so. And by "alternate" I do mean "alternate": for every chapter of present-day story, there's an "interlude" chapter that's either "Locke growing up" or backstory about the setting. This is fine for the first few hundred pages but by the end of the novel the schtick had worn real damn thin. When the current-day story had the main protagonist 95% dead, then cut away to the obligatory backstory? And then cutaway to a TOTALLY UNRELATED scene in the modern story with brand-new characters? And then back to another flashback? I swear this was just an exercise in convincing the reader skip the damn flashback sequences. (I never did skip ahead, but this is the first time in I don't know how long that I've considered doing so.) In fairness, the "interludes" get much shorter towards the end of the book.

"Miss Not-Appearing-in-this-Book": the book is very short on female characters overall, and most of the ones that are named don't get much screen time. There is one female character whose name comes up again and again, to the point where I'm like "OK, she has to show up at SOME POINT to do SOMETHING because why else do they keep referring to her?" And then, she doesn't. I have no idea why the author kept bringing her up. Maybe he wanted her in the sequel. Maybe if she is in the sequel I will actually read it. I don't know. This was just weird.

"Do your absolute worst to your characters!" I know I have ranted about this before, but it's still a pet peeve of mine, and this book does it. Here's the deal: If you are going to crush your characters, to beat them and torture them and take everything they love away -- and then have them turn it around? I need to be really damn impressed by the way they turn it around. That turnaround had better be brilliant. I need to be completely sold on how clever your protagonist is that he can get out of this horrible mess on genius alone. Or, arguably, the protagonist doesn't have to be a genius but the author does. The author needs to set this whole thing up so that (a) the desolation that his the protagonist seems reasonable and (b) the so does the turnaround. It is easy to do the former, but once you've done that it's often hard to believe the latter. "If he was so smart, why did he fall into the trap in the first place?" "The villain was so good in the first two-thirds of the book, why'd he get cornered by the protagonist now?" And this is definitely a problem I had in The Lies of Locke Lamora. Too many things seemed contrived and implausible. Some of the protagonist's plans were clever and some of the breaks that he got were logical and foreseeable to the reader. But I found myself often feeling like things just didn't make sense. The climactic final fight was especially bad in this respect, because I just could not see why the villain would let himself get into the position he ended up in.

All right, I think I've gotten all that out of my system now. And despite the complaints, I did like the book. It did many things well, even if it hit badly on one of my pet peeves.

* Lut: "'Crapsack'? Is that the technical term for it?"
Me: "Yes."
Lut: "I am trying to picture what a crapsack would be for. To put crap in so you can bury it?"
Me: [pulls up the TV Tropes page] "See? Technical term for it."
Lut: "Maybe you should link to the article."
Me: "What? And cost my friends three hours of their lives from being sucked into the TV Tropes page?"
Lut: "Maybe you should put a warning on that link. I bet there's a TV Tropes page about how TV Tropes devours time."
Me: "Yes, there is."
Tags: book review, books, review
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