The Lies of Locke Lamora is Scott Lynch’s first novel and the standalone beginning to the “Gentlemen Bastard” sequence. Locke Lamora is a person, not a place (as for some reason I first thought); he is a con artist extraordinaire and the leader of the aforementioned Gentlemen Bastards.
I love capers, especially capers with distinctive narrative voices and good banter. The opening of the Prologue caught me right away:
At the height of the long wet summer of the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.
“Have I got a deal for you!” the Thiefmaker began, perhaps inauspiciously.
“Another deal like Calo and Galdo, maybe?” said the Eyeless Priest. “I’ve still got my hands full training those giggling idiots out of every bad habit they picked up from you and replacing them with the bad habits I need.”
“Now, Chains.” The Thiefmaker shrugged. “I told you they were shit-flinging little monkeys when we made the deal, and it was good enough for you at the—”
“Or maybe another deal like Sabetha?” The priest’s richer, deeper voice chased the Thiefmaker’s objection right back down his throat. “I’m sure you recall charging me everything but my dead mother’s kneecaps for her. I should’ve paid you in copper and watched you spring a rupture trying to haul it all away.”
“Ahhhhhh, but she was special, and this boy, this boy, he’s special too,” said the Thiefmaker. “Everything you asked me to look for after I sold you Calo and Galdo. Everything you liked so much about Sabetha! He’s Camorri, but a mongrel. Therin and Vadran blood with neither dominant. He’s got larceny in his heart, sure as the sea’s full of fish piss. And I can even let you have him at a . . . a discount.”
The Eyeless Priest spent a long moment mulling this. “You’ll pardon me,” he finally said, “if the suggestion that the minuscule black turnip you call a heart is suddenly overflowing with generosity toward me leaves me wanting to arm myself and put my back against a wall.”
The Thiefmaker tried to let a vaguely sincere expression scurry onto his face, where it froze in evident discomfort. His shrug was theatrically casual. “There are, ah, problems with the boy, yes. But the problems are unique to his situation in my care. Were he under yours, I’m sure they would, ahhhh, vanish.”
“Oh. You have a magic boy. Why didn’t you say so?” The priest scratched his forehead beneath the white silk blindfold that covered his eyes. “Magnificent. I’ll plant him in the fucking ground and grow a vine to an enchanted land beyond the clouds.”
“Ahhhhh! I’ve tasted that flavor of sarcasm before, Chains.” The Thiefmaker gave an arthritic mock bow. “That’s the sort you spit out as a bargaining posture. Is it really so hard to say that you’re interested?”
The Eyeless Priest shrugged. “Suppose Calo, Galdo, and Sabetha might be able to use a new playmate, or at least a new punching bag. Suppose I’m willing to spend about three coppers and a bowl of piss for a mystery boy. But you’ll still need to convince me that you deserve the bowl of piss. What’s the boy’s problem?”
“His problem,” said the Thiefmaker, “is that if I can’t sell him to you, I’m going to have to slit his throat and throw him in the bay. And I’m going to have to do it tonight.”
The Prologue begins the backstory thread of the novel, Lamora’s training as a thief. It’s interwoven with the present-day thread, in which the Gentlemen Bastards are running a long con on some nobility—in quiet defiance of the Secret Peace that protects the nobility from being robbed, an agreement made between the city’s Duke and the Capa who took over all the city’s gangs some years ago.
“My name,” said Locke Lamora, is “Lukas Fehrwright.” The voice was clipped and precise, scrubbed of Locke’s natural inflections. He layered the hint of a harsh Vadran accent atop a slight mangling of his native Camorri dialect like a barkeep mixing liquors. “I am wearing clothes that will be full of sweat in several minutes. I am dumb enough to walk around Camorr without a blade of any sort. Also,” he said with a hint of ponderous regret, “I am entirely fictional.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that, Master Fehrwright,” said Calo, “but at least we’ve got your boat and your horse ready for your grand excursion.”
(Just because it made me laugh when I skimmed the page looking for something else.)
But an ominous dark shape is ghosting overhead as the Gentlemen Bastards run their con; and in the wider world, someone known only as the Gray King is assassinating the leaders of the city’s sub-gangs, who ought to be untouchable.
The pacing of the book is off, with the present-day thread being somewhat too slow at the beginning (we don’t hear of the Gray King until about a hundred pages in, I believe) and somewhat too fast at the end. When I was reading, I didn’t know that it was meant to be a standalone volume in a larger series, so when Chad asked me how things were going, I said, “Well, I can see why there’s going to be more of them, because [major bad thing] just happened,” meaning that many more pages would be needed to overcome [major bad thing]. He exercised great restraint and said not a thing, but obviously I was quite wrong. I was hooked enough at the beginning to not mind the initial slowness, and also I read it all in one gulp anyway, but those who read over longer periods should keep it in mind. Things do speed up, oh yes indeed.
I’m also not entirely happy with the body count of the book, but I really shouldn’t say any more about that. I really enjoyed the capers and the banter, the hints of backstory yet to be revealed for Locke, and the non-medievaloid setting of the city of Camorr: the setting, like the book, has flash and grit in equally-convincing and appropriate measure, and it’s a refreshing, impressive, and entertaining mix. I quite look forward to the next one.