Book Club get together week again and for September we had been reading “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch.
“The Lies of Locke Lamora” is about an orphan who becomes a thief in a city where certain rules are in place, the key one for this tale is the “Secret Peace” whereby the nobility are protected by the gangs of thieves that operate within the city of Camorr. The tale is split between two narratives, one being the core plot about Locke Lamora as an adult alongside his group of Gentlemen Bastards who do indeed break this Secret Peace but do so in a manner where said nobility hide this fact due to the shame of being led down a path of deceit due to the share level of plotting and planning that Locke provides to his small group of thieves. The second narrative covers the training of four members of this group (Locke, Jean and the twins Calo and Galo Sanza), there is a fifth member, Bug, but he is only introduced in the former narrative where he is a Gentlemen Bastard in training under the tutorship of the other four members.
At its heart, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a mafia story. I say this as the setting feels like Lynch has taken influences from Renaissance era Italy, and also because there are a number of gangs but all of them have their own territory and all answer one boss, their Garrista, who takes a cut of everything each gang steals, though the breaking of the Secret Peace by Locke and his companions isn’t known outside of the Gentlemen Bastards as they put up a front, only delivering minimal (but believable) amounts to their Garrista, Capa Barsavi.
However, during one particular scheme, for which the Gentlemen Bastards look to earn tens of thousands of “Crowns”, things begin to unravel.
It’s at this point I have to admit that I struggled with the first half of the book. It was laying a lot of ground work, introducing the world, its rules and characters, whilst also trying to weave Locke’s plot to steal a huge amount of money from a noble, Don Lorenzo Salvara, and his wife. It’s not that these moments were particularly dull, its more that there was so much plotting and Lynch seems to be taking great pride in describing minute details of characters clothing that it often felt like you weren’t making any progress through the story itself. But as people begin to figure out who Locke is and begin to plot against him behind his back, and as things begin to fall apart from Capa Barsavi at the hands of the “Grey King” and we start to see characters for who they really are, everything begins to move along at break neck pace.
This all comes to a peak when things go from bad to worse for the Gentlemen Bastards and the reader is left feeling, much as the troupe do, like there’s no way out. Fortunately for Scott Lynch he’s written a character here that (ad-libbed) “works best when he doesn’t know what he’s doing”, meaning that there’s always an opening for Locke and co to escape peril, though it goes without saying that, during a particularly exhausting moment in the tale, not everyone makes it through leading to some very heavily revenge filled closing chapters.
The thing I enjoyed most of all though was the city of Camorr, it felt grimy and lived in and the people we got to meet along the way really helped flesh it out. The Salvara’s were very naive throughout, despite Locke feeling like he was struggling to fool Dona Sophia Salvara, whilst any time we spent with The Falconer there was always a sense of dread, that things were going to go awry, but one moment that really stuck out was during Locke’s first ever plot whilst he was still being trained by Father Chains. He had been tasked with stealing a dead body to provide to some Black Alchemists as they had no legitimate way of obtaining a cadaver, though once he had managed this particular task, he couldn’t help himself but increase the risk of the task at hand in order to obtain a higher reward (in this case, money) and feigned having his purse snatched (by one of the Sanza’s in disguise), but the way in which the people in the district rallied around him (as he was feigning being an apprentice of one of the churches) and provided him with money (and had the local authorities try and find the purse snatcher/Sanza twin) really drove home that these people, despite not having the best of lives, really valued each other and, for me, that gave real character to the city as a whole alongside Lynch’s excellent descriptions of each district that Lamora or Jean Tannen visited.