The Lies of Locke Lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch follows the exploits of a group of con artists called the Gentleman Bastards as they hoodwink the criminal underworld and the local nobility — until they find themselves caught up in a power struggle much bigger than themselves.

The story unfolds in the fictional city of Camorr, a fantasy-tuned version of modern-day Venice, and tells the story of Locke Lamora in flashbacks between the events of the present day and Locke’s upbringing.

But, while the deeper narrative has political overtones, this book shines through due to its hilarious writing, beautiful world-building, and unforgettable characters.

Let’s take a closer look.

The book cover for The Lies of Locke LamoraThe Details

Standalone or Series: Series

Series Title: Gentleman Bastards Sequence
Which Book Is This: Book 1

Genre: Fantasy
Length: 736 pages / 203,000 words
Intended Audience: Fantasy lovers who want a break from traditional sword and sorcery epics.

Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Year Published: 2006

Purchase Links:
Amazon: [Link]
Audible: [Link]

Words of Warning

Without a doubt, The Lies of Locke Lamora is an entertaining blend of crime caper and fantasy epic.

It’s worth noting that Lynch published this book in 2006 as a debut novel with plans in the works for six additional books. As of this writing (2021), the Gentleman Bastards Sequence is up to three books.

So, if you’re one of those readers who loves to wait until a fantasy series is complete before you sink your teeth into it, you might be waiting a few decades.

I’m placing this warning here because this is the first book in the series. Commit at your peril.

Recommendation

This is a great book for readers who like crime thrillers, heists, and are okay with the fantastical elements that fantasy is known for.

Readers who aren’t necessarily beholden to the idea that fantasy is all about epic quests, dragons, and swinging swords will have a great time.

Though the story has political overtones, this isn’t a Game of Thrones-style epic with power struggles that change the course of entire nations.

The problems that the main characters deal with take place on a much smaller scale. That serves to makes the story and the characters more personable and relatable.

The Boy Who Stole Too Much

While Locke is only one of a handful of memorable characters that you’ll meet, Lynch sets him up in the prologue and several times throughout the story as a boy who is too clever for his own good.

In some stories, this becomes a problem because the character seems overpowered.  They have plot armor — where the character isn’t allowed to die simply because they’re the protagonist — or they’re immune from any kind of real danger.

Lynch is careful not to extend those benefits to Locke.  His penchant for theft is a problem.  He steals too much or from the wrong people and, as a result, often ends up getting other people killed.

As the Thiefmaker, Locke’s first mentor, puts it:  Locke fucking Lamora is not circumspect when it comes to thieving.

As the leader of a gang, that fondness for theft attracts the wrong kind of attention.  While readers and friends know Locke Lamora as an unassuming thief beneath their notice, the upper nobility of Camorr — a prime target for Locke and the rest of the Gentleman Bastards — know Locke as the mysterious Thorn of Camorr.

Though the Thorn is pursued by the Duke’s spymaster, the Spider, Lynch doesn’t play into the Robin Hood trope here.  Locke isn’t stealing from the rich and giving to the poor.  He’s stealing from the rich . . . and keeping the dividends.

Why?  Because he just doesn’t know what to do with all that hard cash!

Locke is an excellent thief.  His scams and cons are top-notch, white-collar works of art — the exact kind of thing you don’t want if you’re trying to be circumspect.

The Politics of Camorr

In order to really sink your teeth into the story, you have to understand law and order in Camorr.

Lynch uses a callback to European nobility to help the political structure seem more familiar — at least, on the surface.  The king of the Seven Marrows and other political figureheads are also mentioned, but Lynch leaves out some of the details that you’d need to paint a complete picture of the nobility in this fantasy world.

In some ways, that’s actually better because of Locke’s closer relationship with the other half of the political spectrum:  The criminal underworld.  The underbelly of Camorr is just as important to the ebb and flow of the Gentleman Bastards.

Capa Barsavi, a college professor turned crime boss, rules the dark side of the city.  During his rise to power, he brokered the Secret Peace with Duke Nicovante to settle the growing unrest between the upper class and the underworld.  According to the Secret Peace, nobles and the city guard aren’t to be bothered by con men and thieves.  Everyone else is fair game.

Why does this matter?  Because Locke and the rest of the Gentleman Bastards were trained specifically to steal in ways that violate the Secret Peace.

This becomes critical when the Gray King shows up with a bondsmage in tow — essentially a wizard for hire and the only legitimate magical entity that we see in the series.  As the Gray King wages war on Barsavi, Locke finds himself embroiled in an unexpected political conflict.

A Tale Told In Flashbacks

If the storyline politics of fantasy novels isn’t really your show, don’t fret.

A sizable chunk of this book is dedicated to establishing Locke’s upbringing.  Through beautifully told flashbacks, we get the backstory between Locke, Jean Tannen, Calo and Galdo Sanza, and how they were raised by Father Chains to overcome the Secret Peace.  In the present, Locke continues this tradition by introducing Bug, the youngest and newest member of the crew.

The few dangling aspects left out of the backstory that Lynch provides are the details regarding Locke’s love life.  We learn that he’s in love with Sabetha, the unseen and always-absent member of the Gentleman Bastards, and that there is some friction between them, but Lynch is cagey with the details.

(No major spoilers here, but Lynch hashes this relationship out in Republic of Thieves, the third book in the series.)

The lessons that Locke learns or, in some cases, fails to learn as a child ultimately dovetail into the predicament that he and his crew find themselves in during the course of the novel.

A World of Fun & Final Words

As you can probably guess, things break bad for Locke and company as they fall prey to politics and dark magic while trying to keep their trickery and thieving afoot.

And there are consequences and implications, all of which lead into the next book, Red Seas Under Red Skies.

But, for the reader, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fun read chock full of witty banter, hilarious antics, and high stakes that will make you love the characters even more.

If you’re looking for a fantasy book to read (even if you aren’t well-acquainted with the genre) this one is a real gem.