I Read a Fantasy Novel and It Was Indeed Fantastic

Warning: I’m pretty sure I didn’t give much away you couldn’t have learned on the back cover of The Lies of Locke Lamora. Spoiler lovers, go elsewhere! 

I’ve mentioned briefly before that I’m participating in a staff reading challenge at one of my jobs (which is at one of those places that lets you borrow books for free). It’s to encourage people to expand their horizons and keeps our reviews honest (so people like me don’t just give their faves five-star reviews).

Obviously, my horizons need expanding. I might take a turn with a twentieth-century author sometimes, but my dance card is full of the nineteenth century and I can’t stop. I can reach for Faulkner and grasp Dickens. I can crack open a frosty Fitzgerald and find myself pining for Austen.

I kinda have to get the lead out on this reading challenge. I completed some of the books in the fall, but then Brontë-palooza took over my life and now I have to read approximately one million books by the end of February in order to get credit for participating.

I let the Library Gods dictate my fortune to me, and they chose fantasy.

I do not read much fantasy. As a child, I read The Hobbit two or three times, but I remember almost nothing about it. I love The Princess Bride, but that’s really about it. Fantasy on-screen, though, is an entirely different story. When I was in the seventh grade, I saw The Fellowship of the Ring no less than six times in theaters. I tried to read the books as a poopy-faced teenager and closed them when I couldn’t take the lack of Elijah Wood’s beautiful face anymore. Then I tried to read The Silmarillion, which killed my interest in pursuing Tolkien stone-dead. I want Game of Thrones to come back so badly it hurts. But when I see someone with those bricky George R.R. Martin paperbacks, I have no desire to pick them up. None at all.

One of my friends loves A Song of Ice and Fire, though. And while she enjoys her share of science fiction, she usually doesn’t do fantasy because the genre is so ridden with uninteresting cliches. I knew I couldn’t read a thousand pages for one book for my reading challenge, so she recommended something she said was better even better than George R.R. Martin.

Enter Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, the first in the Gentleman Bastard series. The Lies of Locke Lamora tells about the life and times of the eponymous main character, an accomplished thief in Camorr City. Interweaving narratives tell two stories. One is of Locke’s origins and that of his gang, the Gentleman Bastards. The second follows the Gentleman Bastards as they try to pull off the biggest con of their careers…and accidentally get caught up in a war that rips apart the Camorri criminal underground.

I hope that this doesn’t negatively influence anybody, but this novel was like reading the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I mean that in the best way: it’s action-packed, brimming with swashbuckling, cool magic shit, and all manner of awesome characters. I don’t just mean characters that are likable, but characters that are real. Locke is a really good thief, but his skill isn’t preternatural. He’s not physically strong or a very good fighter—he relies on his team to complete him where he falls short. The banter is quick and fresh and full of swearing, which I love because I’m foul.

One thing I appreciated is that unlike, say, Tolkien (or some of what I’ve heard about Martin), Lynch’s action almost never suffers at the hands of his world-building. Part of this is due to the fact that the characters are orphans and poor and/or unconcerned with wealth, so there’s no real way for the narrator to take tangents on things like weaponry or family lineage. The historical asides and expository world-building are interesting, sprinkled throughout, and, most importantly, relevant to the action.

Really, I had a couple of issues that weren’t big trifles. There’s a love interest off in the distance who never appears, but I’m told she plays a greater part later on in the series. I did have issues with the pacing. For me, the novel got off to a relatively slow start, which was fine because I could soak up Camorr, Locke, etc. But I think the end moved at just a little too quick a clip for me to totally buy the resolution.

The only other complaint I had were character deaths. And that’s not really Lynch’s fault, just something I’m unprepared for. Usually, in Victorian novels you can tell the orphan/peasant with the sunny disposition will buy the farm after a long and dignified illness. Fantasy deaths are much more jarring, and a couple of these characters were killed off while I was still getting to know them. And I’m sure I can’t handle A Song of Ice and Fire if The Lies of Locke Lamora gave me roughly the same reaction as that kid in The Princess Bride. Perhaps, it takes building up an immunity to unfair character deaths. Now if only I were free to continue with the second book straightaway…

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