Series: Gentleman Bastard
Published by Bantam on July, 2006
Genres: Epic, Fantasy
My content rating: Adult (Some adult language and themes, Violence)
In this stunning debut, author Scott Lynch delivers the wonderfully thrilling tale of an audacious criminal and his band of confidence tricksters. Set in a fantastic city pulsing with the lives of decadent nobles and daring thieves, here is a story of adventure, loyalty, and survival that is one part "Robin Hood", one part Ocean's Eleven, and entirely enthralling...
An orphan's life is harsh — and often short — in the island city of Camorr, built on the ruins of a mysterious alien race. But born with a quick wit and a gift for thieving, Locke Lamora has dodged both death and slavery, only to fall into the hands of an eyeless priest known as Chains — a man who is neither blind nor a priest.
A con artist of extraordinary talent, Chains passes his skills on to his carefully selected "family" of orphans — a group known as the Gentlemen Bastards. Under his tutelage, Locke grows to lead the Bastards, delightedly pulling off one outrageous confidence game after another. Soon he is infamous as the Thorn of Camorr, and no wealthy noble is safe from his sting.
Passing themselves off as petty thieves, the brilliant Locke and his tightly knit band of light-fingered brothers have fooled even the criminal underworld's most feared ruler, Capa Barsavi. But there is someone in the shadows more powerful — and more ambitious — than Locke has yet imagined.
Known as the Gray King, he is slowly killing Capa Barsavi's most trusted men — and using Locke as a pawn in his plot to take control of Camorr's underworld. With a bloody coup under way threatening to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the Gray King at his own brutal game — or die trying...
Kaja over at Of Dragons and Hearts is doing a readalong of The Gentlemen Bastards series, and I decided to jump in. I already owned the book because I meant to participate in the readalong back when Kritika at Snowflakes and Spider Silk had one last July. Obviously that never happened, but this was the perfect opportunity to redeem myself!
So, a few things about me and my reading tastes before I start out with this review (they’re relevant to the review, I swear). I used to love epic fantasy and sci-fi when I was younger. Robin Hobb was my ultimate favorite, but I also loved The Wheel of Time series in all its huge, epic glory. But somewhere along the line my attention span apparently lessened – I swear, having children has sucked brain cells right out of my head because I just no longer have the ability to focus when reading long, detailed descriptions of what all the characters are wearing and the bustling town – even though I know those details are fantastic and add layers upon layers of depth to the book. (I also used to LOVE classics when I was a teenager, and I can’t bring myself to read those anymore either, so …) Sometimes I wish I was a re-reader because I think I might be able to appreciate those details better upon a re-read when my brain isn’t clamoring to just know what happened. Anyway, that’s my disclaimer. Nowadays, when I read epic fantasy (just one or two books a year, typically), that colors my reading experience, so I have to explain it right from the start.
Now on to my actual review.
What I loved:
- The gorgeous writing. There is no question that Scott Lynch is a genius writer. The language in this book isn’t flowery or pretentious (in fact, sometimes it’s downright crass – these are very real street characters), but Lynch always paints a vivid picture and he does it in a way that makes me want to read and re-read his phrases, just to experience them again (well, except for those descriptions – but I already explained that that’s my own issue).
- The Gentleman Bastards. This is one of those cases where the friendships were the star of the book, and the relationship between The Gentleman Bastards (Locke’s group of thieving friends) is just utterly engaging and fantastic. Lynch managed to have me completely rooting for this group of morally questionable men – and hoping that their schemes worked out in their favor. Honestly, I barely even stopped to realize that I was rooting for the bad guys (since there were much more villainous characters to compare them to – The Gentleman Bastards at least had a code you could somewhat respect). Every character in this book was incredibly well-drawn, especially the Bastards – Bug was particularly easy to love, being the youngest of the group. He eagerly wanted to please and wasn’t afraid to put himself in harm’s way to do it. His utter faith in their little band of men and his enthusiasm and complete dedication to the group were pretty much adorable.
- Locke Lamora. Locke is easily one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read. He is a genius when it comes to conning people, and yet you have to love his intelligence, his sense of loyalty and his unique moral code. Locke isn’t a perfect hero by any means, but his flaws make him that much more accessible. You can’t help but desperately want him to succeed, whether his intent is conning someone, saving people or getting revenge for the heinous acts against him (and there are some).
- Tangled web. The actual plot of this book is, again, incredibly complex and nuanced. Locke’s group of men is part of a crime syndicate of sorts, and he reports to the Capa. But he manages to mostly fly under the radar – the Capa doesn’t realize what Locke’s group is actually capable of (or how much money they bring in). When a new power comes into play, Locke is no longer able to stay on the sidelines and he’s forced to play along with a dangerous plan – Locke has to use all his wits to stay alive, much less outsmart the men who want to use him.
- Too much description sometimes (for me). I already explained this up at the top of my review, so I won’t go into it much more here. This is a “me” issue, and not really a negative for the book – but it does put a slight damper on my personal reading experience and brings my overall rating down, so I have to mention it.
- The woven story. Again, this is pretty much just a “me” issue. Lynch weaves the story of Locke’s (and sometimes Jean’s) history in with the present, which I loved at the beginning of the book. It gave us glimpses into how Locke became such a genius thief and con man, but still allowed the story in the present to move forward. But I have to confess that toward the end of the book, when the action was really picking up in the present, I sometimes wanted to rush through the flashbacks to get back to the current action. (Again, that impatience rearing its ugly head!)
If you’re already a fan of epic fantasy, you need to read this one – it’s bound to be a five star read for you. While it doesn’t have as much magic as some other fantasies I’ve read, Lynch makes up for that with a richly imagined setting and an engaging plot (the story of Locke’s past reminded me a lot of Oliver Twist, which I loved.) And Lynch’s writing is just plain fantastic. Overall, I give this book 4/5 stars.
About the Author
I was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on April 2, 1978, the first of three brothers. I’ve lived in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area my entire life; currently, just across the border in Wisconsin, about half an hour east of the Twin Cities.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, my first novel, was bought by Simon Spanton at Orion Books in August, 2004. Prior to that I had just about every job you usually see in this sort of author bio– dishwasher, busboy, waiter, web designer, office manager, prep cook, and freelance writer. I trained in basic firefighting at Anoka Technical College in 2005, and became a volunteer firefighter in June of that year.
In 2007 The Lies of Locke Lamora was a World Fantasy Award finalist.
In 2008 I received the Sydney J. Bounds Best Newcomer Award from the British Fantasy Society.
In 2010, I lost a marriage but gained a cat, a charming ball of ego and fuzz known as Muse (Musicus Maximus Butthead Rex I).
My partner, the lovely and critically acclaimed SF/F writer Elizabeth Bear, lives in Massachusetts.