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The Lies of Locke Lamora

January 21, 2018

A paperback copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, was the perfect airplane book for me over the holidays. A complicated crime caper, it was absorbing enough and long enough (719 pages) to keep me involved without the danger that I’d run out of book before the flights were done. I liked it so much I’ve procured a copy of the sequel for my next flight.

We meet the character who calls himself “Locke Lamora” as an orphaned child in a country called Camorr. Locke has proved himself too clever to work for the “Thiefmaker” and is being sold up the chain of very organized crime in this extremely brutal world. His story is told in chapters that alternate between what happened when he first joined the group of thieves with honor who call themselves the “Gentlemen Bastards” and what is happening as they have one of their biggest marks wriggling on the hook.

Locke is both sympathetic and admirable because he makes room for himself and those he loves in a world dominated by the rich and callous. He excels at playing various roles in order to extract money from the rich and unprincipled among the upper classes of Camorr. Readers are told details that the people he mingles with wouldn’t suspect, like that “Locke didn’t find it particularly easy to eat lunch while watching a dozen swimming men being pulled apart by a Jereshti devilfish, but he decided that his master merchant of Emberlain had probably seen worse, in his many imaginary sea voyages, and he kept his true feelings far from his face.”

One of the most delicious moments is when Locke, playing the role of one of an Imperial security branch called the “Midnighters,” breaks into the home of his current mark in order to warn him about…his own theft-in-process. Locke asks the mark to play along, explaining that it’s been impossible to catch the thieves because the other noble people who were robbed have been too embarrassed to admit what happened. He explains:
“Her ladyship the Dona Rosalina de Marre lost ten thousand crowns four years ago, in exchange for titles to upriver orchards that don’t exist….Don and Dona Feluccia lost twice as much two years ago. They thought they were financing a coup in Talisham that would have made the city a family estate….Last year…Don Javarriz paid fifteen thousand full crowns to a soothsayer who claimed to be able to restore the old man’s firstborn to life.”
You’d think the promise of necromancy would be a clue, wouldn’t you? But the mark, a lord called Salvara, is completely taken in.

Some of the seeming digressions, like an explanation of the results of burning “wraithstone,” on living creatures, turn out to be more important than readers suspect, at first. It’s more than just further evidence of the brutality of this society that results in us over-hearing Locke being told that “once, in the time of the Therin Throne, the process was used to punish criminals, but it has been centuries since any civilized Therin city-state allowed the use of Wraithstone on men and women. A society that still hangs children for petty theft and feeds prisoners to sea-creatures finds the results too disquieting to bear.”

Locke faces down other thieves, magicians, and all the assembled nobles of his society, although not without his own losses along the way.

The worldbuilding is detailed and interesting, revealing more than is needed for this particular story. There are tantalizing hints about an earlier society called the Eldren who left behind mysterious buildings filled with mysterious substances like “Elderglass” which is “proof against all human arts.”

And the cleverness of the story extends to humor, like at the end of a tense scene where one of the characters we care about seems to be in danger from a fencing teacher, who then turns around and informs him that
“those prancing little pants-wetters come here to learn the colorful and gentlemanly art of fencing, with its many sporting limitations and its proscriptions against dishonorable engagements.
You, on the other hand…you are going to learn how to kill men with a sword.’”

Readers get to learn all the complicated secrets and intrigues of Locke’s schemes, except for one final secret which Locke whispers to his friend Jean at the end, but no one else gets to hear.

There is a sequel, but this book has an absolutely smashing and satisfying ending all by itself, and my bet is that we don’t get to learn Locke’s final secret in the next one, either.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2018 7:58 pm

    Sounds like a good one. Just “he kept his true feelings far from his face” tells you someone knows how to write.

  2. Jenny permalink
    January 22, 2018 4:07 pm

    This sounds like a *great* airplane book. I usually choose Wilkie Collins — surprisingly similar.

    • January 23, 2018 9:18 am

      Wilkie Collins is a good idea. I try to choose page-turners for airplanes because as a large person I am so uncomfortable, both psychically (I’m taking up my neighbor’s hip room) and physically (as Roxane Gay has pointed out, big women often have bruises from armrests).

  3. January 22, 2018 9:22 pm

    JEANNE oh man, I am so so confident that I’ll enjoy this book, but it also sounds like it’s the first in an unfinished series that’s meant to be quite long. And I am so nervous about that! What if I start it and I love it and then it’s never, ever over? WHAT THEN JEANNE?

    • January 23, 2018 9:16 am

      Walker gave me this book for Christmas because his girlfriend Ariel recommended it, and she tells me that the second one is about pirates and is good (my appetite for pirates has been whetted by watching Black Sails on your recommendation). The third one, she said, is a little disappointing. So there you have it. (I’m pretty much over the unfinished series trauma since Frank Herbert died.)

  4. January 25, 2018 12:46 pm

    My husband just read this one about a month ago on the recommendation of a coworker and he really liked it too. I might have to figure out how to fit it in to my reading pile.

  5. January 29, 2018 7:06 am

    I have thought about a big long book for planes, but if I didn’t like it, then I’d be stuck! This sounds really good though!

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