Monday, August 13, 2012

Review of The Lies of Locke Lamora

I know, this is a strange follow up to a war of the classes(not to mention the clash). On the other hand, I felt so strongly moved by this book that I can't escape the need for a response.

The Lies of Locke Lamora was a surprise. For a fantasy novel it is a curious specimen that sets up and breaks expectations faster than a bull on meth in a china shop. The story is a wild ride and you will be holding on by the whitening tips of your fingers to find out what happens next.

Camorr is divided up between the have's and the have nots. The haves, the aristocracy, wealthy merchants, and varous dukes and duchesses, have a lot. As in private summer barges, courtesans, expensive clothes, mansions and enough money to feed a third world nation for a year. Of course they do what most people with money do: they keep it.

The other half of the haves are the wealthy criminals. Camorr is a city where crime is as natural as the tides, and the Capa, the man who holds all gangs, cutpurses, whores, thieves in sway, rules with the absolute power of a tsar. Cross him and death is the least of your worries.

The only unforgiveable crime is to violate The Secret Peace. That is, the peace between the nobles and the thieves. Arranged between the Duke of the city and the Capa, the theives and criminals can steal, murder, and defraud all of the middle and lower classes that they want and can get away with, but they are not permitted to touch the aristocracy. For this freedom the nobles do not root out crime and drag the various gangleaders into chains. No summary exectutions. No raiding of gang warehouses. As long as the nobles, their wives, and their families are left alone, crime remains the most profitable business in Camorr.

Of course, Locke and his crew have other plans.

I can't remember the last time I genuinely had such fun with a book. I can unreservedly recommend the book for its plot construction, characterizations, and world building, but the sheer glee you feel when reading this novel, the delight in the anarchy that Locke trails behind him, is enough to hook the most experienced and perhaps jaded reader and a reading experience not to be missed.

My only problem with the novel is that it does have "first novel" flaws. Although I hate to use that term because usually when an author publishes a novel it may be his first published novel but not usually his first written one. Some of the descriptive passages try for effects which they don’t accomplish: broad canvas background scenes that don't really convey mood or tone. The book succeeds though with dialouge, and with his structual design.

The dialogue is always witty, always cutting, and entertaining. Characters speak like real people with individual personalities born from private experiences. Even minor and secondary characters come through as original creations and not merely mouthpieces. In one scene a sergeant on a night watch is fleshed out by the way he addresses his subordinates. Very skillfull handling of the material there and the extra effort adds to the many cool things to enjoy in a novel filled with cool things.

The thing that blows my mind though is the plot construction. It is a plot that is as twisted and torqued as a contortionist with cerebral palsy, but the amazing thing is it actually flows and fits together. It never feels like he is pulling an Indiana Jones and "making it up as he goes along." Handling flashbacks and info dumps is a fantasy author's nightmare. Simply no way around it this is part of the genre. But in Locke Lamora the author found a way to travel back and forth and uses carefully selected scenes to highlight the upcoming plot points. The past informs the present and round and round.

But where I think the book rises in comparison to others is in its uses of genre expextations. Locke is an orphan. The majority of the people in his crew are orphans. So the question of identity itself becomes a major plot point and the whole Aristotelian idea of recognition looms unforgettably in the reader's mind. Who is this wise ass little shit, where did he come from, and what is there about his past that causes such mystery.

Like a good con artist one of the things Locke does over the course of the book is dodge the question of who he is and where he came from. We don’t actually know that his parents were killed and he was an orphan. He may have chosen to go to the thieves world and make his living as that. We don’t know what the parents connections were. Locke may simply have been an impossible child and the parents dumped him off dockside to get rid of him. The book does a neat job of slipping that question the way a boxer expertly slips a punch. And in a novel supposedly concerned with orphans I found myself surprised that he had so often dodged it.

For a book about a con, the best con is the one enacted on the reader: what do we really know about these characters? If this were a dickens novel we'd be subjected to a relentless pursuit to find out the orphan's identity. And although that question is constantly being evoked and hinted at in the story, Scott Lynch is the artful dodger himself, making us forget then remember then have a burning desire to know, but never actually telling us. Well played sir. Well played indeed.

Great fun. Don't miss it.

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