In the first 200 pages, The Lies of Locke Lamora reminded me of a dozen other books: Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, the Arya chapters of A Song of Ice and Fire, Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and even Oliver Twist and The Count of Monte Cristo. All excellent references of course and if you like these books, Lamora will be right up your alley. The problem, well, not so much a problem but the first 200 pages didn’t really grab me because I was reminded all the time of the awesomeness of other books.
It reminded me of so many books that I couldn’t really experience it as original, but after about 200-250 pages (it’s a big book) the plot starts thickening rapidly and the story comes into its own. From then onwards, I couldn’t put the book down. The pacing is fast and the story takes a different turn everything I thought I had figured it out. I dreaded that the book would enter cheesy ground with an annoying romance or limit itself to a single strand of the plot, but every time Lynch subverted that expectation and made it more exciting. Great!
I do wonder, and I don’t want to be too negative, but I do wonder whether it was necessary to make this a fantasy novel. The location is clearly a fantasy version of Venice and the story has a great sense of place, but I think that simply setting the story in actual Venice would not have changed the story that much. Similarly, changing words like “Venice”, “German” and “Latin” to fantasy names is transparent and seems no more than an affectation by Lynch to make this a fantasy world. In the latter half, more magic happens to justify the fantasy setting, and I do think that needs a justification, otherwise Lynch could just have written an historical novel. There is also a strange element of science fiction in the background of the story that felt really out of place to me. If you’ve read it, you’ll know what I refer to.
In any case, the book is a pleasure to read. It is energetic and swashbuckling, with lots of adventure, clever tricks, fighting and derring-do. Lynch stops at cliffhangers to keep you turning pages. The plot has more turns than a mountain road, and is just as hair-raising. Although it is a big book, I rushed through it.
The most important thing is that we are on Locke Lamora’s side. His Robin Hood like gang are a likeable bunch and Locke is clever and resourceful. Lynch is really good at writing banter between the guys. Speaking of guys, this is mostly a book about guys running and scheming and there are only one or two women of note in the story. When the story turns towards tragedy in the latter half, you want Locke to come out on top. Locke is a thief of course, but his enemies are so horrible that we don’t mind his “honorable” trickery.
I highly recommend this novel because it is plain old fun and well written. Lynch is a capable writer with perhaps not the flowy quality of Rothfuss, but Lynch is a great plotter and a master of dialogue.