They say that the Thorn of Camorr can beat anyone in a fight. They say he steals from the rich and gives to the poor. They say he's part man, part myth, and mostly street-corner rumor. And they are wrong on every count. Only averagely tall, slender, and god-awful with a sword, Locke Lamora is the fabled Thorn, and the greatest weapons at his disposal are his wit and cunning. He steals from the rich -they're the only ones worth stealing from- but the poor can go steal for themselves. What Locke cons, wheedles and tricks into his possession is strictly for him and his band of fellow con-artists and thieves: the Gentleman Bastards. Together their domain is the city of Camorr. Built of Elderglass by a race no-one remembers, it's a city of shifting revels, filthy canals, baroque palaces and crowded cemeteries. Home to Dons, merchants, soldiers, beggars, cripples, and feral children. And to Capa Barsavi, the criminal mastermind who runs the city. But there are whispers of a challenge to the Capa's power. A challenge from a man no one has ever seen, a man no blade can touch. The Grey King is coming. A man would be well advised not to be caught between Capa Barsavi and The Grey King. Even such a master of the sword as the Thorn of Camorr.
Despite what the back cover says, Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora is not a caper novel in the vein of Ocean's Eleven. Sure there is some conning, some stealing, but the book is really not about that. It's more about who keeps the power and control of Camorr's assorted criminal activities. It's also about revenge, but that plot point stays on the fringes until the last quarter of the novel. What we get before is a detailed history of Camorr and it's surrounding villages. We get a bunch of good guy thieves who would be right out of the Bowery Boys -that is if they stole and swore like longshore fishermen. The plot meanders, but that's not a bad thing, for it neither fast or too slow. Then there's Lynch's one narrative conceit; we get "interludes" spaced through the book, which gives the reader a look at Locke's past, how he started out. It's a bit distracting at first, this time shift between Lamora of "today" and one from years before.
The one thing I liked is that I never felt the twists that happen to Lamora and his band of merry men to be contrived in any sort of way. Though, like a lot of today's fiction, Lamora's problems are frequently and too easily resolved. Once again, its not the character's deeply storied life we've read about many of pages, but by the stupidity of his enemies (via the authors word processing program).
All the characters get a nice fleshing out, and Lynch creates a large group of supporting characters that the reader will like. Mr. Lynch does spend a great time World Building here, and clearly the reason seems to be that he plans multiple novels set in his re-imaged world of Venice (because there is female character named Sabetha who is mentioned dozens of time through out the book, but never makes an appearance. Let us hope that when she does, Sabetha is half as interesting as she written to be).
The book does, slightly, turn to torture porn, and despite growing up with the works of Stephen King, having read George R. R. Martin (but have not started the last two books), I'm never pleased with this. Yes the hero (or anti-hero depending on your point of view) may have some justification for what he does, but I found it unpleasant and even a bit disturbing. Sometimes it's hard for me to accept the character when he climbs into the gutter he supposedly hates. And While I understand's Lynch's need to create this world in detail, I think it still goes on too long. There are clearly repetitious parts that seem only designed to tell the reader what a clever writer Scott Lynch is and adds nothing for the reader, who already knows the history of Locke Lamora.
And, finally, I've discovered, despite my best efforts, reading multi-volume series again. I've got series going now by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, John Scalzi, Tana French, Ransom Riggs, along with starting Ken Follett's Century Trilogy, Katherine Kurtz's Deryni saga and Jennifer Hobb's Farseer series. Plus I've got a number of stand-alone novels to read (including the new Stephen King, but that's not due until June). I guess I should turn the TV off and shut down the laptop.