These two novels of what will likely be a septology (or more, I believe there’s a prequel coming) of novels by Scott Lynch are a sort of Renaissance fantasy world with more than a passing nod to the Venetian merchant princes of history and the ensemble cast crime movies of the modern age. I would call it ‘Oceans 11, with Wizards’ but that wouldn’t be entirely fair since, while there is magic, it’s rather low key magic for the most part, subtle and sinister rather than ‘Kablooie!’. These first two novels cover the rise, fall, recovery and then fall again of master thief Locke Lamora and his companions, most particularly the educated brute (and Locke’s best friend) Jean Tannen.Review
Lynch writes in a rather rollicking and engaging style that careens through comedy, tragedy, farce and mystery without due care and attention for the casualties of expected literary development left crying in his wake. This is a good thing as this style, combined with the slight sly winks to the modern age and a plausible feel to the world, as well as engaging characters, lift this series from the insipid mediocrity of your standard and formulaic fantasy fare.
Locke is a very sympathetic character, particularly for me. He isn’t a great swordsman, he isn’t the most agile of cat burglars. He isn’t the most stealthy or the best with numbers necessarily. What makes Locke such a great theif – head of the Gentleman Bastards – is that he is a SUPREME bullshit artists and master of the scam. He is clever, the kind of clever that teachers and parents might refer to as being ‘too clever for your own good’. Locke is vulnerable, Locke is weak. He isn’t a mighty thewed barbarian with skin like armour plate and a dusky maiden attached to each calf muscle, he isn’t an obnoxiously powerful wizard or a ninja, he’s just a smartarse, an orphan and a weakling who happens to be good at spinning bullshit into gold. Unlike most heroes of stories you actually get the feeling that Locke can fail – and he does, repeatedly, almost as much as he triumphs and this keeps you engaged with the story.
The world is quite well realised, more the city of Camorr in the first book than the city of Tal Verrar in the second story, which never really quite meshed I don’t think, relying a little too much on modernisms and seeming to move outside of the Renaissance setting of Lies and more into an Enlightenment/Georgian vibe. Magic hardly exists save for a few rare talents and a guild of Bondsmages, the only real magical practitioners in existence and ones that you really, really, really don’t want to cross or break ranks with.
Due to the complex nature of the plots, schemes and cons within cons it’s really impossible to go into a great deal of detail about the goings on in the books without spoiling the experience of reading them – a problem that reviewers constantly face – so all I can really say is that the plots – if you can follow them – are really, really good and very, very surprising.
The Gentleman Bastards Sequence is off to a great start with these two books and they stand head and shoulders above much of the other fantasy output that’s around at the moment. Outside of gaming I’m really not a fan of fantasy settings but I really like these books. That should tell you enough!
Substance: 3 (dropping a mark because of the less cohesive setting of the second book)