It’s been about six years since I finished the previous book in Scott Lynch’s series and given how much I enjoyed the previous books I approached the third book with a mix of anticipation and nervousness that it wouldn’t live up to its predecessors, not helped by some fairly mixed reviews suggesting that many people were a bit disappointed in it. Overall I enjoyed reading and liked many of the things that happened in it but there were some things that I think didn't work and some things I'm still not quite sure how I feel about them.
The story alternates between a ‘present-day’ story as Locke and Jean are coerced into helping rig an election and flashbacks set before the beginning of the first novel showing some of their early adventures in Camorr, the two being linked by the character of Sabetha who was often mentioned in earlier books but hadn’t appeared in person until this book. The main purpose of the flashbacks is to show how Locke first met Sabetha and how over the years they developed into friends, rivals and ultimately lovers, while in the present day Locke is reunited with her after a long estrangement but finds that she is working for his opponents in the election.
I think the flashback part of the story worked well. I’ve seen some complaint in other reviews that not enough happened in it to justify the number of pages spent on it, and they may have a point but I enjoyed seeing the full complement of the Gentleman Bastards working together and it was a good introduction to Sabetha – I don’t think the present-day part of the story would have worked if we hadn’t seen some of Sabetha and Locke’s past relationship. There might sometimes be a lack of tension since we know that the characters are never in any real peril and will survive even when they’re in a very dangerous situation, but there’s still plenty of interest in seeing how they avoid getting killed or arrested.
Before reading the book I was a bit nervous that Sabetha might turn out to be a disappointment when she finally appeared after being repeatedly mentioned during the previous two books, but I think Lynch did a good job of making her the equal of Locke and Jean even if it might have been nice to see more of the story from her point-of-view. I wasn't too keen on the "romance" between Locke and her, while Locke's behaviour in the flashbacks may have been typical teenaged foolishness it's a bit irritating (although admittedly not implausible) when he was still behaving the same way towards her in the 'present day' part of the story. Having a potential romance as one of the central parts of a book can be a problem when it often seems that they would be better off apart, I'm not sure that I really wanted to see them ending up together. In the book's defence I think the awkwardness of this romance was part of the point of the story, and Locke does at least seem to be showing a bit more maturity regarding the relationship towards the end of the book.
I thought the first part of the present day story in Lashain was a bit dull. We're told repeatedly that Locke is fatally ill after the events of the previous book and on the verge of dying but since it seems unlikely that he will die there's little tension here, although at least it does provide a good explanation for why he ends up working for the Bondsmagi. The story picks up a bit when it gets to Karthain and Sabetha’s welcome for them amusing. I thought this part of the book did a decent job of portraying the Bondsmagi and explaining why they're not dominating the world in the way they should be able to given their power. We don’t see much of most of the Bondsmagi but Patience is one of the best characters in the book, managing to remain enigmatic throughout and switching effortlessly between being helpful and threatening.
However, I thought that plotline started to develop some flaws in the second half of the book. Locke and Jean's attempts to win the election don't seem as well described as some of their earlier heists, and some parts of the eventual outcome are explained it’s still unclear how the result unfolds. There's also a bit of a problem spending so much time on a contest where nobody really cares about the outcome and Locke and Jean don’t have a significant stake in them winning or losing, it’s not particularly compelling.
I think the most contentious part of the book and the bit which I’m most unsure about how I feel about it is some unexpected revelations we are given about Locke’s background. There were some hints going back to the first book that there mysteries in his past, but the answers given here are unexpected and the lack of apparent foreshadowing in previous books makes the revelations seem a bit abrupt. There is also a lot of ambiguity here, most of the information comes from Patience and although it seems some of it is true it’s not clear whether she’s really telling the whole truth and she herself suggests that she might be deceiving Locke. It’s also unclear what all the implications of these revelations are, perhaps if future books reveal more information I will be a bit more confident how I feel about it. The story also seems to be expanding and involving events that might shape the entire world, which in some ways feel like a bit of a departure from the previous books since it was part of the charm of “The Lies of Locke Lamora” that it was a fantasy book that wasn’t about trying to save the world.
In summary, while I think The Lies of Locke Lamora is one of the best fantasy novels of the past decade I don’t think either of the sequels has managed to live up to it and while there are plenty of good bits in Republic of Thieves I think there are also an unfortunate number of flaws.
Rating : 7/10
Lynch’s second novel is the sequel to “The Lies of Locke Lamora”. “Red Seas Under Red Skies” starts with Locke and his friend and fellow-thief Jean Tannen attempting to start a new life of larceny in the city of Tal Vellar. Their initial target this time is the Sinspire, Tal Vellar’s premier gambling establishment, whose owner Requin is rumoured to store a huge fortune inside the supposedly impenetrable vault beneath his business. Locke and Jean concoct an ingenious and elaborate plan spanning several years to relieve Requin of some of his wealth. However, just as their plan is about to come to fruition they instead find themselves enmeshed in the schemes of the Archon of Tal Velarr – the military commander of the city who decides Locke and Jean could be useful pawns in his struggle for power against the Priori – the merchant council in charge of the city. At the same time, they find themselves under attack from unknown assassins and they find their flight from Camorr has not allowed them to hide from the feared sorcerers of the Bondsmagi, who they managed to make enemies of in the previous book. Eventually they find themselves at sea, forced to pretend to be pirates in the crew of the Black Orchid, a feared pirate ship whose captain Zamira Drakashka has a long-standing enmity with the Archon of Tal Vellar.
The first half of the book primarily concentrates on the background to the Sinspire job, as well as telling of their initial encounters with both Requin and the Archon. Occasional flashbacks (fewer in number than in the first book) recount some of the initial stages of Locke and Jean’s plan as well as telling the story of how they came to be in Tal Vellar. An ill-advised prologue also attempts to set up a cliffhanger to be resolved later in the book, but it fails to build up any real suspense since the resolution to the cliffhanger is easy to guess. The second half of their book is generally the more interesting, focusing on Locke and Jean’s experience as part of the crew of the Black Orchid, with occasional visits back to Tal Vellar to advance the plot.
Like the first book in the series, this is a very entertaining book. The dialogue continues to be witty, intelligent and entertaining, the characters of Locke and Jean continue to be interesting and also continue to develop (both in terms of their own characters and in the changing friendship between the two men) and the plot (particularly in the later stages of the book) is compelling. The convoluted scheme to trick Requin may not be entirely plausible but it does largely make sense and the labyrinthine network of schemes Locke has to concoct once he comes to the attention of Requin, the Archon and the Priori makes the novel’s plot increasingly complicated but never stops it being easy to follow. There are a few clever twists as the story unfolds and the ending leaves things set up nicely for the next sequel. The parts of the plot concerning the pirates is also equally interesting, although it could be accused of rehashing some pirates story clichés, it is undeniably entertaining and both the ship-to-ship combat and the nautical jargon are convincingly portrayed by Lynch without ever distracting from the characterisation that is at the heart of the story. The world-building also continues to be good; Tal Vellar being portrayed almost as well as Camorr was in the first book.
Although the book doesn’t have any really serious flaws, it is arguably not quite as consistently great as the first book. The plot is a bit slow to start off with, the first half of the book is largely build-up with lots of interesting situations being set up for later, which is possibly inevitable is what is largely a book about a heist. The build-up is interesting but until Locke and Jean set sail, it doesn’t really feel like the plot has genuinely started. Fortunately, what follows is entertaining enough to make up for the slow start. There are also a few gratuitous flashbacks early in the book which seem a bit out-of-place at the time and fail to be interesting on their own merits and only exist to set up some plot points for later. The characterisation may generally be good, but it starts to feel a bit repetitive after a while, it does seem a bit implausible that everyone that Locke and Jean encounter (whether they be allies or antagonists) are so witty and intelligent. Also, the first half suffers a bit since it is lacking the banter between the different Gentleman Bastards that was part of the charm of the first book. Although there is still plenty of banter between Locke and Jean it isn’t until they get aboard the Black Orchid that any really interesting supporting characters come along. Zamira and her right-hand woman Ezri are both interesting and likeable characters although many of the supporting pirates seem a bit interchangeable. That said, even when “Red Seas Under Red Skies” isn’t at its best, it is still very entertaining to read.
In summary, this is another entertaining fantasy novel by Lynch. It comes close to achieving the same level of quality as “The Lies of Locke Lamora” but falls slightly short.
Rating : 8/10
The next book in the series, “The Republic of Thieves” should be published in early 2011.
“The Lies of Locke Lamora” is the alliteratively-titled debut novel by American fantasy author Scott Lynch. The novel quickly attracted a lot of praise (and occasional criticism), most of which was justified.
The story is set in the city of Camorr, a wealthy city-state in a fairly typical late-medieval/Renaissance era Fantasy setting. The city is dominated by two groups – on one side is the nobility and on the other the city’s underworld lead by Capa Barsavi, master of all the thieves and criminals in the city. The two groups get along fairly well together, their interactions conducted according to the “Secret Peace” agreed between them. According to the terms of the Secret Peace the City Watch stays out of the areas controlled by Barsavi and doesn’t arrest his employees, in return stealing from the nobility is strictly banned. The hero of the story, Locke Lamora, is, as far as Barsavi and his fellow thieves know, just the leader of a small-time gang of confidence tricksters who make their living extorting some of the more foolish residents of Camorr by posing as poor priests and begging for money. What they don’t realise is that Locke’s deceptions go far beyond simple confidence tricks, instead Locke and his friends (who call themselves the “Gentleman Bastards”) target the nobility, attempting to ensnare noblemen with more money than common sense in elaborate schemes to part them from their money. Since preying on the nobility is explicitly forbidden by the Secret Peace – a prohibition brutally enforced by Barsavi – Locke has to deceive both his fellow thieves and the nobles in order to stay alive. The novel opens with Locke and his gang starting their biggest scheme yet – to trick the wealthy Don Salvara into investing in a fictional military scheme to help a group of foreign merchants protect their priceless vineyards. Unfortunately for Locke, Camorr’s underworld is in increasing turmoil as Barsavi and his allies come under attack from the mysterious and murderous ‘Grey King’. Before long, Locke and his friends unwillingly become sucked into the Grey King’s plots as the Grey King seeks to use him as a pawn in his plan to take control of Camorr. Meanwhile, Locke also comes to the attention of the Spider, the mysterious head of the Midnighters, the Duke of Camorr’s covert intelligence agents.
Along with the main plot there are also frequent flashback interludes to how Locke went from being a child thief on the streets to his current situation, the flashbacks offer more insight onto Locke’s character and do end up having some consequences for later developments in the plot.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is not a groundbreaking book. The setting is a fairly typical fantasy city reminiscent of other fantasy cities such as Krondor or Viriconium and the plot, while a change from the usual epic save-the-world plot, is hardly revolutionary. The relative lack of ambition is actually one of the things that makes this such an entertaining book, it is refreshing to having a stand-alone fantasy novel that doesn’t have huge epic battles or a cast of thousands or a world-threatening battle between Good and Evil. The characters are interesting and well-developed, both the heroes and villains of the story, and Locke and his friends are likeable and charismatic. The dialogue is witty and well-written and the occasional exposition efficiently introduces the reader to Camorr while still being entertaining to read. The plots and subplots (both in the ‘present day’ and the flashbacks) are compelling almost from the start of the book, partly due to some cleverly-structured mini-cliffhangers, and partly due to Lynch’s willingness to throw in sudden plot twists and abruptly kill off characters. Lynch’s writing is remarkably assured for a debut novel, and it is a very entertaining read.
There isn’t really much too criticise here. Some of the plot points occasionally don’t convince – for example Don Salvara and his wife are characterised as being intelligent enough that it seems a bit odd that they’re so easily taken in by Locke’s admittedly ingenious scheming. Also, too many of the Grey King’s schemes carelessly allow an escape route for Locke, although Locke does have to struggle hard to survive. Another small criticism is that while the early flashbacks do offer a useful and interesting insight into Locke and his friend Jean Tannen, some of the later flashbacks do offer exposition that is interesting but seems a bit unconnected to the main plot. However, these flaws are all minor enough that they don’t detract from the book.
In summary, Lynch’s debut may not do anything revolutionary but it is an entertaining and well-written fantasy novel.
Rating : 8½ / 10