Completed 10/19/2014, Reviewed 11/2/2014
I began reading “The Lies of Locke Lamora” having heard a lot of hype about the book. It had a fantastic response to an online group read several years ago and a friend of mine said it was the best fantasy book she’d ever read. So I went into it with a lot of trepidation. The title has a misleading Celtic sound to it, though it’s set in a pseudo-Italian world of city-states with gangs and a Mafia like organization of organized crime. Once I got over my preconceptions, I found the book exciting and highly enjoyable.
Locke Lamora is an orphan brought up in a gang known as the Gentlemen Bastards. An ornery and devious fellow, he shows a lot of promise at an early age as a mastermind of complex scams. He is mentored by a blind priest, who is actually neither blind nor a priest, of the temple of the often unacknowledged thirteenth god of a pantheon of twelve. In a nice storytelling style, we learn of his apprenticing while being led through his most complex scam and eventually, the main plot of the book, the bringing down of an evil “Grey King” who tries to destroy the crime syndicate and take over the city-state as his own.
The best thing about this book is the characterization. Locke and his gang are extremely likeable characters. They make a charming fraternity of orphans, somewhat akin to Robin Hood and his band, stealing from the rich. The one thing they never learned from their mentor, though, was what to do with their accumulated wealth. So they know how to steal, buy a stage costumer’s dream of disguises, create fine cuisine, and in the process amass quite a large fortune. And they do it all in the most amusing ways.
This book was a nominee for the World Fantasy Award. Its universe is well-realized, particularly the religious aspect. Having a world with gods, temples, priests, and acolytes adds an interesting and often intriguing dimension to a story. Lynch realizes it by having the Gentlemen Bastards spend months as acolytes in the different temples, learning the rituals and behaviors of the other communities, specifically so they can disguise themselves as followers of the other gods in their scams. This was very interesting, particularly the death goddess cult, which induces near-death, and sometimes deadly, experiences in its acolytes.
Another aspect of the fantasy is the mystery of the previous occupants of the planet. The world of Locke Lamora was built by unknown aliens who left cities of unearthly glass and metal structures. The humans who later inhabited the cities don’t know the nature of the materials, but live in and relish the beauty and strength of the structures. I find this very intriguing and would be interested in finding out if the origin is to be revealed later in the series.
There were times toward the end where I felt the book dragged a bit. I felt like it short-circuited the buildup to the denouement. Aside from this misstep, which may be my own perception and impatience, the climax is faced-paced and exciting. I highly recommend this book. I had a lot of fun reading it. I give this book 4 stars.