(2006) Scott Lynch, Orion Publishing, £12.99, trdpbk, 656pp, ISBN 0-575-07802-2
This is the debut book from a new US author and is the first in a sequence - and what a debut it is! It's one of those books I found hard to put down. The way it is written lends itself perfectly to a motivation that keeps the reader turning the pages - cliff-hangers in the shape of flashbacks and interludes fleshing out the various backgrounds the tale. The story is set in a pre-industrial, medieval world where galleons and pirate ships pass as sea travel, with horses and carts being an ideal mode of transport on land. It is this kind of setting that lends the story perfectly to shops of varying kinds - for example, those that sell potions and lotions of al kinds. The story starts off with the formative years of the title character, Locke Lamora, who manages to trick his way into a group of orphans who are trained up to be pickpockets and thieves. Locke then manages to pull off a string of heists - not all of which go smoothly, and one of which gets him into serious trouble.
As he result he finds himself sold to an eyeless priest (who is not what he seems) and in turn, Locke meets up with the boys who will, with him, become the Gentlemen Bastards. They are masters of disguise and culture, pulling off heist after heist - again, not all of them go smoothly. However, there is a shadow on their horizons, known as the Grey King, who is set to make things very difficult indeed. This comes about when the Gentlemen Bastards are about to pull off a very big con trick indeed involving large sums of money, galleons and fictional vineyards, as well as a pair of well to do nobles who like the idea of a profitable scheme... From there on the characters find themselves encountering shifts of power, sinister characters and tight situations.
One warning I would give with this book is that there is excessive use of bad language - but given that the characters in the book are shady types from criminal underworlds the use of bad language goes with the territory. I loved the way the characters were described and the way that they were memorable For example Jean Tannen's use of his weapon of choice, a pair of hatchets known as the Wicked Sisters, and the use he makes of them I tight situations. There are distinct character types within the story - noblemen and women, thieves, alchemists and magicians... It's a refreshing read in that not everything goes Locke's way as he tries to trick and con his way through bad times and good.
Another refreshing element is that Locke isn't your typical hero type: he is not as tall as he could be, does not have a muscular build, and is pretty nondescript but has a quick mind and an ability to make up plans when the situation demands - and it demands often. Locke, otherwise known as the Thorn of Camorr, isn't that great a swordsman and some of his plans don't go quite they way they should. This leads to some interesting situations and clever storytelling as Locke manages to get himself out of seemingly impossible situations using imagination, creativity and a million different disguises.
There are some genuinely shocking parts to the book and parts where the reader wonders whether the author will do to the characters what you think he's going to do - and he does! It's that kind of predictability that works in the favour of the story, rather than against it. The tale is not without its humorous moments when things don't' go smoothly for all concerned, an example being where two of the Gentlemen Bastards try to make an exit out of the window, only to encounter someone with exactly the same idea making an exit from a window in the floor below...
The city the story takes place in, Camorr, is well described as is its background, the various types of society present in the city and it's mysterious past. It's a place where no-one is what they seem, and everyone has a secret. The book slowly reveals these and the relationships between societies as it progresses, before the relevance of this all comes together satisfyingly at the end. This book weaves in a fantasy element that adds to the intrigue and mystery to the characters and is well utilised in the way that it is incorporated into the characters' plot elements and is relevant to the environments they live in. This makes it an interesting read and one that would be accessible to someone who is not necessarily familiar with the fantasy genre. It is most enjoyable, and a novel I would not hesitate to recommend.
To find out other new fantasy and SF authors' debut books then check out our seasonal Science Fiction news and its forthcoming books sections.
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