“There’s no freedom quite like the freedom of being constantly underestimated.”
The Lies of Locke Lamora is Scott Lynch’s imaginative blend of Oliver Twist (orphans), The Godfather (the mafia), and The Italian Job (con artists in Venice). The setting is basically a fantasy version of Venice, replete with a sprinkling of made-up Italian-sounding words.
The Lies of Locke Lamora has a reputation for being lighthearted fun, but this is actually a very dark read. I read this immediately following Joe Abercrombie’s grimdark classic, The Blade Itself, and The Lies of Locke Lamora is easily the darker of the two. Both books have detailed torture scenes, but The Lies of Locke Lamora tips the grimdark scales with barrels of horse urine and even child slavery and prostitution. The book is full of witty dialogue that lightens the mood, but at its core this is grimdark fantasy. Very, very good grimdark fantasy.
The hero of our story, Locke Lamora, is orphaned as a young boy and is purchased by the Thiefmaker of Shades Hill to be trained in thievery. Locke proves to be a little too good at filchery and deception for the Thiefmaker, who then sells him to Father Chains, a garrista (gang leader) who serves the god of thieves. There, Locke meets and forms bonds with the other members of the Gentleman Bastards gang.
The Lies of Locke Lamora has it all: excellent character development, a great story, and immersive worldbuilding. Locke is an outstanding actor and thief, but beyond that he doesn’t really have any special skills. He is not a good fighter. He does not have any magical powers. This makes him vulnerable to the many dangers that he must face throughout the novel, often against overwhelming odds.
The plots itself jumps back-and-forth between Locke as a young apprentice with Father Chains and adult Locke as he leads the Gentleman Bastards in elaborate schemes against the rich nobility. The central conflict in the novel concerns mafia-style powerplays among rival gang leaders. The stakes keep getting raised throughout the novel to the point where it’s hard to put the book down.
I greatly enjoyed reading The Lies of Locke Lamora and recommend this for fans of character-driven grimdark fantasy who also appreciate a great story with witty dialogue and creative worldbuilding.