What do you get when you mix a fireman with a wordsmith? You get Scott Lynch. Not only is he manly enough to walk into burning buildings and come out of it with his overlong hair intact, but he manages to quip off colour limericks while rescuing babies. Or at least one imagines that he does, if his books are any indicator of his character and manliness.

And to be honest, that's exactly the draw that makes Lynch's debut book, The Lies of Locke Lamora so appealing. It doesn't pander to the tropes of regular fantasy. It doesn't adhere to the rules of the good and noble hero. Lynch went and wrote a book where the characters are as flawed as they come, mostly because they happen to be self-serving to a T.

The story focuses on the dark and grimy underworld of Camorr, a city that's divided into islands and is crisscrossed with the canals formed by the estuary it sits on. The city itself can be considered to be a superb character, adding flavour and ambience to the story and leaving an indelible impression in its wake. If anything, Lynch should be commended on his innovative approach to world building. We are introduced at the very beginning to Locke Lamora, a sneak thief who suffers from the curious predicament of “stealing too much”. Lamora is a character who is delightfully deficient of any morals when it comes to self-gain and yet manages to be likeable enough that you become instantly a fan.

We see Locke join the Gentleman Bastards, a group of conmen intent on fooling both the nobility and the fraudulent out of their gold and sometimes their tables. Lynch uses the premise of the young thieves being trained in the art of corruption as a way to introduce us to the general storyline and the political and social world at large. Not only that, but by interspersing the 'past' and the 'present', Lynch manages a near metaphorical non-linear arc that constantly teases and surprises the reader.

We are made privy to the Gentlemen Bastards in the present, as young, successful thieves stealing larger and larger amounts from gullible marks. Through them, we see the war broiling in the underworld of Camorr; between Capa Barsavi, the Mafia-esque don, and the Gray King, a pretender to the throne. The reader is also shown the Gentlemen in their formative years and once again the characters are used to show the larger picture of Camorr. The young thieves, fumbling through their steep learning curves, show us how The Secret Peace was set up in Camorr, how the underworld became so pervasive and structured that it worked like clockwork. And once again, we see grown men, including Lamora, witnessing the crumbling of the edifice from very personal standpoints. The story is complex and eventful enough that the review cannot fully offer a gist of it without wilfully spoiling a choice angle. So let's leave it be.

Scott Lynch, as a first time writer exhibits enough charm and poise and that at times one forgets that this is a debut. However, there are reminders here and there that do speak to the author's relative inexperience. The interludes can be - and are sometimes - jarring and there are instances when the transition from one scene to the next is not quite seamless. The speech patterns of the characters, especially amongst the Gentlemen, do tend to veer towards sameness. Even though their sarcastic banter is enjoyable, one does wonder if it isn't just Lynch spewing his own spiel. Near the end of the book, there is a distinct feeling of 'rush', as if Lynch was so excited to bring his brilliant plan to a close and show off the cards he'd dealt, that he forgot to slowly build up to them. But, Lynch can be forgiven, simply because even when he makes mistakes he makes them doing new things. You can't blame a guy for trying. Especially when he's a fireman.


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