A Gentleman and a Bastard

I do have one beautiful cupboard. My great-grandfather hand-crafted it as a wedding gift for my grandparents. I treasure it dearly. And because of that it holds some of my dearest treasures – books. Yes, that’s right, I do not only play video games. I also read. A lot. Unfortunately that treasure box of mine has finally reached its limits and because of that I have only recently begun buying ebooks instead of paper-backs or hard-covers. My new treasure box is therefore small and rectangular, very light and I can take it everywhere. Never again will I have to decide which books to bring and which to leave at home because else I’d surely break my back under the extra weight.
Recently I was planning a week-long holiday – which usually means a one-book-per-day reading marathon – and a friend of mine lent me two books to take along, both paper-backs and both real heavy-weights. One, “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, by Scott Lynch, I started reading that same evening. Having finished the first five pages I knew that I needed, really needed to a) take this book with me on holiday and b) buy the other two books of the series – “Red Seas under Red Skies” and “The Republic of Thieves” – and take them along too. Which I did. Only I bought the digital version by Random House Publishing.

I’d never before heard of Scott Lynch, but he managed to draw me into the story immediately. Lynch’s main protagonist, Locke Lamora, is not your average hero, and his journey never fails to entertain. In the first book of the series, “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, following this hero’s rise from ingenious acolyte to respected leader of the gang of thieves and con artists, the Gentleman Bastards, lying and gambling their way through of a series of heists in the city of Camorr – a reminiscence of 16th century Venice – , is a blast.

Scott Lynch’s forte – to my mind – are the dialogues. The verbal interaction between the characters is superbly written, the words flying back and forth build so much atmosphere that sometimes the detailled description of the cities, customs and landscapes feels strangely superfluous. By the second half of “Red Seas under Red Skies” I found myself concentrating more and more of my attention on the dialogues. Because they, more so even than the astonishing plot twists, drive the story onward.

While “The Lies of Locke Lamora” is a highly enjoyable tale of con art, treachery and double-crossings, its’ ending, which sees Locke victorious, but severly weakened by staggering losses and forced to leave his beloved home of Camorr, sets a somewhat darker tone for “Red Seas under Red Skies” . What Scott Lynch does there is very risky, but he pulls it off with magnificent ease: he thrusts Locke’s side-kick, bodyguard and best friend, Jean Tannen, into the lime-light, reversing their roles. And because Lynch is such a master of characterization, the story itself does not suffer, on the contrary. Locke and Jean, forced into the unknown, the red seas where pirates prowl, may be out of their element, but never lost. Mostly thanks to Jean, who really grows into his own in this installment. His humanity, his gains and losses, really moved me. And while the flamboyant Locke Lamora certainly does not fade quietly into the background, he gives his partner enough room for them both to shine strong in the third installment, “The Republic of Thieves”. Here, Scott Lynch blends past and present. In the past, Locke manages to win the heart of the girl he has loved from the very first day he – aged six, presumably – ever lay eyes on her. In the present Locke the grown-up has to square off against his former lover Sabetha in a deadly game of party politics and subterfuge (I confess that the couple reminded me of George Clooney and Catherine Zeta-Jones in “Intolerable Cruelty”, in a good way).

Unfortunately something must have happened – perhaps someone, and somehow I doubt that it was the author himself,  thought that the possible prospect of a sequel really needed to be introduced, when actually there was no real need, trust me as a reader. There was this one plot twist that – to my mind – seemed so out of place, so thoroughly wrong, so contrary to the natural flow of the story, that for a moment I doubted the guy who had written two books and two-thirds of the one I was currently reading, was actually that same guy. As for the ending – well.

Now I know there is a sequel in the making. And I really love Scott Lynch’s style. So please, Mr. Lynch, should you read this, please know that you are an extremely gifted writer who manages to truly breathe life into his characters. And I, for one, really, really enjoyed the tales of Locke Lamorra and will be looking forward to reading more.

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