My rating: 5 dragons
Oh my goodness. I ADORED this book!
Admittedly it took me 100 or so pages for it to “click,” but when it did, wow. Just wow. You meet Locke early in his childhood. He’s an orphan taken in by someone who puts the kids to “work” thieving for him. Locke is introduced as the one who broke the rules and did some unspeakable things that means his life is on the line. However, rather than meet an early end, he is “bought” by Father Chains, a priest in service of the Crooked Warden, or god of thieves.
The book skips ahead to a now adult Locke on a boat poling through the waters of Camorr on the way to another of his famed heists. And so begins an epic tale that flits back and forth between the present time and how the heist, betrayals, double-crossing and general hoodwinking, and the past, where you learn with Locke everything he knows from Father Chains as he is initiated into the “Gentleman Bastards” troupe.
It’s hard for me to say which timeline I preferred – they are beautifully interwoven. In the past, you not only learn of Locke’s history, but the history of the Gentleman Bastards, whom Father Chains is the garrista / leader of. You learn about the other gangs, Capa Barsavi, who rules the criminal underworld of Camorr, and takes a nice fat slice of the takings of each of the gangs.
However, the Gentleman Bastards are more than common thieves, pick-pocketing unwary citizens of Camorr. They are so much more. The troupe is small: led and taught by Father Chains, Locke is joined by his best friend Jean, the twins Calo and Galdo, and young Bug, who has recently joined as an apprentice.
Locke’s latest heist is set to make them very rich indeed, and so begins quest to line their coffers with more gold than ever before.
The skill with which this story is written is incredible. Not only do we have a solid cast of characters, all of whom I connected to and cared for, but the heists are incredible, too. There is a beautiful, subtle complexity about Locke and how he thinks, as well as the incredible endeavours he and his colleagues get themselves into.
There is also a good deal of magic – both alchemical, and the “normal” kind, with blood magic thrown in the mix for an additional level of danger. There are animals created through alchemy (scorpion falcon, anyone?) as well as man eating “wolves of the sea” and sorcery of all kinds littered through this beautiful tale.
The setting, however, is perhaps my favourite part of this book. The city of Camorr is so beautifully described that I could picture every part of it, even the more wondrous. There are notes from Venice, but it really is the same as the underbelly of any city. With epic detail on the setting (alchemical lemon trees that produce lemon and lime fruit!) and the incredible outfits Locke and his crew use to disguise themselves, I doubt I could watch a film of this and have a better idea of what Mr. Lynch envisioned.
Things I loved
Locke himself. As a protagonist, he is fantastic. Stealing is his nature, it’s a part of him that cannot and will not ever change. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a protagonist quite so much. Every page, I wanted to know more about him, who he was, what the truth was behind him, and of course, whether he could outsmart and remain one step ahead of those wanting to see him bleed to death in a gutter! He was defined by his stubbornness and courage and wanting to do the “right” thing, even though what that is often depends on where you stand. I cared for him and his past, the secrets he held and the truths and myths he twisted. Honestly, I’ve not come across such a fantastic character in a very long time.
The Gray King. This is the name given to the mysterious antagonist of the book, someone who works in shadow and sorcery and is incredibly chilling. It hints at the wider world of Bondsmages and blood magic (which I hope we get to explore in subsequent books), as well as being an antagonist of calibre high enough to match (and often outmatch) Locke himself.
The magic and alchemy of Camorr and the wider world. Although the narrative takes place in one city, the world is vast and new places are spoken of or hinted at and it’s something I cannot wait to discover.
The banter. The humour. How witty all of the dialogue was. The brotherhood between the Gentleman Bastards; the sheer camaraderie. It was tangible and wonderful and utterly enthralling to read.
“I don’t have to beat you. I don’t have to beat you, motherfucker. I just have to keep you here… until Jean shows up.”
Things I didn’t like
I’m still thinking on this one… I suppose I must mention that it did take 100 or so pages for it to click with me, during which picking up the book to read it was a bit of a chore. The prose is unusual. But once I sank into the style of writing and the back-and-forth in time flashbacks…the read was definitely worth it!
This book has everything. Fast-paced, complex plot, characters with depth and drive and passion and heartache, a world you want to lose yourself in.
“I only steal because my dear old family needs the money to live!”
Locke Lamora made this proclamation with his wine glass held high; he and the other Gentleman Bastards were seated at the old witchwood table. . . . The others began to jeer.
“Liar!” they chorused.
“I only steal because this wicked world won’t let me work an honest trade!” Calo cried, hoisting his own glass.
“I only steal,” said Jean, “because I’ve temporarily fallen in with bad company.”
At last the ritual came to Bug; the boy raised his glass a bit shakily and yelled, “I only steal because it’s heaps of fucking fun!”