Tolkien Gestures Book 20: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Tolkien Gestures is one Sci-Fi nerds adventure into the strange mystical worlds of Fantasy Literature. Over the course of a year I’m reading 20 Fantasy Novels spaced over the life of the genre. This week, the final book in the year-long reading list is finally reached!

The last book of the list was always going to be problematic. In previous years, I’ve hit the amazon bestseller list and grabbed something populist from the genre with ease and thats been fine. However when I checked for “Fantasy” there was only about 6 authors covered in the top 20, which was a bit of a shock, especially as one of them was Stephanie Bloody Meyer! Of the rest, well I didn’t fancy Book 13 of the Wheel of Time or Book 9 of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, so I feel back on good old fashioned recommendation.

Which brings me to The Lies of Locke Lamora, a promise of something a little bit different.

And actually, it is pretty different, at least to start with. The central concept is good fun – in the midst of your pretty standard Fantasy city you have a gang on theives who are essentially con-men, eschewing the normal laws of these sort of worlds to do elaborate scams on the nobility, totally undercover from both the local law enforcement and the citys Theives Guild / Mafia. Of course the story isn’t that straightforward, once a powerplay in the underworld comes on the scene, but the first half of the book is wonderfully engaging, flitting between character establishing flashbacks and the smooth operation of the Gentleman Bastards gang’s lastest job.

Its a shame then, that the main plot feels substantially less original.

You see – the idea of “modern” style con-men working a fantasy milieu is a good one. The execution is slick, and sets up the idea of a story where nothing is what it seems, and trickery and sleight of hand is all. So when the main antagonist, the Grey King, seems to move around a room, and be immune to weapons, and make peoples memories become obfuscated, I expect a clever answer, one where the spirit of the book, the art of deception and all that, is obeyed.

A Wizard Did It.

Thats a shame, really. I mean, yes, there is more to the Grey King than meets the eye, but it’s in his scheme, not his operational style, and the Wizard really takes the shine off it. After all, the book is at pains to establish a pretty low-magic world, which is neccesary, I guess, for a story about con-men to work, but to then have a lot of the major plot points tied up in a super-powerful, super-rare mage kinda breaks it.

That the main plot ends up being a lot less interesting than it’s setup doesn’t spoil the book by any stretch, but at the half-way mark I had such expectations I couldn’t help but feel cheated. I think this, and the somewhat cheap loss of a few pretty interesting side characters, and the usual “book 1 of a series” loose ends took the edge off it.


Next up:  No more reviews, but a final conclusions post, and some thoughts on books and series I’ve missed out.

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus.

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