Thursday, 8 November 2012

On Apologies and the Fantastic Mr Lynch

Hi All,

So I must apologise most profusely to all four of you that have read this blog and noticed my recent silence of the last 3 months or so.  I am sorry. Life got on top of me, moping around in a sort of depressed laziness, and hopelessness (amongst other things) got in the way.  Additionally, more recently, I got a job.
(Or my real-person alter-ego did at least.)  This means that while some good things, such as a sort of substantial financial income, are being offset with bad things, like working exhausting hours and having little social life.  Things have begun to stabilise a bit here and there so I'm going to try and write this post before the idea escapes me completely.  (Also: yes, Internet, you're right; Tom Hid is amazing. Well done for noticing.)

Anyway, moving on slightly, I also haven't been writing much on this blog for a slightly bigger reason - that being that I haven't really been writing outside of it, or practicing, or anything for the past few months either.  And so, if anything, the only subject matter I should be able to present you with today is the quandary "Argh, I have a real-life job/live in the real world, how am I supposed to find time to write?!"  To which I have no good answer.  All I can say is what I keep trying to say to myself (if fruitlessly) - Don't waste the free time you have; and if you can use it to write, get on with it! 

So, not feeling much the pretentious Fount of All KnowledgeTM that I usually seem to when I write these posts, here's something completely different.
A REVIEW!!  Or an attempt at one at any rate.  So let's get on with it, shall we?

Title: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Publisher: Gollancz
Length: 530 pp.
Price: Worth it!
The few other short reviews I've read of The Lies of Locke Lamora seemed all intent on describing as being similar to a certain run of films starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Al Pacino, et. al.  (You know the one I mean)  Well I don't really think that's fair as The Lies... goes some way to simply being a class of its own.  The titular character is thrust upon us from the opening pages.  Locke is an orphan-thief who is a bit of a handful (to say the least)  and his current master wants to pass the buck on before he does any more damage.  So on Locke goes to the Eyeless Priest of Perelandro who takes him in and gives him a good and thorough education, leading him on to become the best thief around, with the best gang around: 'The Gentleman Bastards.'  

The action takes place in Camorr, a city not unlike Renaissance-era Venice, to my reckoning.  Though where my understanding of real-life Italian provinces some 600ish years ago is laughable, Scott Lynch's is hugely praiseworthy.  There is detail and texture to every literary flourish he weaves into the narrative and you come away feeling like you've witnessed an Olympic-level Fencing duel.  Precision, motion, retreat, a parry of expectations, a thrust of unexpectation, a couple of stabs at the heart and, finally, a flurry of blows to knock you down and left staring at the victor.  It's not just good prose, it's damn good prose.  

The narrative shifts expertly (if sometimes frustratingly because you're desperate for more 'today') between different time-lines of the characters' lives; and while sometimes this seems a sudden juxtaposition, it's usually followed up with a thoroughly appropriate or pleasurably relevant note.  Lynch doesn't spoon-feed you his story but instead gives you a treasure map indicating where the nibbles are and where you need to go before you can go to the next main course.  Critical metaphors aside, Lynch has made every sentence worth the reading and, especially if you trust in the author to take you where you need to go, you often find yourself understanding a little more of the characters or how things work in Lynch's world of Camorr and it's all worthwhile.  The instance that comes to mind is perhaps a little spoilerish but in one instance a grievous wrong has been done to the Gentlemen Bastards but then the narrative is then interrupted and we are immediately given a look at Camorr's people's favourite sport - handball.  The sudden shift at first warrants a double take but then you look twice and discover that it isn't just an interlude about handball, it's a revelation of just what happens when you wrong a Camorri.

The gang itself works perfectly too.  The young newcomer, Bug, stands well next to the more experienced Sanza twins who provide good comic relief; plus the clever muscle - Jean - is complemented by the unfortunately-built but infinitely-crafty Locke.  And Lynch does exceedingly well with his characters who are all just what they need to be - the Thiefmaker 'saves' orphans from cruelty and turns them out into the streets under his care; Father Chains is firm, enriching, disciplined and experienced; the grand Capa Barsavi watches and reigns over the city in a way the legitimate ruler, the Duke, cannot; the Grey King is a mysterious and shadowy figure to be feared.  All in all, while it never feels like too many people, Lynch has drafted together a great dramatis personae to play out the many schemes of Camorr.  And I use this theatrical terminology for good reason because Locke, well, Locke is the best actor going.  He slips into a character at the drop of a hat and, though fairly sleight himself, carries a commanding presence about him.  When Locke is low on resources and hunted by every other gang in the city, he immediately goes back out to craftily win himself some new clothes and some more money, getting what he went for.

The Lies... is astonishingly good and for a crime novel gets it dead on.  "What sort of setting's a good one for a semi-political crime thriller with scheming, potential scandal and a scattering of sex?" you might well ask.  Lynch is ready with the answer - mid-Renaissance not-Venice.  A city delicately balanced with some people ready to push it over the edge and watch it burn.  As for a fantasy genre-piece, the set-up is finely done.  Lynch has designed a world with history and legend with a good twist of magic.  The city of Camorr is built around the remnants of 'Elderglass' structures left behind by the mysterious race known as the Eldren, lending the whole place a borrowed, or stolen feel.  The Duke and the Capa can claim Camorr as their own but the foundations of the city were laid long, long ago by someone else entirely.  It's great and Lynch has expertly wrought it all together.  
Lastly, it was just really fun to read and I spent far too long not sleeping just so I could read this book.  Before I started it I had just finished another that I had sort of enjoyed but it had been lacking and I was beginning to wonder about writers who I had begun to esteem based on a limited reading of their work but this book, this writing by Scott Lynch, was great.  I enjoyed it immensely and it was worth every penny to buy it, every unslept hour to read it and every word Lynch used.  I won't score it out of five or anything but I will say that, so long as you're ok with swearing, a bit of violence and you love a really good fantasy/crime novel, then I heartily recommend it.  

That's it for now.  I'm told Tuesdays and Thursdays are good days to be online so I may change updates to those days but, well, I can't say for certain how good I'm going to be about posts.  Fingers are being crossed; we'll see.

Bye for now,
Neil