The Lies of Locke Lamora is a book I actually read awhile ago but which I'm only getting around to reviewing. Mostly, because I'm going to read it for a second time. The first of the provocatively-titled Gentleman Bastard series, it is the adventures of a conman and burglar set in a fantasy version of Renaissance Italy.
The premise of the story is Locke and his brothers are cheerfully pilfering the riches of the nobility in the city-state of Camorr. Due to the embarrassment being fooled by a swindler would cause them, the nobility are keeping this quiet so no one suspects the twenty-something Locke and his henchmen of being responsible. They've even got the local Don fooled, who thinks they're nothing more than second-rate burglars.
We get a good glimpse of what Locke's "normal" life is like at the start of the book and its pretty appealing. As the title says, he's a gentleman rogue even if he's a good deal more streetwise than your typical classy criminal. Locke and his fellows were raised from nothing and maintain a class-warrior sentiment which makes their activities as much about stinging the rich as getting wealthy.
Locke's comfortable existence comes crashing down, however, with the arrival of a ruthless crime lord called the Gray King. Motivated by hatred and fury which is antithetical to Locke's cheerful carefree existence, the Gray King begins to tear apart Camorr from bottom to top. Locke is forced to face tragedy and loss he's so far managed to avoid.
There's an interesting statement about revenge made by the author as the Gray King finds himself challenged by a man he barely knows or could care less about but who he has inflicted a devastating loss. Given what we later know about the Gray King, it makes a karmic sort of sense and highlights the people caught in the middle.
Locke, himself, is a delightful creation. Grossly immature, fun, irresponsible, clever, and charismatic--he is a wonderful flawed protagonist. Watching him go from being a unusually clever orphan destined to die in a ditch somewhere to a teenager to an adult who never matured beyond his teenage years is quite entertaining.
The setting is vibrant and alive with the politics, social interactions, and expectations of Camorr's citizens all fleshed out. Camorr is a horrific place to live if you're poor and not all that great if you're rich but life is certainly interesting there. The world-building isn't intrusive, either, seamlessly woven into the book's ever-moving plot. Much of the setting information is important, too, with facts coming up later which you'd never think was anything more than local color.
The supporting cast is somewhat spotty as most of Locke's friends are interchangeable. The Gray King is a horribly effective villain, though, and I like the twist the book places on his identity. Poor Locke's marks also manage to win a surprising amount of sympathy despite their aristocrat status. By the end of the book, we've met a dozen or more characters and all of them are unique weirdos save Locke's own gang. I'm particularly fond of Father Chains who manages to walk the tightrope between noble mentor and complete (if you'll pardon the term) bastard.
If there's one major flaw in the book, it's the fact Locke's schemes are a little too outrageous to believe and quite a few of them would have been seen through if their subjects had done even cursory digging. Despite this, I'm going to give the book some credit for creating a hero who does live by his wits rather than blade or spell.
In conclusion, I think The Lies of Locke Lamora is a tremendous book. Guile heroes who survive on their wits over their swords are rare enough but this is, arguably, one of the best.