Time for some long due fantasy book reviews and today we have two from my ‘Recommendations’ page at the request from my readers. The first review is for the first book in the Gentlemen Bastards series called The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch and the second is a review for the complete trilogy of The Book of Words by J.V. Jones, being an older series that reads like its one long epic story. For the fantasy lovers, enjoy.
The Lies of Locke Lamora
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch is what happens when the evolution of two genres, mainly cobblestone thieves and post renaissance fantasy, reach their peak. It’s a clever enough book to make Ender’s Game look simple with intriguing and unique characters and a setting emulated from the back-alleys and waterways of a fantasy Venice known as Camorr. Having the third book in the series, Republic of Thieves, been released somewhat recently I thought it would be a good time to reminisce and introduce those who haven’t read it yet to one of the best modern fantasy books I have read in the past 10 years.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, or simply Lies-Locke-Lamora as I like to call it for alliteration’s sake, focuses on a group of thieves known as the Gentlemen Bastards. But these are not just any normal thieves but elite con artist, swindlers, schemers and most importantly, the best noblemen impersonators in all of Camorr. This was an element that really interested me for it showed just of intrinsic role-acting was when it came to the dramas they played out in their schemes and how immersed in their roles they had to become. It made the novel not just amusing but thrilling as though you were part of their secret plans and didn’t want them to get caught out, even as they were revealed to you. These schemes all go well until they are caught in the revenge plot between the leader of Camorr’s underground, a mysterious magician-Falconer and his equally mysterious master.
The narrative is thick with words that help develop the feel of the world, title’s like ‘Capa’ and ‘Garista’ giving it an exotic almost Spanish feel to Camorr. The chronology of the story is interesting in that each story arc is weaved with an arc of flashback where we learn the past of each thief and how they came to specialize in their method of thievery through their ‘Garrista’ father Chains, (a thief gaining money simply by playing the role of a blind priest). Now don’t get me wrong when I say this, both of stories were immersive to the point where I couldn’t put the book down, but there were times when the origin flash backs were more interesting than the progression of the plot and then vice versa later on in the story. One could call this a good pacing or a build up but at these points the less interesting parts seem to take a side-note until everything is revealed and the real juicy meat of story comes into play.
The titular character, Locke Lamora, is brilliantly clever on a Sherlock Holmes kind of level and, like most clever characters, his only major downfall is his arrogance. What I enjoyed the most was that though his plans would usually involve organizing costumes and entire paths of conversation beforehand there are still scenes where he shows his flair for improvisation by simply bullshitting his way through anything that comes in his way (hence the title I suppose). The supporting characters are colorful and unique to the point that you would have no trouble telling them a part even if you were just reading their dialogue. For those of you who watch anime as well Father Chain took me as a more amoral Father Shiro from Ao no Exorcist, the playful Sanza twins were a lot like the twins from Ouran High School Host Club and Jean (pronounced like John) is more similar in character to Daru from Steins;Gate if you gave him dual axes and he knew how to kick ass.
Besides the swapping preferences to the flash back and present plot arcs weaved throughout the story the only downside to this book I could think of was the amount of swearing the character dialogue has, but I guess that’s just being really nitpicky. Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind swearing in fantasy and even feels like it’s call for it in certain scenes (especially in the First Law series which I will review in the future) but when it’s in almost every f**cking sentence of a paragraph you begin to feel otherwise. It almost felt like the author was trying to force the idea down your throat that this was an adult book despite have the young main characters, but when the quality and complexity of a narrative itself attested to this already some of it seemed a bit excessive.
All up… you should read this book… and its sequels. Including The Way of Kings, King Killer Chronicles and the First Law Series it is the forth on the four horsemen of best fantasy books I have read so far (Heroes Die would have been included as well if it wasn’t so close to scifi). It does what it does every well. Give me a book that does it better and I will change my mind but until then this very clever book will hold up in my favorites
Total Rating: 9/10
The Book of Words Trilogy
J.V. Jones’s The Book of Words trilogy is the apotheosis of intrigue, schemes and conspiracies that turn great cities to kingdoms and those kingdoms into an empire that threatens to swallow all of the lands. Consistently brilliant throughout with well rounded characters that give new meaning to the usual two dimensional archetypes of the works that came before it, this trilogy is an almost unknown gem of the 90s fantasy craze.
At the core of this story is Baralis, the King of Harvel’s Lord Chancellor and a genius schemer, magician and poisoner. Even before the story has gotten underway he uses his knowledge of poisons and the secret tunnels of the castle to plant his seed in the Queen, a seed that will spawn to become the heir to the kingdom without anyone else any the wiser. It is this action that triggers the beginning of the prophecy written in Marod’s Book of Words:
When men of honor lose sight of their cause
When three bloods are savored in one day
Two houses will meet in wedlock and wealth
And what forms at the join is decay
A man will come with neither father nor mother
But sister as lover
And stay the hand of the plague
The stone will be sundered, the temple will fall
The dark empire’s expansion will end at his call
And only the fool knows the truth
Though this prophecy speaks volumes for the plot in ways most readers won’t even see coming it says very little for the different character voices and the motives that drive them (It has a rather complex plot so bear with me in this). Jack is a young baker’s boy (title of book one) turned journeyer when he turns back time on a batch of burnt loaves, triggering Baralis motivation to go after him when believing his powers to be a threat to his plans. With a mysterious past driven mainly by his dead mother’s origins and a father he never knew, Jack is on a journey for answers. This until he meets Melliandra, the daughter of Lord Maybor, the richest noble in the Four Kingdoms, and court rival of Baralis. Being forcefully betrothed to the sadistic and insane prince Kylock, Melli flees from the kingdom and joins Jack on his journey. This leaves them both targets of Baralis’s spies, Melli for the sake of Baralis’s motivation to marry Kylock instead to the daughter of the Duke of Bren and begin expanding his empire.
In the south the aspiring knight Tawl is sent by a hermit to find a boy, “a needle in a haystack, someone who stands out from the rest” being his only hint of who he is. After years of searching with nothing to show for it but a hint from a seer that this boy comes from the Four Kingdoms he goes to the fighting pits of Bren to drown his sorrows and his ashamed past in ale. Winning his way to becoming the Duke of Bren’s champion he meets with up Melli, who had been captured on her journey with Jack and given to a flesh trader only to be sold off to the Duke for his pleasures. It is also then that the king of Harvel dies and Kylock is made king, marrying the Duke of Bren’s daughter to fund his empire. Melli comes to respect the Duke and the two wed. Having Melli with child before his assassination by one of Baralis’s men, the Duke of Bren leaves the true male heir of Bren in Melli’s womb, the only one with the blood to challenge Kylock’s right to his new empire, which he begins baptizing with a bloody war.
There are so many things about this story that I enjoyed it’s hard to list them all. Its story is politically intricate and the rivalry between Baralis and Maybor makes it both intriguing and entertaining as they constantly attempt to back stab one another. The build of this plot is brilliantly foreshadowed and paced throughout the books, each hooking paragraph changing with the character’s perspective and unique voice. One of the many highlights of the trilogy are the minor characters, Nabber the pick-pocket who’s loyal to Tawl, Tavalisk the cunning bishop of Rorn who has a strong love for food, scheming and torturing his assistant Gamil, and (my personal favorite comic relief characters) Bodger and Grift, two gossiping guards full of sexual rumors and quack remedies who at times even run into the main characters and participate in the action at times. It’s through the onlookers that we receive many of the more convincing scenes in the story, allowing the reader to see the events and characters from an outsider’s perspective.
Jones has a way of spicing her language in a way that draws you right into the book, she immerses you with powerful descriptions and I have a clear memory of having to forcefully pull my eyes away from the words to come out of her world. She uses dialogue and analogies both dark and funny, many of the times combining the two giving the series a gritty atmosphere taking place behind the schemes, deceit and war orchestrated by those in power. The ripples of these actions spread out to characters that are not in power who, like Jack, show how even a small player can have a large impact in the scale of grand events. With many a significant and complex moment of magic and emotion this series takes a place in my favorites list as a trilogy that is timeless enough to deserves much more attention than it receives.
I would recommend this trilogy for those who like a consistent quality writing and pacing throughout a series, those who like political intrigue and maniacal scheming and those just looking to lose themselves in a very immerse world with colorful characters. Through I did read this first in high school and it might hold some nostalgia value for me, reading it a second time lately and liking it just as much redeemed it’s quality in my memory.
Total Rating: 8.5/10