Con artist stories are fun, if they are well done. The Lies of Locke Lamora is thought of as a con artist or “heist” story, and since many people mentioned it in the reviews of Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, which I like a lot, I thought I would check it out. It is quite an impressive feat, a yarn of a tale, however there are certain aspects lacking about both the story and the characters.
At over 700 hundred pages, one could almost find the tale too long; however, the length is largely due to very detailed world building and description. As I found both engrossing, the book did not seem long at all to me. In fact, the story seemed to end too soon. There’s a great, long buildup to something, but like so much about Locke Lamora, he doesn’t really deliver. But maybe that’s how liars are. They tell lies when it profits themselves; they’re not in the business for it to benefit others, even readers of their personal history.
Locke is an orphan who grows up in the great city-state of Camorr. He gets sold to a Dickensian-type of handler, a man who runs a gang of orphan thieves. The young Locke is great at thievery, but has an affiliation for the dramatic, turning a simple con into a play or show for others to watch. It often gets him into trouble and ends up with a lot of unintended consequences, one of them disturbing the great peace that there is between the criminal world and the nobles. Locke’s handler quickly hands him over to a temple priest, also a con artist, and someone who will take him and instruct him in more elaborate cons in which his acting skills and theatrics can succeed.
The initial con in the book was clever, and it’s a bit intriguing that Locke’s gang, the Gentleman Bastards only prey on the rich, but once the story veers into the Grey King taking over it’s all rather disappointing. It’s seems to me that this Grey King would have planned a lot more than to come to the city only to rely on the money from Locke’s gang to see his plans out. That part didn’t really make sense to me, and it could very well be that I missed something. Although other people had mentioned a big heist in the book, I didn’t see one. What happened at the end was Locke merely saving his skin and getting a bit of revenge for himself. It wasn’t a heist, and there was no big reveal that con artist movies and stories usually had where they “show” you how they did it. This wasn’t a fault of the author, necessarily, but a fault of my expectations.
As a general story, I found the book fun and interesting to read, but severely lacking in moral quality. It’s hard to care about characters who have no morals and live in a kill or be killed world. Camorr isn’t a city I would want to set foot in, though it’s described well and in great detail. Everyone in it seems mercenary and not worth the words wasted on them, Locke most of all. In the end, he’s not really that clever, just lucky to have friends who are loyal to him. He can’t fight well, or do anything else well, and although he leads the Gentleman Bastards, it’s hard to imagine him being able to manage a larger number of people. Hero, he is not. As a character, he was profoundly disappointing and only likable because of his loyalty to his friends. His strange care at the end for the lives of the rich nobles that he steals from comes out of nowhere. I’m surprised he would care to save them at all, that’s how bad a job the author did giving him any sort of moral character.
Two other things were off-putting in the book as well, the egregious use of profanity and the violence. Both come across as, well, lazy. As I said, there’s no amazing twist or heist at the end, it just sort of ends once all the right people are dead. Of course in a world like this, people would swear left and right, but that doesn’t mean the swearing should stream continually from the author’s pen. The readers are shown from the other descriptions quite well what kind of people these characters are without having to continually use the F-word to prove it. It also makes Locke appear less intelligent than he’s supposed to be. By the end of the story, though, I have to say I second-guessed his supposed intelligence. He’s a lucky liar, and that’s all.
As to the violence, so much of it was unnecessary and also began to shed poor light on both Locke and his best friend, Jean. No good person would resort to such violence, no matter how much the other person deserved it. They just wouldn’t and shouldn’t. Such violence may be understood in the defense of harm done to one’s child or something of that nature, but even with that, there’s a limit. Also, even though there are religions in this world, there’s no evidence Locke believes or lives by any such code, and that we’re asked to believe that he does at the end, well, it rang false. Very false.
So, I started the book by liking it, prepared to overlook the swearing and some violence (interestingly enough there were no egregious sex scenes to skip over), but ended disappointed and a bit repulsed by all the violence. The story had minimal emotional impact as a whole. I did feel bad for both Locke and Jean when their friends were slaughtered, but I began to feel less sorry for them the more they instigated violence themselves and caused unneeded collateral damage and pain for other people. The Lies of Locke Lamora isn’t a con artist or heist story, no, it’s merely gang warfare set in a fantasy world. It could have been a great heist story, but an editor was missing somewhere in the process.
Despite its lack of morals, both in the story and the characters, I did enjoy reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, though I’m not sure it’s something I’ll keep on my shelves to read again. Like a good con that is engaging when one is involved or being hoodwinked, at the end it just leaves one empty. For me, I found Six of Crows to be profoundly better, especially when it comes to moral and emotional impact. Those characters I could root for, Jean and Locke, not so much. Perhaps both characters improve in the next book of the series, but I’m doubtful. Locke is an amazing actor and liar. That’s about the best I can say for him. I do think, though, it’s a book, that could do well as a TV series. Game of Thrones fans would, I think, appreciate this grimy yet intricate, kill-or-be-killed world.