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wshaffer
Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch 
22nd-Mar-2015 09:59 pm
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The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard #1)The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



It's really obvious that Scott Lynch has read and loved a lot of the same books that I have read and loved. Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar stories are probably the most obvious influence on this book. If you like your fantasy on the gritty side, but with anti-heroes who still know how to have fun, this book is worth a read. The characters are clever and their schemes are fun to watch.

The one thing that makes me less than totally glowing in my review is the book's treatment of its female characters. Don't get me wrong - Lynch's heart is clearly in the right place here. There are plenty of badass secondary female characters in the book, and they're badass in pleasantly diverse ways, from tough fighters to wily old ladies. However, the most intriguing female character in this book...never actually appears in the book. There are lots of references to Sabetha, but we never see her. Which serves to create the unfortunate impression that she exists primarily to lend a little tragic romantic backstory to Locke.

The second most intriguing female character gets killed off in order to motivate her much less interesting male relatives to vengeance. Bah.

Still, I hear the next book has a black middle-aged woman pirate, so I shall keep reading.


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Comments 
23rd-Mar-2015 05:07 pm (UTC)
That's pretty much my feeling, yeah -- though I should note that I have had the second book on my shelf for years and never actually gotten around to reading it. I can see that Lynch intends for women to have an interesting role . . . but Sabetha is the Inscrutable Offstage Love Object, [spoiler] gets fridged before she even really gets going, and the rest of the female characters weren't actually as prominent as I thought, when I stopped to look at what they did in the book -- they either didn't really accomplish much, or showed up relatively late in the tale.

And yet: a fun read.
23rd-Mar-2015 05:46 pm (UTC)
I give the female characters a lot of credit for the fact that I could envisage many of them as protagonists if the story had gone a different way. I mean, I would totally read The Amazing Iron-Shod Boots of Nazca Barsavi or Dona Salvara and Dona Vorchenza Fight Crime!. There are a hell of a lot of fantasy novels where if you took the men out of the story, there wouldn't be any interesting people left.

Still, it doesn't say great things about the genre as a whole that that's where my bar for giving credit is.
23rd-Mar-2015 06:21 pm (UTC)
Maybe that's what rubbed me the wrong way: the sense that there were all kinds of interesting stories that could be told about them . . . but those stories were not this story.

It's a perfectly legitimate thing to say about many stories, but it hits differently when I'm simultaneously going "why did you kill off the most interesting woman I've seen so far and Sabetha's never going to show up, is she."
24th-Mar-2015 08:19 pm (UTC)
Completely aside from the gender-political issues, there's an interesting bit of thinking to do at whether [spoiler's] fridging works as a story-element or not. My thought about this some years ago, when Scott was on a panel discussing this sort of thing and I started my question with, "Scott, I'm going to throw a rotten tomato at you for this one," is that it doesn't because it kills off a large swath of the most interesting possibilities for where the story can go. Because she really is one of the most interesting characters in the book, and I wanted to read that story and thought I was going to get to.

On the other hand, it's arguable that that makes it more effective because the reader is attached to her. I'm not sure I buy that, but I think that was Scott's justification.

Meanwhile, this was his first published book, yeah? Knowing him and the company he keeps, I'm going to guess that someone's quietly taken him aside and pointed out to him how this was problematic, and he's resolved to do better.
24th-Mar-2015 09:19 pm (UTC)
Knowing him and the company he keeps, I'm going to guess that he's been both quietly taken aside and called out loudly and publicly and everything in between. And based on what I've heard about subsequent books, he's certainly done differently. (Any fair judgement of whether it's better would have to wait until I've read the books.)

I think you could easily argue that unless Lynch was going to reconfigure the book so that [spoiler] took on the Jean Tannen role (which would have been awesome, but is a major rewrite), she was doomed to die before the end of the book. I'd have preferred to see one of the her brothers get fridged, and then have her meet her end trying to get vengeance for him, because that would have given her more agency and it would have given me more time as a reader to enjoy her presence in the story. But there are drawbacks to that approach as well, because the reader isn't nearly as attached to the brothers as characters, and the reaction to one of them getting killed at that point might be, "Oh, good, that's one of them out of her way." The tradeoffs involved in this stuff are not always simple.
27th-Mar-2015 07:56 am (UTC)
The answer to that, I generally think, is to shore up the issue elsewhere: if you really need [spoiler] to be the one who dies, then make sure there is another interesting female character already present in the story, to keep it from feeling like that element has suddenly been lost. (It's been long enough since I read the book that I can't remember how long it takes Dona Vorchenza et aliae to show up and get interesting, but I seem to recall it happening some time after the fridging.)
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