This has been on my radar for a while; when I finally added it to my Goodreads page, Katharine went a little mad and next thing I know it’s appeared in my mailbox.
Some slight spoilers below, although not that many and none too significant.
It took me about 4/5 of the book to figure it out, but finally I realised what Camorr reminds me of: it’s Ankh-Morpok at its grimiest. Maybe Ankh-Morpok crossed with Gotham? All the inhabitants are human, but it’s got that chaotic mad feel that Ankh-Morpok has… without the cheerfulness that Pratchett adds. The grimdark version of Ankh-Morpok? Dare I suggest the more realistic version of Ankh-Morpok… So anyway, I quite liked Camorr, although it’s not as ‘original’ as the George RR Martin quote on the front might suggest. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – originality is great of course, but building on others can be too. I am also a bit puzzled about the inclusion of the ruins of some long-forgotten alien race. Yes they add to the cityscape, and the idea of Falselight is really cool, but I was kinda expecting a bit more to be made of the Elderglass. Actually I was expecting that Locke was going to be a descendant of that alien race (spoiler! he’s not… well ok, there are apparently another six books after this, so maybe that’s a reveal in the fifth?). So… yes, it’s cool and it does add to the knowledge that this is a complex and complicated world and Lynch has given it great thought. But there was both too little info – who were they? how long ago are we talking?? – and too much info, because there were these teasers all throughout about the glass (can’t be broken, except there’s this one Broken Tower OOOooh, etc).
Is it passé of me to comment on the laydees? Or, let’s be honest, the lack thereof. Locke’s ladylove is mentioned a couple of times – very much in passing – and is completely forgotten for more than half the book. That bugged me. I loved that there were what I think of ‘incidental women’ – guards and merchants and criminals were just as likely to be women as men, but the ones that Locke and his Merry Band of Bastards interact with are almost always men. There are two significant female nobles, and they are awesome and get to be competent and I like them a lot. Buuuut… it could have been better.
So far you might be thinking that I didn’t think much of the book. Actually, I really enjoyed it. Like, a lot. Someone suggested it was an Ocean’s 11 kinda story, and it definitely is – except see that comment about missing the cheerfulness of Pratchett? There are some magnificent one-liners, and the variety of hustles are breathtaking and occasionally hilarious, but this definitely falls on the grimmer end of the scale. It’s a bit of a spoiler I guess, but… people die. I hadn’t really expected that, with my George Clooney/ Brad Pitt expectations. Talk about a kick in the guts.
The plot? It’s a con. There’s one con that threads through the entire thing, and a number of others that crop up. There are external things that get in the way and need to be dealt with; there’s everyday life, there’s death and mayhem, there’s revenge and pain (lots of pain), no romance and a lot of bro-bonding. Oh, so much dude-platonic-love. The ties of brotherly love have rarely had their praises such so highly… and I’m not even being sarcastic at this point.
The protagonist is, of course, Locke Lamora. He’s in the line of Miles Vorkosigan and other such brains-over-brawn heroes: he can hold his own in a fight but he’s not really very good at it and ends up with a lot of cuts, bruises, black eyes and a serious lack of blood at various points. But of course he makes up for it with a devious, cunning brain that comes up with madcap, near-to-impossible schemes. It’s just lucky he has willing confederates to help him carry it out. I really liked Jean, his bruiser with brains best buddy. I was initially a bit wary of the way that he was described as fat, and that seems to be forgotten for bits of the book – I can’t figure out whether that was a good thing or not. But their relationship works; they work well together but they’re not completely reliant on each other.
The villains are… interesting. For a while I couldn’t even tell who the villain was going to be, or even if there was going to be one; after all, the main characters are thieves – let’s not kid ourselves, much as they like to talk about their own code of morality, Locke and his friends get a great deal of joy out of stealing from, conning, and generally making life miserable for many of the honest people of Camorr. But there is/are indeed villain/s – their number depends on how you want to view things like “I was doing what I was paid for” – who of course make our heroes look positively virtuous. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed by the driving force behind the villainy. It felt a little… small.
Ocean’s 11, yes – and 12 and 13. I was also reminded of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (and the others, but that’s the one I’ve rewatched recently). It’s… well. Fun, yes, although with its fair share of rip-your-heart-out moments. It’s a good thing I got to the last fifty-odd pages with nothing else to do, because I just could not figure out where it was all going to end up and I nearly had to put the book down to breathe but I didn’t. I really enjoyed it.
You can get it from Fishpond.