The first time I read this book, some years ago, I was not a huge fan of it. It reminded me very much of a heist movie, wherein a scene would begin with a wide panning shot of scenery before zooming in on the character. In text, this meant a lot of description that I skipped.
This time, I read it properly and I like it a lot more.
This is possibly the most tightly-plotted 700+ page book I’ve ever read. The initial plot we’re introduced to is plenty complicated on its own, as any confidence heist story should be, but then more and more complications are added. But the way Lynch adds these in are smooth. He lets the reader get a feel for the stakes of the current plot before adding a new complication. And each time a new complication is introduced, its effect on the original plot is made clear. I, as the reader, never got lost following the action because it was cleanly spaced out and explained.
Those descriptive passages that I skimmed the first read through? They not only serve to explain some bit of worldbuilding, but also to enhance the “oh shit” moment in either the chapter that just happened or the one that comes next. Each and every one serves to advance the plot.
Locke Lamora is the sort of anti-hero protagonist who falls into the “make him interesting rather than likable” category, and Lynch pulls that off supremely well. The prologue is all backstory (which continues in “Interludes” throughout the novel, which is one of the most interesting formats I’ve ever seen), but it serves to make Lamora fascinating while he’s still a child. We want to know what he did and how to get this 6/7-year-old boy marked for death. Competence? Holy hells, check. Proactivity? Yup, he’s clear right there too. Sympathy? Well, that comes later in the novel, once the death toll starts rising. I wouldn’t call Lamora likeable–I generally try to avoid con men and compulsive liars–but he’s sure as hell interesting from the very first paragraph.
And even more than Locke being interesting, his interactions with the other members of his gang are fun. More so when he’s an adult than when he’s a kid, but still. The banter between the members of his gang is delightful. They feel like a family.
I mentioned above the weird formatting? Let me get into that a minute. The prologue, as I mentioned, is backstory. One person is trying to sell him to another, or he’ll have to kill child!Lamora. It immediately sets up tension, interest in an MC we haven’t met yet, and a whole lot of worldbuilding. The numbered chapters follow Locke and his gang as adults. The “Interludes” follow Locke as a child and all the trouble he gets into. I have never seen backstory used like this, and it is superbly well done. Every piece of backstory, as I mentioned above, serves to enhance the current plot–while also unravelling the mystery of what Locke did as a kid to get him this reputation. If you want to look at how to weave backstory in, read this book. If you want to look at how to weave worldbuilding in, read this book.
I don’t even know what to call the world of this book. The whole thief-infested city of Camorr is built on and around these alien structures. There’s magic, but true sorcery is extremely rare. There’s the tech and clothing level I’d expect out of steampunk or gaslamp, but there’s no steam or gas. Instead, nearly everything runs on fascinating uses of alchemy and these alien structures that can’t be destroyed. (Which really makes you wonder–what happened to the one that is destroyed?)
Overall, I would highly recommend this book, especially if you’re righting ne’er-do-well protagonists. My only caveats are: there are a lot of casual gay slurs throughout the book, which was a lot more off-putting to me the second time I read it (being more immersed in the queer community now than I was back then); if you’re not a fan of swearing in books, this is not the book for you.
Recommended for: fans of rogue characters, fans of heist movies, fans of high-stake action, fans of unusual worlds, writers wanting to examine a unique structure