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Monday, November 24, 2008

Reading Recommendation: Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora

Just branefarted the author's name as 'Stephen Lynch.' With all due respect to Scott Lynch, I would very much like to receive the newsletter of Stephen Lynch's fantasy novel.

I have a million things to do, so naturally I am not sleeping. Not sleeping leads to reading in the bathroom in an attempt to render myself sleepy. This, in turn, leads to finishing a very long book at an odd hour and feeling compelled to pen a review IMMEDIATELY. Although I suppressed that urge last night, editing really doesn't stand a chance against a quick review of a book I really liked.

This is another novel that passed through the one-way barrier between me and the M. (I can't think of a single thing he's read at my recommendation, but I frequently assert my right to our common property by reading things he's bought.) Truthfully, both the title and the cover would have put me off. I'm calling the title a fair cop (maybe it's decades of watching General Hospital, but the L overkill says "Romance novel!" to me), but the crappy cover on ours looks even crappier in comparison to the one on the author's website.

The blurb on the back describes it as "One part 'Robin Hood,' one part Ocean's Eleven," which is sort of off-putting, too. I loves me some RH, and Ocean's Eleven was the first movie that made Brad Pitt seem remotely appealing to me, but that sentence just smacks of smarmy elevator pitch. But it has a point: TLoLL is fantasy, mostly in an incidental way (the universe just happens to have alchemy mixed into its technology, and just happens to be politically organized and culturally reminiscent of the pre-modern Mediterranean). But really, it's a caper novel.

Regardless of genre or setting, it's worth noting that Lynch does a lot of things right that have been done wrong in so many creative ways. For example, the narrative is nonlinear. It cuts from the characters' present to their past, and from the novel's world's present to its past. The time shifts are frequent, but very nearly flawless. In a 600+-page book, I can only think of one instance where the device went wrong (the chapter flashes back to the very recent past, presenting the current-day "action" out of sequence and left me wondering of there were two night-time visits).

But as a rule, the trips to the past build the characters, set the scene for important plot developments, and generally lend texture to the story. What's more, Lynch doesn't sacrifice the pace of the plot to the back-and-forth timeline device. In many cases, I was on the edge of my seat in the story's present, yet still eager to get at the back story.

The plot is ambitious, but well executed. The characters are well drawn. (Although there is a pivotal scene late in the book in which Lynch came very close to losing my capacity to give a shit about the main characters; M, for the record, didn't especially object to the scene on the grounds of characterization, but did see it as emanating from a poorly executed Phlebotenum in Jar C.) In the case of both plot and characterization, Lynch does occasionally beg the reader's patience through long, complex sections, but the payoff is well worth it. Furthermore, once I was past the first 50 pages or so, I was only aware of the length of the book when the ZK called attention to it.

Praise duly and deservedly bestowed, it's not perfect.

One potential downside of the "fantasy lite" approach is in the dialogue. I certainly appreciate Lynch's restrained approached to coinage, jargonization, and deployment of faux-Victorian linguistic crusty-ness. However, I'm not sure that the liberal application of "real world" profanity works as well as Lynch wants it to. (And I say this as cocksucking devotee of Deadwood who was never bothered for a fucking instant by the anachronistic goddamned nature of some of the finest fucking dialogue ever penned.)

As is all-too-common in geek-dom, the sisters are underrepresented on Lynch's canvas. Yes, there are two (and a half) major players who happen to be women, but they are major players in the plot sense, rather than the characterization sense. A third character is introduced early and never appears in this novel (although clearly she is meant to have great significance in future books). I don't object to placing a character on the board in advance, but in this case, she is mentioned so early and so consistently that I was preoccupied with trying to figure out as whom she might be disguised. (That sentence, right there, might just be the kind of pedantry up with which no one should put, and yet I cannot bring myself to end it with "as.")

To give Lynch some XX-equity cred, he does include an interesting chapter in which he does not engage in the fantasy/scifi-obligatory romanticization of prostitution, and throughout his landscape, it's clear that men and women are equally likely to hold any given job or be any given type of character, good or bad, young or old, etc.

Anyway, it's very good fun, and I found myself exceptionally pleased that there's already another book in the series for me to pick up, and another on the way early next year.

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