23 October 2008

The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies

A while back, I read a book called Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, which ended up being one of the best fantasy novels I've read in years. It's been quite some time since I really got into fantasy -- in fact, the only fantasy series I think I've read in the last three years has been Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels. Unfortunately, the Kindle store did not (at the time) sell the sequel to Mistborn. However, every time I searched for 'mistborn' or 'brandon sanderson', this book called The Lies of Locke Lamora kept popping up. Eventually, I got curious and decided to try it out -- the book only cost like five bucks, after all -- and I ended up quite liking it. I also picked up the sequel, Red Seas under Red Skies, which wasn't quite as fun, but still worth reading.

The Lies of Locke Lamora (Lamora, henceforth) is one of many books featuring a main character representing the trickster archetype. Locke Lamora is a highly skilled con artist in a corrupt and decadent fantasy-version of Venice. In Locke's world, thieves are only permitted to steal from the lower classes; Locke, however, specializes in stealing from the nobility, which is strictly prohibited by his underworld boss. The book follows Locke through one of his cons, which ends up embroiling him in a nasty underworld upheaval. Twists, turns, and more abound throughout this book, which took me by surprise more than once. Lynch is nearly as good with misdirection as his protagonist and more than one of the chapters led in directions that I didn't at all foresee.

Where Lamora really excels, however, is in world building. World-building is a, I think, much under appreciated skill among SF sets, but it's a requirement for good, coherent fantasy stories. A good world-builder can leave the reader feeling that the world is much larger than directly portrayed within the story itself. This is exactly what Lynch has done. Lamora takes place in a city called Camorr, which appears to be an analogue of Venice, except that the city has been built on the ruins of an ancient civilization called the Elderen, who built everything out of some sort of indestructible crystal. Every chapter introduces new, incomprehensible structures that have been integrated into this city. Lynch describes this all in pain-staking detail, to the point where you can almost see the city and start to understand its charms, its problems, and it all fits together. The book leaves you with lots of little images, such as people walking across a bridge, built from solid glass, barely three feet wide, several dozen feet over a rushing river. Gentled animals, with milky white eyes and a docile attitude. Alchemical fruits which ferment themselves while still on the trees. Much like the novels of China Mieville, Lamora has an incredible sense of wonder which many stories lack, and the story is all the better for it. I frequently found myself continuing to read just to find out more about the world.

Which leads me to the downsides of Lamora and, more so, Red Seas under Red Skies. The characters suck, just plain suck. They're flat, and I finished the book wondering whether or not I want Locke to win or lose. Locke grows, a bit, as does his best friend Jean, but they never quite seem complete. Some of this may be intentional on Lynch's part, I guess, but the characters just don't seem to behave in any fashion even resembling rational. For a story told from their points of view, this is somewhat pathetic. Mind you, this flaw doesn't really detract from the story, but it certainly fails to add to it. During the course of the story, there's quite a bit of violence, but I never once felt a thing for the people being afflicted. In fact, I frequently just wanted to see what sort of oddity Lynch had in mind next for us.

Both The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas under Red Skies are available for the Kindle. The author appears to have, at some point, had a website, but it's looking quite neglected. He is, however, apparently quite ambitious and already has a contract for seven books in this series. Most authors are lucky to get one for their first novel -- cheers to him -- but I don't know when I'll feel up to picking up the third book in the series. I give the Lies of Locke Lamora a 7/10 and Red Seas Under Red Skies a 6/10.

Long time, no blog

Wow, it's been nearly a month since I touched this thing. I'm not entirely sure where that month went, but here's a few things that I've been up to recently...

  • My brother gave me a fancy new game for my birthday (back in early October...) called The Spirit Engine II. It's absolutely fantastic. The gameplay is a bit simplistic, but the story is phenomenal and reminds me why I tend to prefer indie games to most of the big names. I'm in only the fourth chapter, but I already can't wait to figure out what the heck is going on.

  • The news with the economy sucks primarily because that's all I hear on the radio when I'm going to NC. Thankfully, I'm equipped with my mostly-obsolete iPod.

  • The only thing that's keeping me sane with all the election news is the political satire at Sinfest, one of my favorite webcomics that is nowhere near as racy as the title implies. The sunday comics are particularly well done, such as this and this. There are plenty of other good comics in the archive, too.

  • I appear to be on a fantasy novel kick. Forthcoming reviews will include The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas under Red Skies, both by Scott Lynch, and Mistborn: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. I also read The Sunrise Lands by S.M. Stirling, but it may not have been exciting enough to warrent a blog post.
I'll try to be more on top of this whole 'blog' thing in the future. Look for more posts forthcoming.