The thing about loving sci-fi and fantasy is: there’s a lot of crap out there. It’s gotten better since dork culture went mainstream about 10 years ago, but still. If you’re a fan, you feel me on this. You probably pick up just about anything to get your SFF fix, and are pleasantly surprised if the writer even approaches decent characterization, cohesive plot, and/or above-average prose. You recommend these books to your like-minded friends. You find yourself reading really inferior sequels to fantastic books like Dune (the first sequel is actually okay) and Ender’s Game (ditto) hoping to recapture the excitement that dawned on you as you turned maybe page 10 or 50 of one of those books and realized that hey, this was fucking awesome.
Of this latter category, I find there are two types of books: the kind that take a trope, usually The Chosen One plot, or The Government Totally Sucks* plot, and spin it so well that it feels fresh. The second kind, the rarer kind, is actually new. Like me, you might not even fully realize what you’re reading till you get to the end. Books 1 and 2 of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy were those kind of books for me. The writing was exceptional, and the books were dark and fun and funny and sad, but I initially thought they were rambling. After reading the first two books, I woke up to the fact that I only thought they were rambling because for the first time in ages, I had no idea what the hell was going to happen. It was going somewhere, just not anywhere I had ever been before. I read each of those 700+ page books 3 more times, found something new each time, and am on a level of excitement for the third book that I haven’t reached since I was standing outside a Barnes & Noble at midnight waiting for The Order of the Phoenix to be released. Fucking awesome.
The Lies of Locke Lamora and its successors (entitled the “Gentlemen Bastards” series) belong in Category II: Whole. New. Deal. You meet Locke as a young orphan with a talent for thievery. You think: “Yep. Been there. Seen this. But maybe it’ll be fun.” You haven’t been here. Not this way. See, Locke is an orphan, and he is smarter and more talented than other thieves… but he’s not The Chosen One. In fact, Locke fucks up. Colossally. And many of his fuck-ups drive the plot of the book and interact with other plot elements in ways that are novel and intriguing.
These plot elements, by the way, as of my reading of the second book in this series, don’t seem to be adding up to anything in any hurry, which is why you don’t see me writing much of a plot summary: there’s a lot going on, and that’s the point. Yes, there’s a conflict created in book one that follows Locke to book two and will likely not be resolved for a bit, but I found myself reading just to see how in the hell old Locke Lamora was going to get himself out of the next jam. The books wrap up their major plotlines within themselves, but are episodic in nature. Locke is like James Bond or Sherlock Holmes in that you read the books because you’re in the mood for a “Locke Lamora” book. (But he’s not like those other characters in any other respects.)
I might be in the minority here, but I enjoyed the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies, even more than the first. It’s possible that, being more aware of what I was dealing with, I was able to settle in comfortably and just watch the shit hit the fan. I was also freer to notice how absolutely hilarious some of the dialogue is. Lynch is shamelessly hammy and playful with his characters, and it’s joyful to read. There is relentless cursing–real cursing, not “fracking”– that, far from feeling gratuitous, feels organic to Lynch’s closely-drawn parallel world and makes the dialogue crackle. Locke Lamora jumping aboard a ship of violent religious fanatics while yelling, “The gods have sent your doom, motherfuckers!” is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in print.
The Gentlemen Bastards series isn’t profound, or highly intellectual, or even deeply touching most of the time. But fellow sci-fi/fantasy nerds, the point is this: these books are fun as hell. And though there are most definitely elements of things you’ve seen before, these elements are used as tools with which to build something fresh and smart and fucking awesome.