Lady Lauren's Panacea
PRESCRIPTION: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
SYMPTOMS: Heist fantasy, thief main characters, gritty setting, subtle magic, mafia-esque antagonists, antiheroes
DOSAGE: (out of five)
Locke Lamora, the ringleader of a band of thieves called the Gentleman Bastards,
is among the first con-artists his world has known. Though the legendary status of
"The Thorn of Camorr" extolls his ability with a sword and gives him near-supernatural talents, the truth is that Locke is slight, bad with a sword, and skilled
mostly at acting and getting his butt kicked in every manner possible. Truthfully,
his biggest talent is the formulation of complex heists to steal from the rich and
hoard the takings. Midway through a new and deadly heist, however, a secret war
threatens to destroy the thieves' underworld home and Locke must find a way to
keep everything he's ever known from falling apart without blowing his cover . . .
and, of course, turn a profit.
The world of the Gentlemen Bastards series resembles Renaissance Venice in
fashion, culture, and shark-infested canals (okay, maybe not the sharks), but hints
at a distant history Lynch may or may not ever fully reveal. The city of Camorr is
built over the remnants of a previous, more advanced, civilization, whose glittering
structures of steel-strong glass house the wealthiest aristocracy. Of course, where
there are high-flying aristocracy, there must be a thriving underworld, and
Camorr's is comprised of thieves, gangs, and Mafia-like leaders willing to drown
those who displease them in barrels of horse-urine.
Each chapter begins broad in an omniscient narrative mode that shows the
festivals, culture, and pastimes of Camorr, and slowly tightens focus to the POV
character within a few paragraphs. It's actually those brief glimpses of the city
outside Locke and his friends' immediate experience that provide some of the most
enriching details of the world. Though I normally would have been tempted to skip
to where the limited third-person starts, these passages were so fascinating and
well-written that I never even tried skimming them.
What really sold me on the series, though, was Locke and his band of merry
antiheroes. Sharp-tongued, sarcastic, deliciously mercenary, and close as brothers,
their dialog often had me snorting into my café Americano and garnering dirty
looks from other coffee shop patrons. Also, sobbing, because Lynch was clearly
exchanging make-up tips with George R.R. Martin.
Lynch pulls no punches with this book, and neither do his characters. The Lies of
Locke Lamora is brutal, beautiful, hysterical, and heart-wrenching. It is absolutely
in my top ten favorite books of all time.
PRESCRIPTION: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
SYMPTOMS: Young Adult Fantasy, Russian setting, cool magic systems, gunpowder
fantasy, magic schools, antagonist love-interest
DOSAGE: (out of five)
Wan, sullen Alina is an orphan and apprentice cartographer in the military of
Ravka, a nation bisected by a treacherous swath of monster-infested darkness
known as the Shadow Fold. When the army's expedition across the fold turns
disastrous, it's Alina's long-buried magical gift that drives away the darkness long
enough for their return. Before she understands what's she's done, Alina is
unwillingly swept into the world of the Grisha, Ravka's esteemed sorcerers, and
learns that the Darkling, their enigmatic leader, wants to use Alina's unique power
to mend the Shadow Fold.
The world of Shadow and Bone stems from Russian influences, and the northerly
shift was a refreshing change from the default British, providing readers'
imaginations with different clothing, geography, culture, and food from most
historical-based fantasy. The time period of the novel is also a departure, as the
non-magical side of Ravka's military use guns, which are a relatively new
Though magic plays a key role in the plot, the magic system doesn't stand out as
much as other elements of the story. The two aspects I found the most inventive
were the coveted magic-amplifiers and the specific branch of craft magic that
allows those who possess the gift to create magical objects.
The unique setting and ins-and-outs of the magic system were enough to keep my
attention through to where I assumed Alina was going to work with the Darkling to
close the Shadow Fold, hopefully with dire results necessitating a sequel. Boy, was
I wrong. A midpoint twist punted Shadow and Bone from the ranks of other magic
character at magic school against magic threat stories.
The best surprise came in how much I enjoyed the Darkling's character. I feared
another love interest who is dark, mysterious, dangerous . . . and not much else.
Luckily, the Darkling is complicated, charming, and in many ways his own worst
enemy. Also, the first male character in a young adult novel who's made me feel
like I needed a cold shower. He is party to something of a love triangle between
Alina and her childhood friend Mal, and while I usually hate triangles, this one
works largely because of all three characters' complicated loyalties and choices
give the triangle more weight, and because the Darkling's intentions toward Alina
are potentially sinister.
The two things that kept this book from being five stars were the tired "pretty, catty
rival girl who hates Alina and makes her feel inferior, even though everyone likes
Alina better" plot thread, and the fact that Alina herself did not stand out to me
nearly so much as the secondary characters. Her progression from sullen, pale
cartographer's apprentice to the defiant young woman at the end of the novel is
partially responsible - in order to become stronger, she had to start out weak - but
I would have liked to see a more distinctive personality in that weakness.
From the first sentence to the last, the beautiful writing, fresh setting, and curveball
plot of Shadow and Bone held me in its thrall. I read the entire book in a single
sitting, which I haven't done since The Hunger Games, and immediately purchased
the sequel. Though the story has its flaws, Fans of Garth Nix's Sabriel and Liani
Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone will love this book.
Read more by Lauren Harris