There are some books I like to think of as “gateway fantasy,” meaning they’re really dangerous because they are so exciting and funny and delightful, they can sway even the staunchest opponent into a big fantasy genre nerd. Before you know it, you can find yourself snorting Michael Stackpole or shooting up Star Wars fanfic.
Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series is just this sort of fantasy-lite. But I think you should risk it.
Fair warning: the first book, Lies of Locke Lamora, is a bit of a slow starter. About a hundred pages in, I turned to Adam and said, “I can’t believe anyone would ever recommend this book. Nothing is happening. It’s so boring.” The next day, I was turning pages obsessively and ignoring household chores. Be patient with this one, because the second book is even better.
The main character, Locke Lamora, is a professional thief, raised and trained by thieves, who uses his wit and creativity to pull off elaborate heists. To his detriment, Locke is much more gifted with sweet-talking than he is with physical confrontation—but that’s where his little band of thief buddies comes in. Jean Tannen is the muscle of the group, cracking skulls with his twin axes, the Wicked Sisters. Locke and Jean’s friendship, built on a foundation of fierce loyalty, is more thoroughly developed in the second book in the series, and despite some wrenching tests, is one of the most appealing features of the story. There are also veiled allusions to a failed past romance of Locke’s, with another thief named Sabetha, but she has yet to appear as a character in the two books currently released. The promise of future relationship drama is tantalizing.
The fantastical elements of the book only enhance the storytelling. Locke and his co-conspirators live in a world orbited by two moons and filled with “Elderglass” structures built by a mysterious precursor race that is now extinct. Lynch doesn’t settle for simple cityscapes and typical architecture; the unique world he creates is fascinatingly complex, and unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. Also intriguing is the Bondsmage who uses his malevolent powers against Locke—and the brutal way Locke puts him in his place made me want to chest-bump someone.
I’ve seen this book compared to Ocean’s 11, and I’d have to say I would agree with that, if the movie had been at all entertaining and if George Clooney had managed to play his role with any kind of charisma. So yeah, if you liked that mediocre star vehicle, you will like these books about a million times better.