Tag Archives: Scott Lynch

A reading list for LS

So a couple of weeks ago I was talking to somebody about books and offered to put together a list of suggestions for them. Because I’m lazy I decided to make the list do double duty as a blog post, and because I’m too lazy to type up an email and then copy-paste it to the blog I’m going to write it up here and send them the link instead. As a result you’ll be getting this a couple weeks late as I already had several posts buffered, so my apologies.

Anyways. This particular person had been somewhat unsatisfied by a lack of “edgy” reading material. They were disappointed by the ending of Redshirts as it was too upbeat for them, so I offered to put together a list of suggestions on the darker side. They cited the way Martin manages to make the reader fall in love with his characters before killing them off.

Crooked little vein / Warren Ellis — If you’re looking for edgy fiction it’s hard to find edgier than Crooked little vein. A “road novel” that exists to explore the bizarre excesses of weird humanity, this one has everything, incest, drug abuse, kaiju fetishists … (It’s like that thing were people get together and masturbate to Godzilla movies while wearing monster gloves) [end Stefon].

Ellis is known for excess, but Crooke little vein is excessive even for Ellis. It’s closer to Ennis in prose than anything else, which means it’s going to gross out or offend a huge portion of its potential audience. Think Palahniuk. 

The lies of Locke Lamorra / Scott Lynch — I reviewed this fairly recently so I won’t repeat myself a ton, but it has a lot of the strengths of Martin but transplants them from England to Italy and replaces political maneuvering with con games and elaborate revenge schemes.

The thousand names / Django Wexler — the third book in this series just came out. I wasn’t initially going to recommend it here as the first volume is very much a military-focused campaign novel, but a blurb on the second volume claimed that it “[does] for the Napoleonic wars what George R.R. Martin did for the War of the Roses.” The second book takes things in a more urban direction, and despite the fantasy genre it’s the best depiction of the French Revolution in fiction, hands down. Because there isn’t a one to one correlation between history and the plot Wexler can capture the atmosphere and competing tensions without distracting people looking for historical inaccuracies.

I almost dropped The thousand names after the first chapter, worried that it was going to be a classic “Europeans fight savage colonial rebels” style military fantasy novel but I stuck with it and was really pleasantly surprised.  I’ll probably post a more detailed review of this later unless I don’t.

American psycho / Brett Easton Ellis – I always forget that not everyone has read this so I don’t frequently recommend it, but this story of a yuppie who may or may not be a depraved serial killer is a classic of transgressive fiction.

Lock in / John Scalzi

This one is a murdwr mystery with a twist: in the near future, a disease has spread worldwide that renders a sizable portion of survivors “locked-in”. Completely conscious but with no control over their bodies, those so afflicted must rely on specially designed cradles to take care of their physical bodies while they control “threeps”, robotic surrogate bodies controlled via a surgically implanted interface. As threeps have become more common, public sentiment has started to shift. No longer seen as a disabled minority requiring special care merely to survive, the “normal” majority increasingly views the locked-in as excessively coddled and privileged.

It’s not a particularly edgy book but it’s an interesting premise and it is well written enough that I feel comfortable recommending it here nonetheless.

The heroes / Joe Abercrombie

I have a love-hate relationship with Abercrombie. I really disliked the First law trilogy as he seemed to be doing his best to make every character as unlikeable as possible. His later books have foud more of a balance, retaining the edginess and cynical outlook while creating more well-rounded characters. 

This is another one I’ll probably write a full post on later so I won’t say too much aside from this: The heroes is one of the best anti-war novels I have ever encountered and it shares Martin’s sensibility that goodness and best-ness aren’t really the same thing.

Things I would recommend but think you’re less likely to actually read

Preacher / Garth Ennis – a preacher finds himself with the power of the Word of God. Accompanied by his girlfriend and a foulmouthed Irish vampire, Jesse Custer travels the country looking to make God answer for his crimes. Ennis is arguably the kin of gratuitously edgy, and Preacher is his best known work.

Transmetropolitan / Warren Ellis – Transmetropolitan is really just an extended rant by Warren Ellis with science fiction trappings. Like the cyberpunk genre as a whole, as it has aged it has become much harder to distinguish some of the “futuristic” aspects from everyday life. With Transmetropolitan, which revels in hyperbole and obnoxiously excessive jokes, it is perhaps more surprising that some of those jokes now accurately describe contemporary society. 

Angel’s blood / Nalini Singh – this is a romance novel. Still, if you’re looking for edgy it’s pretty far up there, featuring a society rules by utterly amoral angels who have no real regard for mortals and treat humanity as disposable playthings at best. It’s by far the most violent book I’ve ever encountered in the romance section, only slightly less gruesome than American psycho.

Prédateurs / Maxime Chattham – as far as I can tell, this book is only available in French. Which is too bad because despite being by far the most disturbing book I have ever encountered it’s still really good and has a surprisingly uplifting ending. The story of a group of MPs attempting to stop a serial killer in the middle of a war zone, it presents an interesting commentary on human nature. The setting and time period are kept intentionally ambiguous, although it’s heavily implied that the characters are American soldiers on the western front of World War II. Jump on a translation if one exists.

The lies of Locke Lamora

The lies of Locke Lamora / Scott Lynch

It’s not uncommon to label something “genre fiction” as a way of dismissing it. When somebody who does this then comes across a “genre” book they enjoy, they are faced with a choice: do rhetorical somersaults to justify why it’s not really a science fiction novel or rethink their assumptions about conflating descriptive labels and value judgments.

Even folks like Nancy Pearl (who as a librarian should know better) are guilty of this. Pearl did it with The sparrow. It seems to be a universal phenomenon with The handmaid’s tale. People frequently treat Octavia Butler that way as well (although her works are also at risk of being exiled to an “African American interest” section featuring a jumble of books whose only link is the color of their author’s skin).

People seem to think that if it deals with serious issues then it can’t be sff. Considering the genre’s roots in Shelley* (also a victim of “it’s important therefore not sf”) it’s an attitude I don’t really understand.

*yes, sad/rabid puppies, science fiction is literally the child of feminism. Chew on that.

It’s more common with science fiction than with fantasy, as it’s easier to dismiss fantasy as “fairy stories” (although with the popularity of Game of thrones it’s starting to happen with Martin). It also helps that many of the stories that get this “not sf” label are dystopian.

So what does this have to do with The lies of Locke Lamora? If you haven’t guessed by now, this is one of those books. I’m not sure why, as it’s very clearly a fantasy novel. Secondary world, wizards, impossible alchemy … It’s not even a book that addresses serious issues in any great depth. Still, the library were I worked when I read it kept it in the regular “fiction” section, and the blurbs in the mass market copy I own now claim that it is more than just genre fiction.

I assume that people read it who “don’t like fantasy” and then had to justify their enjoyment somehow.

A propos of nothing, I didn’t read this book for quite a while because I kept misreading the title as “The lays of Loch Lomond” and thinking it was historical fiction. It wast until I saw the cover art for the third book in the series and realized that this was something I would enjoy. 

Yes, I judge books by their covers all the time.

Plot summary

Locke Lamora is an orphan taken in by the priest Chains and trained to be one of his “Gentleman Bastards”, robbing from the rich in the name of their god and consistently flouting the underworld’s “secret peace”, an unspoken agreement between the city’s criminals and its government that allows criminal syndicates to operate more or less openly as long as they refrain from targeting the wealthy or law enforcement.

So how is it?

I really liked it. It’s fast paced, fun, and never loses sight of the fact that as lovable as the Gentleman Bastards are they are still ruthless criminals.

The Gentleman Bastards series draws equally from Ocean’s 11 and Rififi in a fantasy setting more than a little bit reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. The best film comparison is probably French cult classic Man bites dog – it’s humorous but still quite dark. It’s not quite as intense as Game of thrones and its sequels or the Sword of truth series, but it’s not far.

One thing that helps temper the brutality is that there are consequences. Committing atrocities is a great way to turn allies into enemies and that goes for heroes and villains. (See also: Rififi)

This book isn’t written in a noir style, but thematically it’s noir through an through. The questionable means used by the protagonists, the emphasis on revenge, etc., etc.

One of the blurbs compares it to Dickens. I’m really not seeing it, unless all it takes to be Dickens is a group of orphans being taken in and trained to be thieves.

It’s a good book that’s only mildly disturbing while managing to maintain a sense of humor while telling a surprisingly dark story.

Recommendation

This is a great crossover novel, especially for fans of Game of Thrones. It keeps the emphasis on the characters and off the magic and tells a recognizably human story rather than a cosmic one.

It’s also good reading for fans of heist films and books about loveable rogues in general.