I'd heard a lot of good things about Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastards series and I was in the mood for something a bit more gritty, so I plucked this one from my TBR stack and dug in. Lies follows the illegal endeavors of one Locke Lamora, a plague orphan who ends up being raised by the most cunning gang boss in Camorr - one who masquerades as a priest. Together with his small crew of con men, Locke robs some of the wealthiest nobles in the city, an act that goes against the sacred truce between Camorr's elite and its underworld, which is ruled by one Capa Barsavi. When a rival Capa moves in to contest Barsavi's rule, Locke's own under-the-radar exploits are upended and the fallout makes for an intense read.
Every writer has their own flavor, a sort of attitude that flows from the page. Lynch's is a curious mixture of refinement and vulgarity. His prose is unflinching and yet elegant; his characters intelligent yet unscrupulous. Witty, bawdy banter is set against the dark and dingy backdrop of Camorr, a city ruled by the ruthless, both high-born and low. Lynch doesn't hesitate to use coarse language, which I appreciate. Humans swear. Especially those born in the gutter. It's a reality that often gets censored in traditional publishing, polished away and cleaned up to make manuscripts more palatable for a wider audience. Lies is chock-full of profanity that is used to add humor and authenticity to the story and the characters, and it is done masterfully.
The second thing that stood out to me about Lynch's writing was all the things he doesn't say. He doesn't crowd. He leaves lots of room for the reader to imagine or deduce all the missing pieces. He lets his dialogue breathe and he constructs characters effortlessly. Near the beginning, there is a scene with two of the supporting characters, the Sanza twins. They accompany Locke to Barsavi's hideout and while they wait for their audience with the Capa, one Sanza pulls out a deck of cards. The guards in the room immediately tense and the twins protest that the rumors are overblown. What rumors? What happened? Doesn't matter. The mere suggestion adds volumes of depth to the twins' characters in the space of a few lines, and that is exceptional character-building.
One part in particular that stood out to me was near the end (don't worry, no spoilers). Locke is out of breath after a flight across the city. As a reader, knowing where he's just come from and the state of mind he's in, I imagine him racing out into the courtyard, cutting the traces on a carriage horse while footmen and guards shout protests, launching himself up onto the horse's back and tearing off into the dark city streets. But all Lynch says is that Locke stole a horse to get there. This struck me at the time, because rarely do I get those moments of spontaneous visualization while reading, especially without any kind of prompting from the text itself. Lynch gives you room to fill in the blanks, and he does so without the prose feeling like it's missing anything.
I'll admit, it was hard to get into this book, at first. The first half has so much back-and-forth between the past and the present that I struggled to get engaged. The meetings with the Salvaras (the nobles he's conning) felt tedious. The structure of the chapters is also very nontraditional, but I quickly learned to ignore it and just take the strange numberings as a replacement for scene breaks. Compared to other books, I had to take this one in smaller bites. Lynch's descriptions of Camorr and its history are beautifully-written, but I found myself skimming or just flat-out skipping entire paragraphs. I find those sorts of long-winded explanations exhausting. Perhaps that's why this one took me so long to read. I'm glad I stuck with it, though. This was one of few books that made me actually laugh out loud while reading it. I look forward to the next book in the series.
Recommended for more traditional fantasy fans who enjoy darker settings and more elegant prose, as well as a good dose of swearing and shenanigans.