Set in a sprawling, fantasized version of Venice, Locke is orphaned at a very young age and is welcomed into an underground thief empire. He is taught how to be a simple petty thief and survive against his peers who hold power over him. His marked thieving prowess gets him in trouble early on and he is sold to Father Chains, a con-artist who spends his days pretending to be a blind priest of Perelandro.
Father Chains takes Locke in, along with Calo, Galdo, and, later, Jean and Bug. The Gentlemen Bastards live underneath the Temple of Perelandro in secret luxury where Father Chains teaches them how to pull off long-con “games” to steal thousands of crowns from the rich of Camorr by breaking the Secret Peace, an agreement between the criminal underground and the Right People. They learn how to speak languages with perfect accents, how to dine properly, and how to apply makeup and wigs for disguises so that they can become anyone they need to become to wring money out of their victims.
One game goes too deep and gets the Gentlemen Bastards locked up in a fight for power and revenge between the powers-that-be of Camorr.
This is a fun little story that’s big but not too heavy. The world this book is set in has a lot of lore and we are given just a few hints about how it came to be. There is just enough magic left over from the Eldren and from alchemists that give it some fantasy without being too far-fetched. Lynch does a good job of giving just enough information to have everything make sense and leaves out just enough to give it a sense of mystery and awe (and plots for future books in the series).
I really like how interludes are woven in to describe the expansive lore; character development, the factions, the gods, the geography. They aren’t too distracting and give the book a whole lot of body.
I admired the learning that Father Chains subjects them to. They live this life of constantly learning topics ranging from history to math to writing to linguistics. The Bastards each take turns going away for a few months to be an apprentice somewhere far away. Once they feel like they’ve learned enough, they come back to debrief and share with the others what they learned. It causes them to be well-rounded polymath type characters that have knowledge of seemingly everything.
Suddenly unable to look Father Chains in the eyes, he tried to pretend that his feet were fascinating objects that he’d never seen before.
“Go fold yourself in half,” said Locke, “and lick your ass.”
Small blacksmiths seemed to be pounding on anvils inconveniently located just above his eyes; Locke wondered how they’d gotten in there.
Jean and Locke’s Friendship
Jean and Locke have a really special relationship. When Jean first showed up, he was timid, afraid, and much bigger than the other boys. Locke was jealous and despised Jean because he was better at math and could beat up Locke with almost no effort.
Eventually, they warm up to each other and complement one another well. Locke is the brains of the group, designing the games that the Bastards pull off while Jean is the brawn. Due to Jean’s size and demeanor, Chains has Jean go to the best teacher in Camorr to learn how to fight with various weapons. Jean excelled with the matching hatchets with a ball-peen on the side opposite to the blade (that he endearingly calls the Wicked Sisters). Jean is the protector for the group and is always there to save Locke through brute force when needed.
“I don’t have to beat you, motherfucker. I just have to keep you here…until Jean shows up.”
They’ve been to hell and back together. They watched their fellow Bastards die at the hands of The Falconer, watched their haven burn to the ground, and had their massive fortune stolen out from underneath them. Together, they get revenge and get justice for their brothers’ deaths and, together, they set off for a new life.
I thought deception was going to be a major theme and driver of the plot. Locke is depicted as this mastermind thief that devises these grand plans to steal money from the rich of Camorr. Usually how these stories go is the thieves do one last really big job, there are a bunch of unforeseen hurdles, they lose a bunch but make it out in the end by out-tricking everyone else.
Locke’s big deception game is kind of an aside in this book. His final game goes off almost too well and they start raking in more money than they’ve ever gotten before without a hitch. The main conflict in the book doesn’t come from this, however. The real conflict comes from Raza’s desire to overthrow Barsavi for revenge. And in the end, Locke gets fully found out and is sent packing with only a few coppers to his name.
I can’t decide if I liked it or not. It is interesting, however, that Locke is too good at his job that it creates almost no conflict and the conflict instead comes from a bigger scheme that he merely gets wrapped up in.
The books main antagonist, Capa Raza aka The Grey King aka Luciano Anatolius, is teeming with revenge. He spent 22 years making this scheme to kill Capa Barsavi and all the high class Right People of Camorr because Barsavi killed his father. He goes to great lengths and sacrifices all to get his revenge and move on.
Locke’s desire for revenge becomes so great after his brothers’ deaths that he nearly runs himself into the ground trying to get back at Raza and The Falconer. Even though Raza’s swordsmanship is much more superior to his, Locke’s blind revenge-filled fury keeps him going long enough to kill Raza.
Defeating The Falconer
Come on. Lynch spent the whole book making The Falconer seem like this formidable foe, this unbeatable Bondsmage from Karthain, a top-ranking sorcerer that can get anything he wants by bending people to his will. All it took to defeat him was a bonk with a hatchet and he was dispatched.
One whack of the hammer and his genetically modified bird is killed and he is tied up getting his fingers cut off and his tongue removed, after spilling the beans on Raza. It was very anticlimactic and a bit disappointing.