I have never liked high fantasy — fantasy that takes place in world with no connection to our own. Inevitably, the author is in love with his world, and explains it endlessly, when none of it is completely original. Even Tolkien, who I admit to enjoying, based his own mythology heavily off of ancient Icelandic, Norse/Scandinavian, British, and a dash of German myths. Most of the rest are just influenced by him, with their orcs and tall, stately elves. It’s just not gripping to read about world-building unless it’s better than the average high fantasy writer makes it.
Luckily, Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora is.
First of all, he uses a heist-based plot, similar to Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn book, another high fantasy I enjoyed. He still throws in plenty of setting, but splits his chapters into segments to do so, ensuring that he doesn’t talk too long about random tangents like informing us during the climax of the book about the rules of handball in his fantasy city. The action will return a page or two after it’s cut off in favor of a world-building section. And, more importantly, the tangents are usually interesting themselves. The handball competition, it turns out, was won on a technicality, and the loser, still holding a grudge, killed the winner 35 years later.
No orcs or elves are to be seen, though the city’s built over the mysterious ruins left by ancient aliens, who I seriously hope we will get to actually meet at some point in the rest of the planned seven-book series.
The humor of the book is a huge factor in my appreciation for it: high fantasy can be too self-serious for my taste, but Lynch gives all his main characters a sense of humor. The constant banter keeps the prose fun to read even during the long sections that he spends setting up the overarching story. In the end, the tale is suitably explosive, and ends without much of a sequel hook, though it’s easy to see how Lynch can keep more stories going.
Lynch also has a deep understanding of his material, or at the least, is very good at pretending he does. He throws in many details, and they all ring true to me: I wouldn’t have thought to mention the bell rope that a guard pulls to let the next floor know that visitors have been cleared to walk up, but Lynch does. I’m sure there are more examples, but as I said, I wouldn’t have thought of them. I’ve got a hold on the second book, and I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of the series once Lynch publishes them.