the lies of locke lamora, by brandon sanderson
fantasy, young adult | teen audiences | 5 stars
the easiest way to describe this book - and it's sequels - is to say that it's a fantasy version of robin hood, only with more tricks, more twists and a bit darker - and definitely less trees but that doesn't really do it justice: it's a book in a world which immediately sucks you in without needing to go through too much exposition or description of what the world is and how it works. it's a vibrant eclectic, darkish world with more than a hint of medieval/Renaissance Venice - big and bold and the kind of city where people get lost and island districts have their own problems, their own quirks and trends. there are crime lords and bored, absent rich nobles; ordinary criminals in gangs and ordinary people going about ordinary-ish lives. and then there's the Grey King. who becomes a Problem.
the cast is equally full of vibrant, eclectic, darkish characters - locke isn't the most heroic of heroes (and he'd admit it), slight and bad at fighting and not very friendly to the poor - which takes him away the kind of robin hood-esque archetype. he's in the game because he's good at it and it makes him and his friends rich. and then the Grey King turns up and everything becomes more serious and more competitive - but the competition involves slightly less money and a little bit more blood.
locke has more than a hint of the artful dodger from oliver twist about him, but better: slicker, more professional, and very, very clever. it's a nice change from a lot of fantasy books which involve heroes who swing swords or wield magic - locke simply lies and cons and cheats. and he's really, really good at it. his friends tend to do more of the sword-swinging and fighting, and the camaraderie between him and the rest of the Gentleman Bastards - orphaned thieves, who steal for themselves in elaborate tricks - is wonderful.
it's a real, full-blooded mystery along with the fantasy of the world, though there's not much romance if that's your kind of thing. there's a lot of twists to it, a sense that really, anything could happen, and a lot of hair-raising, daredevil adventures, and complicated, clever tricks where you think they just can't pull this off - or where you think they must do. but.
it's a battle of cleverness and ingenuity framed in a game which is very, very deadly; slick and sleek and full of sleight-of-hand type tricks and lies, with a villain who's complex and 3D and could be almost sympathetic but for, well, plot the writing is beautiful, descriptive and vibrant, and it just carries you along with it and locke and the crew on the ride.
plus, there's two sequels and a third on the way. so, what are you waiting for??!!