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I've been out of commission because of the dread and terrible land of dawrites, and also because of my trip back to Ireland for Easter, which involved far less agonising over commas and far more jelly shots.

Seriously, nobody wants me around in this state. My family had to deal with me for ten days, peering at my computer screen and absently stroking the chocolate rabbit sluzan gave me.

FATHER: You keep saying you are in despair. Is there something we can do to help?
SARAH: Nobody can help me except for Mr Bunny. Mr Bunny is my sweet rabbit friend.
FATHER: You've eaten Mr Bunny's head.
SARAH: Mr Bunny is my sweet headless rabbit friend. And we would be alone!

In a few days I will be entirely done, and then you are all allowed to command me as you choose. Until then, I placehold with a book review.


The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

My Cup of Tea. Got My Doubts About the Sugar.

I have a story to tell you all about The Lies of Locke Lamora. I was reading it, propped up on my pillows and entirely fascinated, because the plot had just started to snowball into a great crashing avalanche of a climax, and then 50 pages I’d already read were mysteriously planted in place of the next 50 pages of climax.

… It was very late. For some time, I thought my brain had failed me. For another period of time, I thought that perhaps it was a judgement, and I could read the rest if I Devoted Myself to Good Works.

Then I realised that the book had simply been incorrectly bound. Apparently that happens sometimes.

It’s never happened to me before. Quite frankly, it was like finding out that sometimes the sky falls. I rose from my bed snarling at four in the morning, and then I went to the kitchen and ran tiny laps in there, like a frustrated hamster in her little wheel, until I was tired enough to go to sleep.

This is something your parents never tell you. ‘Read books! They’re educational! They’ll enrich your life! They’ll turn you into a rabid hamster of a woman!’

I exchanged the book. As I was leaving the shop, I flicked through my new copy and found the exact same problem – in a different place.

SARAH: Is this some kind of conspiracy to drive me insane?
CASHIER: Another victory for the conspiracy! I mean, let me get you another copy.
SARAH: All right. I’ll be waiting right here. Crying a little into the free bookmarks.

Time passed. The cashier hummed to herself among the bookshelves. The free bookmarks drank my tears. The word came back: there were no trade paperbacks not Interfered with by the Conspiracy.

I could have gone to another bookshop. But I wanted to know what happened. I wanted to know right away.

So I handed over extra money for a hardback.

Lies, as I think you may have gathered, does not go easy on the suspense.

I hear that for some reason people think I do not like George R. R. Martin. This is obviously the work of the Conspiracy, since I’ve mentioned George R. R. Martin once, and in that post I said that I heartily recommended him. I like him very much: I just don’t think he kills enough people. (I also think that country music is the most perfect music in the world. Nobody agrees with me about this, either.)

Why do I mention George R. R. Martin in a Scott Lynch review? Because Lynch does not have that problem. In Lies, aside from Locke himself, I genuinely believed that nobody was safe. Death lurked on every corner! Anyone could be next!

So, high points for pacing and risk-taking. Any story about Master Thieves, especially those who have myths spun about them, is going to admit to its Robin Hoodian heritage, and Lies does it gracefully - steal from the rich, keep huge pile of money, have awesome roguish adventures! being its general philosophy. Those adventures have consequences because, um, they should - people have objections to being robbed, and being part of the criminal underworld is a dangerous crazy violent way to live.

What I liked most about the book was the joie de vivre of it. Horrible things happen to people in the book, but it read like Lynch had a really good time writing it, so I had a really good time reading it. I was irresistibly charmed by the little things, like the Gentlemen Bastards' toast - 'To us - richer and cleverer than anyone else!'

Plus, I liked the characters. I liked Locke Lamora himself - though his name reads like a place name to me, as in The Lies of Wuthering Heights - a sneaky guy who doesn't like to fight, makes terrible mistakes, is crazy stubborn and will risk his life both to save the lives of others and to steal enormous wodges of their money. I like Nazca, the iron-booted spoiled smart daughter of the Leader of the Underworld, who has a totally platonic comradeship with Locke. I like Dona Vorchenza, the Spymaster Miss Marple of this universe. My favourite is Jean, Locke's right-hand man, a nice boy who used to be comfortably middle-class, fond of eating, needs his specs, just so happens to be Deadly With His Hatchets.

But the fly in this ointment is the romance. Lynch does very good female characters, but Sabetha, Locke's True Love, terrifies me to my marrow. Now I could be wrong, because Sabetha-Locke's-True-Love never actually appears in the novel, but everybody talks about her. And whenever they do talk about her, the book loses its humorous tone, because this is Locke's True Love, and this is Serious Business. Their teacher describes all his pupils' faults at length - except for Single Special Girl Thief Sabetha, who he describes as a 'queen.' She's redheaded and sounds ominously spunky. And when I say that everybody talks about her - I do mean everybody.

Locke has a taste for redheads. In the book's own colourful words, 'throwing blondes at Locke Lamora was not unlike throwing lettuces at sharks.' Fine so far. And since Sabetha is absent - not only from the present day, but most improbably from all the assorted flashbacks we get, and we get a lot - and Locke is depressed for some very good reasons, he goes and finds himself a redhaired Lady of the Night. And he can't get it up for her. Fine also! Nice to see a hero who isn't Viking in the sack at the drop of a negligee, especially not when he's got a lot on his mind. But no, no, the text clearly says that he can't get it up because Felice isn't Sabetha, True Love of Spunky Redheaded Perfection. Felice herself says such things as 'some men want any redhead in general, and some men want one redhead in particular.'

I like red hair. I have red hair, by art if not by nature. But Heaven preserve us all from sassy irresistible redheads. In fantasy novels - they're kind of like - how do I put this - like a plague of zombies. LOCK YOUR DOORS. LOCK UP YOUR SONS. SHE COMES, SHE COMES! SHE WILL WARP PREVIOUSLY LIKABLE CHARACTERS INTO MINDLESS SLAVERING ZOMBIES. ONE TOSS OF HER RED MANE DESTROYS BRAINS. BRAAAAAINS.

Plus, if I was a Lady of the Night - and let's face it, I have an English degree, the day may well come - under no circumstances would I, a professional woman, ever say 'you seem to be pining for someone. And now you've remembered yourself.' That's turning away freaking business. Really. Really, authors. You don't need to have every character bow down to the One True Character, and acknowledge the purity of their true love. I'm much more likely to think the Redhead's special if you don't think she's all that and a bag of sweet pineapple-flavoured desire.

Like I said, Lynch is excellent, and Sabetha doesn't appear in the book. Maybe she'll be great. Maybe she'll be prematurely grey. Maybe she'll die. But just now, she sends cold chills down my spine. (SHE COMES. Gentlemen, hang onto your hats. There are brains underneath those hats, and she wants them all!)

So on the whole, aside from my dark doubts about the romance, I highly recommend the book.

One factor in my Locke Lamora love may be the slight Robin Hood flavour. Many, many books these days have a base in another story, and I really like it when they do - but it does depend on which story. I'm a sucker for Robin Hood or Beauty and the Beast. On the other hand, while the ballad of Tam Lin has inspired some truly excellent novels, I don't like the story itself and the books had to work extra hard to win me over. And I generally try not to touch Arthurian novels, because the Lancelot/Guinevere romance fills me with blind rage. (I love Arthurian novels without that romance. Honourable mentions go to T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone and Elizabeth E. Wein's The Winter Prince.)

So, what story bases do you hate? Which do you love? Which story would you choose to base a novel on, if you could only ever use one? I'd go for Robin Hood.

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