Locke Lamora has a passion for thievery and a flair for the dramatic. The Gentleman Bastards are his gang, determined to be richer and cleverer than everybody else. But this is Camorr, where children are hung for picking pockets and criminals are torn apart by sea monsters for public entertainment. Can they really get away with breaking the Secret Peace?

Welcome to the first week of the Gentleman Bastards Read-along!

1) We get a lot of detail about the city, from architecture and geography to social structure and the Secret Peace – not to mention the food! What do you make of Camorr?
Honestly, I’d forgotten quite how much background and scene-setting is packed into this first act. The very first sentence gives us an intriguing if impenetrable date (the Seventy-Seventh Year of Sendovani), a Thiefmaker, a priest and a problem – and the book barrels along from there. We are introduced to different areas of the city as the gang moves around Camorr – and the city is epic in scale, with the grand separated from the grasping by the canals.

I absolutely love the descriptions from the sequence on the water, as Bug poles Jean (and Locke) along towards the Temple District. They float past the Fauria, which is sort of Hanging Gardens of Babylon meets Venice, with Elderglass bridges and viaducts arching over it all. As for the Elderglass, I don’t know what to make of it! And then we get to the Shifting Market, which includes trees on rafts that help clean the waterways (and grow citrus fruits). It’s dramatically colourful and delightfully visual, even though the society itself is basically horrid – cruel and unforgiving don’t really come close.

I did wonder how the Secret Peace was a secret when everyone seems to know about it, but then I realised that we only hear from thieves and nobility, who are indeed all in on it. That awful, stinging summary feels more than a little on the nose: ‘Camorr’s such a lovely, fine, safe place to live: you really only need to worry about losing your money if you don’t have much of it in the first place’.

 

2) What are your first impressions of the Gentleman Bastards? They are liars and conmen (and proud of it) – but do you think our thieves have hearts of gold?

It’s pretty clear that the Bastards come from nothing and are stealing as much as they can get away with (and they’re getting away with more than most). We’re told that the Thorn of Camorr gives his takings to the poor… but we’re not seeing any evidence of that yet. We do see the gang re-invest their take into the next con. The amounts splashed out on Austershalin brandy and the Spider’s seal are staggering!

So it’s early days, really. Locke’s got a vindictive streak – we can see that from his youthful plot to get even with Veslin, and his reluctance to toast the absent Sabetha – but he also seems to have ethics after a fashion. He’s clearly upset when Chains tells him that his co-conspirators in Streets will all be dead. I really appreciated that Chains drummed into him that those dead children aren’t just unintended consequences – they’re his victims, and he has to make an appropriate death offering for accidentally causing their deaths. It’s a lesson in caution, but also in responsibility.

If anything, the other Bastards seem to have a bit more heart so far. The twins are jokers, but they’re properly worried about young Bug, and even their teasing about Locke’s love life seems to come from concern for their friend (rather than a desire to have him attack them with a butter knife). As for Jean… we haven’t seen too much of him yet, so I’ll save my thoughts for next week when we’ve got to know him better. But how can you not love a roly-poly poor-sighted thief who likes to read romance novels?

 

3) Do you find the split timelines a useful device for filling in background without a lot of exposition? Which timeline are you enjoying the most?

I quite like the balance between the ‘current day’ competence of mature adult Locke vs his exuberant younger self. I think it is an excuse for Lynch to pack in a heap of background and world-building, but I really don’t mind – it’s far more fun than Basil Exposition….and I have to admit it’s the young Locke and Father Chains that wins me over in these early chapters. The Don Salvara game is only just starting to come together and hasn’t really got far enough yet to completely capture my attention.

But baby Bastards? So much cute. I mean, we get the Fagin-esque Thiefmaker for a start, and a hard-boiled wry tone that introduces lots of truly awful aspects of their society (like slavery and capital punishment for children and the fate of Locke’s friends in Streets) interspersed with a wicked glee in Locke’s exploits. I’m always giggling through this bit, not least when we get to Locke and Chains on the roof (and, err, I’ve only just spotted the comedy in juxtaposing their names. DAMMIT) and Locke sulking because he’s not the smartest kid in the city after all. Diddums.

 

4) Has anything taken you by surprise so far?
This is a reread for me, but I still got flat-footed by our first encounter with the Midnighters in Don Salvara’s study! The penny dropped before the end of the scene, but the sheer audacity of this part of the Bastards’ scheme leaves me in admiration of their shameless confidence (although clearly Father Chains never taught them about hubris).

I’ll admit I’ve found it tricky to set questions that don’t give too much away for first time readers – please use spoiler tags or similar if you know what’s coming and want to reflect on how it’s all being set up 🙂

 

Favourite moment this week: so many delights, but it’s got to be Jean defending his taste in novels to Calo while Locke dons his Midnighter disguise. There’s stuff to be done, but Lynch takes time out to explore what Jean’s reading, what sort of book it is, why Calo is disdainful and why he’s wrong. Hell yes! Fictional bookworms unite!

 

Take a tour of our responses to this first week:

 

Want to get in on the action? It’s never to late to come along to Camorr – just leave a comment below and get reading if you’d like to join us!

Discussion schedule: