Come to Camorr: week 4

Gentleman Bastards Read-along: Lies of Locke Lamora

The Grey King has seized the Capa’s domain and destroyed the Gentleman Bastards. Homeless, practically penniless, and alone, Locke and Jean are determined to reignite the Don Salvara game to fund their revenge. Can they escape the Spider’s notice and steal the Grey King’s triumph?

1) Locke returns to finish the Salvara con, after a bit of a trying start. What did you think of the clothes con at Meraggio’s? Entertaining interlude, or timeline nuisance?

This is one of my favourite sections. It gives us a bit of light relief after the devastating events of last week, but it also adds a pinch of realism: the surviving Bastards have been left with practically nothing, and they have to start from scratch. It’s all about improvisation and making do, and Locke rises to the occasion.

That moment when he’s been rebuffed twice on the floor, and then sees the Meraggio across the room is pure magic. You can hear the penny drop. You know he’s already failed two theoretically simpler cons. And you know he won’t turn down the harder challenge. It wipes away recent failures and takes us back to the simplicity of the early parts of the novel. It’s a palate cleanser, a quick con with a pay-off into the finale…

…and it introduces a shocking new idea: we learn that Locke has a conscience. It looks for most of this con as though he is shamelessly selling Benjavier up the river to get what he needs. But he doesn’t go through with it (and appears never to have intended to): yes, Ben essentially loses his life as he knows it, but he survives his brush with the Thorn (and the Meraggio) and comes out of it with enough cold hard cash to start over.

As a bonus, there is a paragraph of insane double entendres:

“I walked right in through your service entrance, offered a few crowns, and your man Benjavier was out of his uniform like that.” Locke snapped his fingers. “Your guard at the service door slipped me in for much less.”

(or my mind is a filthy sewer. I accept this possibility)


2) The plot is back on, and before long Locke and Jean are facing the Falconer – with better results, this time… What were your thoughts on how this confrontation turned out?

I remember the first time I read this section, getting to the ‘twist’ and practically shouting out loud in surprise. It doesn’t have the same impact on a reread, but I remain shocked by the viciousness and the daring of the Bastards’ revenge. We’ve been told repeatedly that it’s a terrible idea to fuck with the Bondsmagi, and you can’t help but think that the state they leave the Falconer in is going to invite just as much trouble as killing him outright. Call me a wimp, but I’d’ve been tempted to feed the body to the sharks and hope that destroyed any chance of magic sniffing me out as the culprit.

…I enjoyed the Watch’s response in the Epilogue, though.


3) So it turns out that Capa Raza did indeed have bigger fish to fry than just Barsavi. What did you make of Locke’s decision between going after Raza/Anatolius and saving the nobility?

I am always a teeny tiny bit surprised, because the build-up focuses so heavily on the brotherhood of the Bastards and the intensity of Locke’s (guilt-fuelled) desire for revenge. This time, I caught the set-up of the conscience with Benjavier, but even so – it’s the fact that Locke doesn’t hesitate for a second that endears him to me.

He’s self-absorbed, he’s cocky, but when it really matters he isn’t a complete arsehole. The Thorn of Camorr has a conscience, and if he has never actually stolen from the rich to give to the poor (although like the con men in Shooting Fish, he genuinely does it “for the orphans”) he’s not willing to stand idly by while an entire stratum of society is Gentled.

We know he has a horror of Gentling, but really? It would solve problems (the Spider knows his face now) and create opportunities (he would almost certainly do well out of the civil war that ensue from both the Capa and the nobility being wiped out in one night). But it’s never on the cards.

While I tend to think of Jean as the moral compass, this decision reminds me that Locke has a deep-seated sense of fairness – in spite of his bluster at times, and ignoring his attitudes to other people’s wealth and possessions. And the more I think about it, the more I recall that he’s technically a priest. Heresy or not, I think he takes his obligations more seriously than I give him credit for.


4) “I just have to keep you here… until Jean shows up.” Locke gets his chance at revenge after all… Thoughts on this final showdown?

Aw, look. I really like that Locke can’t handle the Grey King and gets his ass handed to him. He’s all adrenalin and bravado, and it’s simply not enough. But we’ve already seen that Locke has an amazing capacity for absorbing punishment. He’s just bloody-minded stubborn, and combined with the art of improvisation that’s a survival skill in itself. I still spend the whole scene expecting Jean to limp in and save the day (perhaps with a thrown axe; he’s in no state for a fight).

The thing that struck me this time, though, was unexpected respect for the Grey King. Yes, he has lost his sisters. Yes, his plan to exterminate the nobility has been thwarted. Yes, his escape route – and his fortune – have gone up in smoke (but hey, he never expected to keep that money – it was always going to Karthain); but he could have called his garristas to him and simply overwhelmed the Gentleman Bastards. He knows there are only two of them left; he doesn’t know what state Jean is in – but he has enough gangs at his beck and call to deal with them regardless.

Instead, he decides to handle them himself. I think this is partly his desire for vengeance – I assume the Falconer told him that they were responsible for his sisters’ deaths, and he certainly thinks they’ve killed the Falconer. Is it also hubris? A death wish? A grim nihilism in the face of a shattered dream?

It’s entirely unclear what he would have done next if he’d been victorious. Would he have vanished from Camorr and rebuilt his life as a pirate? Would he have started plotting a new downfall for the Duke and the Spider? We’ll never know.

But I like him a bit better for his convenient stupidity.


Favourite moment this week: this week is more small touches than one big moment. I love the respect (and the distrust and the distaste) between the Spider and the Thorn. I love that both Locke and Reynart share my fear of heights (uurrrgghh Raven’s Reach). I love the henpecking the physiker repeatedly treats Jean and Locke to. I love that moment that Locke sets his sights on the Meraggio’s clothing. And I love that moment when Vorchenza realises what Locke has done with all the money. It’s beautiful, and I love her and Stephen just a little bit more because they sort of respect it. I do hope we get to revisit Camorr before the series is over. I would love to see what she forges the Salvaras into.


Take a tour of our responses to this final week:


It’s been one hell of a ride. I lost my heart to Bug (or Bertilion, as we should call him) and was transported by the antics of his brethren as I always am. These books aren’t without their flaws, but I appreciate that – other than two suggestions of gender-based expectation (Barsavi’s heir; the identity of the Spider) – the society of Camorr appears remarkably egalitarian. Every time there’s a reference that would in most fantasy novels be to some men, here it’s always explicitly to men and women: the blackjackets, the crew of the Satisfaction, the Right People, the merchants of Camorr. The sex workers are in control of their own destiny. The Countess Amberglass can name her heirs. Lorenzo Salvara is deeply in love with his wife, but she never defers to him (nor does he expect her to – nor does Stephen Reynart stop her from helping them carry a stupidly dangerous incendiary device up to the roof of Raven’s Reach on the basis of either her gender or her social status). Honestly, if Bug (or one of the twins) had been a girl, it would be pretty much perfect. But I know the future has some amazing female characters in store. And one day, we will get to see Sabetha.


Want to get in on the action? We’ve finished our sojourn in Camorr, but if you make a trip in future feel free to drop by and add your thoughts on the topics in the comments! In the meantime, we’re packing our bags for Tal Verrar…


Discussion schedule for Red Seas Under Red Skies:

  • 5th May Chapters 1-3
  • 12th May Chapters 4-6
  • 19th May Chapters 7-10
  • 2nd Jun Chapters 11-13
  • 9th Jun Book 3 & Epilogue


Previous discussions of The Lies of Locke Lamora: