This whole readalong experience has been awesome :) Thanks to everyone who’s followed and commented, and I hope I get the time to keep up with all the interesting new blogs I’ve found!
1. The Thorn of Camorr is renowned – he can beat anyone in a fight and he steals from the rich to give to the poor. Except of course that clearly most of the myths surrounding him are based on fantasy and not fact. Now that the book is finished how do you feel the man himself compares to his legend? Did you feel that he changed as the story progressed and, if so, how did this make you feel about him by the time the conclusion was reached?
How does any human being compare to their reputation? Usually, they have rather more in the way of flaws, quirks, irritating personal qualities and general ungainliness. Locke is a fictional character and therefore is rather more likeable than most average people – it’d be hard to capture readers if he was a git – but over the course of the story there’s been a clear development in him. He’s lost a lot of the support he took for granted and has had to think on his feet and make the most of the friends and the talents he does have; he’s also achieved his goal of revenge on the Grey King, which leaves him a saturnine confidence trickster without a city to scam. I felt we were seeing the earlier part of the classic hero’s journey in this book – from a big fish in a small pond, a complacent talent content to live for the present, to a man with some dangerous enemies (in the shape of the bondsmagi) and an uncertain future, but nevertheless a tight-knit circle of friends and consummate skill.
2. Scott Lynch certainly likes to give his leading ladies some entertaining and strong roles to play. We have the Berangia sisters – and I definitely wouldn’t like to get on the wrong side of them or their blades plus Dona Vorchenza who is the Spider and played a very cool character – even play acting to catch the Thorn. How did you feel about the treatment the sisters and Dona received at the hands of Jean and Locke – were you surprised, did it seem out of character at all or justified?
Gender in fantasy is something I’m very interested in, and I liked the way Lynch did women. I thought that Lynch was very even-handed in his handling of the Berangias sisters and the Spider – they’re women playing a serious game, and he doesn’t let them get away without the same consequences his male characters would face. Maybe it’s just my age and the old-fashioned microculture in which I grew up, but I find that a hell of a lot of fantasy characterisations of women are informed by a very princess-culture unwillingness to be too nasty to them – which makes for some supremely annoying Mary Sue heroines who get away with murder in every chapter and somehow never really get kicked in the teeth by their own mistakes. In Lynch’s writing, if you play a dangerous game you face dangerous situations, whoever you are. Locke and Jean don’t underestimate their adversaries because of their gender, and consequently they don’t cut them any slack that could be used to gain an advantage. Good stuff.
3. Towards the end we saw a little more of the magic and the history of the Bondsmagi. The magic, particularly with the use of true names, reminds me a little of old fashioned witchcraft or even voodoo. But, more than that I was fascinated after reading the interlude headed ‘The Throne in Ashes’ about the Elderglass and the Elders and why their structures were able to survive even against the full might of the Bondsmagi – do you have any theories about this do you think it’s based on one of our ancient civilisations or maybe similar to a myth?
I think it’s “sufficiently advanced technology”, to be honest. There doesn’t need to be a reason; it’s an eternal mystery which lends contrast to the impermanence of the cities built by men. I see a lot of contemplation of questions about power in this book, especially as it relates to information and how evanescent power can be when it turns upon a secret; the Elderglass structures are both secrets impenetrable to the mind of man, and forces of nature in the same sense as a mountain – immovable, inscrutable and unmved by human affairs. Which is entirely fitting with the theme of power relating to the fragility of your secret.
The use of true names in magic is very ancient if I remember rightly (which I likely don’t) – I wasn’t surprised to see that turn up, but I did like the use of cat’s-cradle threads in a binding and control spell. It reminded me of a piece of Tibetan folk magic I once saw in a documentary, where the priest-practitioner bound a slip of paper containing some form of powerful words with many turns of a coloured thread to seal in and concentrate its perceived magic.
4. We have previously discussed Scott Lynch’s use of description and whether it’s too much or just spot on. Having got into the last quarter of the book where the level of tension was seriously cranked up – did you still find, the breaks for interludes and the descriptions useful or, under the circumstances did it feel more like a distraction?
I found it very well balanced, personally. The interludes were always relevant to the culture and background of the world, but there was a clear conceptual distinction between the lessons in Camorri history and the main plot. That created enough of a distance between the two that I never felt the main action was being held up by unwieldy exposition.
5. Now that the book has finished how did you feel about the conclusion and the eventual reveal about the Grey King and more to the point the motivations he declared for such revenge – does it seem credible, were you expecting much worse or something completely different altogether?
It’s… very fantasy. It was nothing I didn’t expect for the genre, but that’s not to say I found it hackneyed; it gave me a wonderful sense of neatness, of the tidying up of all the existing loose ends. I really found the plotting in this book to be good, solid, user-friendly workmanship; it wasn’t that I couldn’t see what was coming, it was that I liked the story so much I didn’t mind. Lynch may not be China Mieville (as I’ve said before about other writers, who is) but he takes the tools of his genre and uses them to give his readers a damn good time. And I’ve always got a soft spot for being treated well :)
As for the world-specific stuff – the conceit that all Camorri are vengeful, grudge-holding schemers is not one I find instinctively engaging but it’s clearly enough signposted in the book that the eventual resolution made concrete sense to me. And by that point, we’d also seen Locke lose enough and take enough punishment at the Grey King’s hands that I at least genuinely cared about getting to see him strike a blow for Bug, the Galo brothers and himself. It worked because it was thoughtfully, precisely and solidly constructed.
6. Were you surprised that Locke, being given two possible choices (one of which could possibly mean he would miss his chance for revenge on the Grey King) chose to go back to the Tower – especially given that (1) he would have difficulty in getting into the building (2) he would have difficulty in convincing them about the situation and (3) he would have difficulty in remaining free afterwards? Did anyone else nearly pee their pants when Locke and the rest were carrying the sculptures up to the roof garden?
No, I wasn’t surprised by that choice. As I said in one of my earlier posts, writing rogue characters is plagued by the problem of making them sympathetic, and I’ve thought throughout that in terms of his basic morality, Locke is actually a nice guy. He’s on the side of light. He’s a priest, and we’ve seen him pause for reflection about the spiritual consequences of his life several times; he still isn’t a cold-blooded murderer; he still uses trickery instead of violence even though he now has the means (in Jean) to use force first if he likes. Of course, he’s also a twisted and manipulative bastard, and he doesn’t just go into the Tower cold and end up in chains – he goes in there and scams the very people he’s helping, in the name of making the grandest gesture possible for his fallen comrades. He’s still playing the system for everything he’s worth – but by this point, you’re so delighted by his cheek and so invested in the story of those comrades and the love Locke has for them that you’re already cheering him on.
I didn’t think the sculptures were going to blow up that close to the end of the book, but I will say that I didn’t see the ship trick coming – this being exactly what I mean about Lynch’s watertight plotting. Nothing is a loose end, even when there’s a hell of a lot going on. It’s incredibly satisfying to see all those questions resolve – and he always manages to find a way to link it all back to Locke as well. Glorious.
7. Finally, the other question I would chuck in here is that, following the end of the book I was intrigued to check out some of the reviews of LOLL and noticed that the negative reviews mentioned the use of profanity. How did you feel about this – was it excessive? Just enough? Not enough?
Pfft. I think people who complain about swearing in fantasy novels are uptight. The genre has moved on and expanded a lot since Tolkein, and people who still expect the entire field of fantasy writing to be squeaky-clean sword’n’sorcery are a bit like the guy who complained on Bioware’s forum about Dragon Age Origins offering gay romance options, based on the fact that he (as a straight male) was their “main demographic”. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy; I’m sure there are people out there who like their clean, ethical escapism, but there are also plenty of us who like it a bit grubby and real. Out of the ungainly monsters of cross-fertilisation comes hybrid vigour and future growth, and to be honest I think I must have missed the ugly-mutant phase of the realist era of fantasy literature, because this book sure as hell is not awkward in any sense of the word.
I didn’t think the profanity was excessive at all; again, very well balanced. Lynch has excellent taste, and knowing when to switch the propriety off for the sake of creating the right kind of chiaroscuro (oo, pretentious) is just having a wider sense of what’s appropriate.
8. Okay one further, and probably most important but very quick question – having finished, will you pick up the sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies?
I’m on a pretty tight budget right now and all my book purchases have to be second hand, but if I come across a copy I may very well pick it up :)