Scott Lynch’s debut novel, The Lies of Locke Lamora, has become something of an icon in the modern fantasy lexicon. I presume everyone reading this post has read at least Lies, and hopefully its sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies as well. I also hope those same readers are chomping at the bit to read Republic of Thieves later this year. If not, let me illuminate. The Gentleman Bastards series is a buddy heist/con novel with a big river of violence and inequality that resonates throughout it. Is it a literary exploration of any particular theme? God no. It’s mostly a raucous good time and I think that’s reflected in the list below with the exception of one of my choices that offers a deeper look at some of the meatier elements Lynch only touches on.
Without further ado….
If you liked The Gentleman Bastards then you might really like:
Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
Yet it’s an entirely distinct novel in its own right with a more mature approach to character, really cool thieves’ cant, and some showing off by Hulick, who is a trained swordsman. This is, above all, the novel that has to be read for those who salivate for more of The Gentleman Bastards.
The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubenstein
Non-fiction! Julian Rubenstein’s Ballad of the Whiskey Robber is an improbably true story of a gentleman thief named Attila Ambrus. He’s a goalie for the biggest hockey team in Budapest, who takes up bank robbery to make ends meet. Arrayed against him are the most incompetent team of crime investigators the Eastern Bloc has ever seen: a robbery chief who’s learned how to be a detective by watching dubbed Columbo episodes; a forensics man who wears top hat and tails on the job; and a driver so inept he’s known only by a Hungarian word that translates to Mound of Ass-Head. And it’s all true.
Like Lynch’s series, Whiskey Robber features a main character who… well… just read this. If that doesn’t sound a little like Locke Lamora I don’t know what does. Along with that, Rubenstein does a phenomenal job of capturing the nature of crime, the unfortunate circumstances that lead one down its path, and the resonance of a subversive criminal in an unequal society.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
If I’m ranking my favorite novels of all-time, I suspect this Dumas novel would rank in the top ten. Given the kind of novels Lynch writes, I would imagine he’s a fan of it as well. Falsely accused of treason, the young sailor Edmond Dantès is arrested on his wedding day and imprisoned in the island fortress of the Château d’If. Having endured years of incarceration, he stages a daring and dramatic escape and sets out to discover the treasure of Monte Cristo and take vengeance on his enemies.
Admittedly, Chains is a fare more cuddly figure that Fagin, but there is some similarity between the two stories. Dickens surrounds the novel’s serious themes with sarcasm and dark humor, which Lynch does to a lesser degree. Not to mention, are you going to tell me you didn’t finish Lies of Locke Lamora and immediately say, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
Of all the novels listed thus far, this is likely to be the most challenging for readers. Oliver Twist is more archaic and slow, without the action of genre fiction, and only tangentially connected to Lynch’s work, but Quantum Thief is a whole other world of fiction. It’s science fictionally dense. What the hell does that mean? It means lots of undefined neologisms, abstract concepts in brief phrases, and a boatload of plot compacted into a sub-300 page novel. It’s genre fiction for the genre die hard. This is probably the least likely novel to ever recommend to someone who says, “I’d like to try this SFF thing.”
All that aside, the caper nature Gentleman Bastards caper is on full display in Ranajiami’s post-human criminal protagonist Jean le Flambeur. Flambeur, meaning gambler in English, executes a flawless bait and switch heist with the law right on his tail. In a nice change of pace, Ranajiemi also delves into the other side of the law, writing half the novel from the point of view of investigator Isidore Beautrelet that lends the novel an edgy noir flare. I admit Quantum Thief may be a stretch for fans of Lynch, but those that invest the time and brow furrowing required to finish it, and appreciate it, will find themselves rewarded.