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Friday, March 30, 2012

If you liked... The Gentlemen Bastards

My goal is to recommend books for fans of a larger book franchise. For example, if you liked The Wheel of Time, you might also really like Raymond Feist's Riftwar Saga. Easy enough, right? Except I'm going to try to be less obvious than that. I fully expect half of the people reading this post to say, 'no shit dude I read that like 10 years ago!' To you I say, you're right. Most of this stuff will be widely read, but I hope not all of it. I also hope to recommend things outside of genre that will appeal to fans. We'll have to wait and see. Hopefully, this post, and others like it, will turn people on to things they've never heard of, or never considered reading.


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

I'm starting recent and obvious, but I do so with a reason. It's because I can't imagine anyone enjoying Lynch and not doing the same with Douglas Hulick. That is unless first person narrators are a non-starter. Hulick's protagonist, and narrator, is Drothe, a criminal information broker. His best friend, Bronze Degan, is a master swordsman. They have light hearted conversations, they have deep conversations, they have conversations in the midst of fighting, spying, and flirting. And they do it all in a city not dissimilar from the Venetian style of Lynch's Camorr. A man against the world mentality and a stark separation between the haves and have nots, fits Among Thieves right into Lynch's niche on bookshelves around the world.

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.

Fans of Gentleman Bastards will find a lot of similar motivation between Locke and Dantès: revenge for those who wronged him, a love for a woman he cannot have, and a certainty of purpose. Likewise, once  Dantès becomes the Count of Monte Cristo, the story is one big con, full of disguises and bluffs. Not as swashbuckling as some of his other work, Dumas still manages to include plenty of action and adventure in this psychological thriller.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Say what, Justin?! Charles Dickens is probably the further thing from anyone's mind when imaging this post. But, put aside the action and adventure of Lynch and consider who Locke is and where he comes from. A little boy, orphaned, rejected by society, and alone. Taken in by the Thieftaker, and later Chains, Locke is forced to survive by any means necessary. Sounds familiar?

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."

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Ranajiemi

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.



At March 30, 2012 at 11:53 AM , Blogger Stefan Fergus said...

Hm. Interesting choices...
[I didn't really like Quantum Thief.]

At March 30, 2012 at 12:31 PM , Anonymous the-hound said...

I have read all of these except 'Whiskey Robber' - to the bookmobile!

At March 30, 2012 at 12:40 PM , Blogger Justin said...

I challenge you to a duel!! I can see why people don't like it. I loved it.

At March 30, 2012 at 1:01 PM , Blogger Kathleen said...

great list! not at all what I was expecting.
The Quantum Thief is an inspired rec. I loved that book.

At March 30, 2012 at 1:09 PM , Blogger Cursed Armada said...

I really like this idea for a post! I'm reading the mistborn trilogy right now and it's reminding me of Scott Lynch. I'm a sucker for rogue/thief characters.

At March 30, 2012 at 1:13 PM , Blogger Justin said...

The first book is very much in the Lynch mold. Buuuuut, books two and three go way off in another direction.

At March 30, 2012 at 1:38 PM , Blogger The Little Lost Ghost said...

The eli monpress books by rachel aaron are wonderful little tales of a swashbuckling band of thieves. It also has a wonderful and original magic system

At March 30, 2012 at 2:23 PM , Blogger Stefan Fergus said...

Choose your weapon, sir! ;p
To be fair to Ranajiemi, there was a lot to like, but I'm not the biggest fan of hard sci-fi, so a lot of it just went over my head and I got lost.

At March 30, 2012 at 3:53 PM , Anonymous Kristen said...

Oh, fun! I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora. I've been wanting to read both Among Thieves and The Quantum Thief too so I guess I should get on reading those.

At March 30, 2012 at 11:56 PM , Blogger Ken said...

Interesting choices. I loved Among Thieves but not so much with Quantum Thief.

At March 31, 2012 at 7:33 AM , Blogger Redhead said...

great post!! Write more of these!

Why haven't I read that Hulick yet? off to the library's website with me! I want to read the Whiskey Robber book and the first Eli Monpress (it just sounds fun!) book too.

And sadly, of that entire list, the only one I've read is The Count of Monte Cristo, which for a classic, is eminently readable and accessible. A few years ago a copy got passed around an office I worked in, like 8 of us read it over the course of a year.

At March 31, 2012 at 1:27 PM , Blogger Bryce L. said...

Big fan of these posts. Count of Monte Cristo is one of my all-time favorites if not taking the top position. I still need to read Among Thieves, but I don't know about Dickens, I'm too much uncultured swine for that. :)

At April 1, 2012 at 2:14 PM , Blogger The Little Lost Ghost said...

Don't feel intimidated by dickens' reputation. He is in reality highly accesible and enormously entertaining. Remember that he wrote for everyone not just english-lit undergrads


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