Scott Lynch's "Locke Lamora" Novels

One of my regular laments is that the genre of Sword & Sorcery has withered in recent years. This genre, which predates Tolkien's High Fantasy, grew out of some turn-of-the-last-century stories "set in exotic locations" and therefore mixing physical adventure with dark powers. By the time of the Great Depression, it has blossomed into its most famous flowering: the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard, which were only a small part of a whole world and deep history of his imagination. About the same time, the other great master of the genre began crafting the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories. The genre was related to another offshoot of the earlier tales, the Horror genre characterized by Cthulhu; but in Sword & Sorcery stories, the heroes could overcome eldritch beasts through steel, wit, and courage.

Sword & Sorcery lacks most of the moral force of the Tolkien's High Fantasy, but it is in a sense more joyous and primal. It is that quality that, sadly, is lacking in the works of Scott Lynch, the first writer I've run into in a while to attempt it. His stories are almost entirely lacking in the joy that gave Fafhrd 'the laugh of the Elder Gods,' or the primal confidence that gave Conan the ferocity to contest demons with cold steel. I read Lynch's three books, hoping he might discover the power of the thing as he played with it; I am sorry to say that he did not.

Lynch's cities are well-drawn, and he has a place for eldritch magic that somehow comes to play little role beyond providing interesting architecture. His heroes are riddled with guilt and loathing, of themselves if they are male. Lynch is of the current fashion that has wholeheartedly adopted feminism as moral truth; female characters are invariably confident and accomplished in a way that his men never are, and yet retain adequate bitter loathing to lecture at length -- whole pages at a time in the third book -- on how unfair the world is to their sex. The books are blurbed by George R. R. Martin, and for good reason: they share his penchant for killing off sympathetic characters in horrible ways, but to no real point.

As a consequence the books are a slog to read rather than a pleasure, and I am sure I will not return to them the way I have to the classics of the genre. I am planning to give the whole set away in the hope that someone else may like them better.


raven said...

There has been a whole field of battle between the sjw types who have managed to take over a lot of fantasy, and the old school. See the "sad puppies".

Lieber was a great, but his later Fafhrd and Mouser writing sort of spun out on psycho-sexual weirdness. I had to warn someone with a youngster to be careful which volumes they provided to read.

Tom said...

Glenn Cook's Black Company series, especially the first three books, are excellent sword-and-sorcery / military fantasy and have a certain grim joy about them.

Cook was a corpsman with a Marine Force Recon unit and saw combat in Vietnam. The books show some clear influence from that.

The Black Company is a band of mercenaries with a certain pragmatic sense of honor and a very high sense of professional pride.

Tom said...

A good tongue-in-cheek send up of the sword & sorcery genre is L. Sprague de Camp & Fletcher Pratt's "Complete Enchanter" series. It also plays around with post-modernism / post-structuralism as a form of enchanting that allows the characters to move between different literary worlds.

By the way, thanks for the warning about Lynch.

Texan99 said...

I've been enjoying John Ringo's "Thor" and "Looking Glass" sci-fi series. In recent decades I've noticed I've lost all patience with authors who are either depressed or humorless. I want my protagonists to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and think of something constructive to do. No wimping out, no freezing in the headlights, and no deadening of the whole heart because, gosh darn it, life's just too painful.

I'm really enjoying the Walt Longmire series, too.

Grim said...


You're right that Leiber's later stories are sexual in a different way from the earlier stories. The earlier ones are hardly asexual -- there are frequently beautiful women for the dashing heroes to woo, or lose fortunes to, etc. In the later stories, there's no real sex anymore, and yet everything is inflected with sexuality. I always put that down to Leiber's old age, in which it may be that the real world took a similar turn for him: an end to the experience of real sex, and the consequent consciousness of sexual longing everywhere else. (Perhaps it is significant that his name, in German, means "Lover"?)

One of those later stories involves and interesting reading of Odin and Loki, for those interested in Norse mythology.

Grim said...


As you may know, L. Sprague de Camp edited what may well have been the first attempt to put the Conan stories into a coherent format. Howard had published them as separate publications in short story magazines, plus one book-length piece, plus some unpublished stuff at the time of his death. De Camp also wrote some additional stories in that line to flesh out the timeline, along with Lin Carter (the latter being an Army infantry vet during Korea).

Robert Jordan, another one of the famous writers of our period, also wrote some Conan pastiches. It's an amusing exercise to compare Howard's Conan with those who have tried to write for him.

Grim said...


In recent decades I've noticed I've lost all patience with authors who are either depressed or humorless.

You and I agree completely here.

Anonymous said...

I really liked Peter Grant's look at an aging warrior and how cunning can make up for chronology. _King's Champion_ is the title. Very much sword-and-sorcery, with a few aches and pains tossed in. The old warrior is less of a bold warrior but still a warrior to his core.

Full disclosure: Peter is a good friend of mine and I got to beta-read part of the book.


Ymarsakar said...

The world is already more Middle Earth than Tolkien's fiction. The supernatural powers that are being wielded and witnessed, is already far more than science fiction, fantasy, and Tolkien added together.

So humanity is more than ready to take the next step, which is not stepping back into the illusion of fiction or science fiction.

Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is even more entertaining.

I detect that humanity has certain lost memories from previous existences or ancestral memories of their ancestors participating in the war of the gods era. They like Tolkien because he recreated certain artifacts and eras based on historical legends and oral histories. Even the Ring of One Power, was something Solomon had.

Grim said...

Thanks for the advice, LR1. That you know the author only improves the recommendation.

J Melcher said...

Sword and Sorcery seems to include the Edgar Rice Burroughs tales of John Carter's Barsoom and David Innes's Pellucidar. Homage to Burroughs, if not Tolkien and Howard, shows up in the Lin Carter books featuring "Jandar of Callisto"

The first two or three of John Norman's "Gor" books are tolerable and about as far from sexually politically correct as possible before the series crosses into weirdness.

On the other end of the tolerable spectrum (still tolerable, but teetering the other way) are Patricia Wrede's Lyra novels.

Oh dear, I think I am betraying my age...