Being late to a party doesn’t mean the party isn’t still fun. I stumbled onto Scott Lynch’s novelette while perusing the last decade of Locus and Hugo nominees (2015), and I pounded the table after reading it. This should be considered a modern classic! It’s one of the finest examples of the fantasy novelette genre, and will stay with readers for a long time. Lynch’s gorgeous writing, which created a cinematic experience for me as the reader, got me wondering how someone from Hollywood might evaluate it.
Setting and special effects: From the opening lines, Lynch sets the scene with battling wizards at work in the skies above Theradane, where the main character walks dreary streets, passing statues of outlaws, her former friends, who whisper at passersby. Plaques describe their crimes and eternal imprisonment. The main character has some connection with them. From there, she enters a tavern carved out of the inside of a dragon where libationarians create masterful cocktails from 10,000 bottles of liquor on the wall. Each cocktail contains images inside and has a fancy name like rise and fall of empires. Later, a wizard’s door grows hands that reach out and grab the character, leaving no trace of passage after, and hypnotic toads inhabit the wizard’s garden.
It’s a visual feast, but recreating such spectacles would require serious money.
Characters: The main character is saucy, literally getting drunk off fancy cocktails during a card game populated by the finest former criminals. After a gargoyle drops on their card from a skylight (collateral damage from the wizard’s war) she goes straight to the Wizard’s house and berates her, thus violating the terms of her sanctuary and indebting herself to the wizard. A brilliant, retired thief capable of stealing shark’s tears, the wizard tasks her with stealing an entire street, the loci of another wizard’s power.
There’s also an automaton named Shrapnel.
The characters are essentially the fantasy equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven. The fun, witty friends you wish you had.
Plot: It’s an impossible heist. Stealing a road requires the characters to consider whether stealing it metaphorically through title and deed or brick by brick will fulfill the mandate of the wizard, and Lynch does a fantastic job keeping the reader at bay–we don’t know the plan of the heist, but we see its details unfold. That’s a classic heist move and staple of the genre. It’s fun, and dark, and there are possibilities for countless sequels.
Verdict: Please, someone, make this into a movie. Make it gorgeous and fully-realized and don’t screw it up.
Categories: Book Reviews