Often described as Ocean's ElevenONLY FANTASY, this series centers around a Magnificent Bastard thief who goes by Locke Lamora and his companion(s), set in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Venice. Originally picked up by a Fagin-equivalent known as Thiefmaker as an addition to his string, Locke quickly makes it impossible for the Thiefmaker to keep him through a series of over-the-top moves, resulting in his sale to Father Chains, ostensibly a beggar-priest but in reality a gifted con artist.As he grows and learns, Locke finds himself contending with the rise of the Grey King, who begins trying to overthrow the established orders of thieves in the city. And so he finds himself in an ever-expanding ring of trouble...Seven books are planned, of which the first two have been released:
Action Girl - Zamira, Ezri, Merrain, and the Berengias sisters. And Selendri, since she used to be an Eye.
Adaptation Distillation: Not yet in film or television, but a lot of artists and illustrators depict Locke as a blond or Ezri as a White and fair-haired woman. Camorri were said to resemble Modern Italians, Locke's disguise as Lukas Fehrwight with a blond wig changed his appearance enough to be unrecognizable, and the home places of Ezri (described with dark curly hair) and Zamira (dark brown, almost Black skinned) are said to resemble India.
Alliterative Name - Locke, obviously. Also Dona Sofia Salvara and one of the Gentlemen Bastards's aliases.
Anachronic Order - The chapter where Locke masquerades as a midnighter who tells the Salvaras about his Spanish Prisoner gambit is told this way. The beginning of the conversation is told from Don Lorenzo's perspective, without revealing to the reader who the midnighter really is. This is followed by a description of Locke dressing up as a midnighter, and we see the rest of the conversation from Locke's perspective. Then we see how Calo and Locke broke into the Salvara's manor to surprise the Don in the first place.
Anti-Hero - Jean and Locke are somewhere between Type III and Type IV most of the time; they're far from altruistic, but they're motivated partly by a desire to humiliate the rich and powerful, and they care deeply for each other and their friends and loved ones.
Aristocrats Are Evil - Of the aristocrats and oligarchs present in the books thus far, the vast majority take Moral Myopia to an art form, feel no compassion or empathy for the lives of commoners except for those in their employ, and live in decadence that would put Versailles to shame. Don and Dona Salvara appear to be among the few exceptions, and even they aren't necessarily philanthropists.
Badass Army: While the Bondmages aren't technically an army but more of a guild they still count as there is literally no one who will cross them EVER. They have a monoply on practicing magic and given how rare it is, it makes them unstoppable and able to charge exorbitant amounts of money for brief stints of service. How exorbitant? 500 crowns gets you a day with a novice mage with more experienced ones costing significantly more, this in a world where 40,000 crowns is considered enough to buy a small country.
Big Bad Friend - Jean pretends to become one of these in the prologue of the second book.
Bittersweet Ending - Both books, so far. Book one ends with more than half of the Gentleman Bastards dead, (excluding Sabetha, who never appears in person,) book two ends with Locke being poisoned and Jean having lost the lady he loved.
Locke: So this is winning?
Locke: It can go fuck itself.
Black and Gray Morality - Ubiquitous. There are no true heroes in the world of the series so far. In other stories, figures like Requin and Capa Barsavi would be monstrous Big Bad types who'd thoroughly crossed the Moral Event Horizon. Here, they're both indispensable and powerful fixtures of their respective cities' underworld and crucial to local stability.
Boxed Crook - Locke and Jean are subjected to this by the archon.
Brains and Brawn - Locke and Jean respectively. Jean actually has the better formal education of the two but Locke is clearly the planner.
Carrying the Antidote - Though he only carried enough for one. Also mildly averted in the first book where The Spider poisons Locke and offers him the antidote only if he helps her. He punches her and loots the antidote from her unconscious body.
Combat Pragmatist - Locke, not being a Big Guy (like Jean) or a highly-trained martial artist (like Jean) is arguably the dirtiest fighter in the books thus far. Hell, in the first book, he punches out The Spider. Why is this notable? She's an octogenarian! This even grants him a Fake Ultimate Hero status after some lucky kills.
Crapsack World - Camorr is the worst presented so far, a true den of iniquity (the name reminding of Camorra, the mafia like crime organization in Naples) but the whole of the setting is remarkably corrupt. Life is cheap, the authorities are almost universally callous, poverty, disease and suffering are rampant, theft has a religion that encourages the continuance of crime...and it's the only one even demanding the rich be checked in any way. Even being rich does not guarantee your safety, banditry and piracy are just around the corner and in a stroke of bad luck everything can be lost.
Cultured Badass: Jean. Axe-fighter, highly trained martial artist and built like a bull. Spends a couple of pages debating the merits and flaws of Therin-era playwrights and reads romantic poetry in his spare time.
The Falconer deserves a special mention though, especially on the deadpan part.
Disappeared Dad - Locke mentions that while his mother is dead, his father just went away.
Disproportionate Retribution - The Bondsmagi are a living incarnation of this trope. They burned an empire to the ground just to make a point. Now they're coming after Locke and Jean.
The Grey King also falls under this trope. Capa Barsavi murdered his parents and half of his siblings, over a disagreement about the Secret Peace that protected the city's nobles from thievery. The Grey King's idea of revenge is to not just kill Barsavi and his entire family, but to give all the noble families (including their children, born years after his family was killed) who benefitted from Barsavi's Secret Peace a Fate Worse Than Death.
Dual Wielding - Zamira Drakasha does this with sabres. As does Jean with the Wicked Sisters.
Empty Shell - What happens when a human or animal is Gentled.
Even Evil Has Loved Ones - Plenty of this goes on. Capa Barsavi is a murderously ruthless mob boss, but the reader is invited to sympathize with his suffering at Nazca's murder; Requin clearly cares a great deal for Selendri and his Roaring Rampage of Revenge was suitably brutal, and the Gray King's entire motivation stemmed from trauma for the unjust slaughter of his entire family by the nobility of Camorr.
Even Evil Has Standards - The thieves of Camorr will respect agreements with their leaders, and not harm or steal from those who have paid for protection. The process of "Gentling," basically a sort of chemically-induced lobotomy, is considered too cruel to use for punishment, even in a city where child thieves are routinely hanged. Locke Lamora ends up saving his worst enemies and their children from this fate at one point, because some things are just wrong!
Although Locke justifies it to save his Con Man reputation by saying that he just wants to foil The Gray King's plans, no matter what they are.
And The Thiefmaker may well kill a disobedient orphan, but absolutely will not sell a child to slavers, not for any amount of money. And when he does kill, he always makes the correct offering to the gods for the act.
In the second book, the Bastards trash the demi-city of Salon Corbeau because they're disgusted at the pleasures offered there for the decadent wealthy.
The Fagin - Locke encounters both versions as a child. The first criminal who took him in, the Thiefmaker, was more of the evil version, but he ends up selling Locke to Father Chains, who is very clearly inspired by the positive takes on Fagin.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture - Camorr/Venice most obviously, but there is a rough counterpart to all of the cultures in the books. Kingdom of the Seven Marrows is based on the South German / Austrian lands of the Holy Roman Empire. Tal Verrar is also based on Venice, as a multi-island realm whose power lies in the fleet. Jerem has a few references to pre-industrial India. The defunct Therin Empire is hinted to be a sort of Roman Empire.
Flynning - The sword master that teaches Jean explains that this is all he teaches the rich kids.
Locke also tries this while fencing against The Gray King, who is a master swordsman. It goes predictably poorly.
Foreshadowing - In the chapter where we first learn that the Grey King is a real danger who can kill as he pleases, sorcery is mentioned three separate times, twice even as an offhand explanation for his capabilities that the characters don't follow up on.
Gambit Pileup - Locke might have done this to himself in the second book.
Gender Is No Object - There are plenty of female pirates, thieves, bouncers, soldiers, and sailors. In fact, the tradition of the Twelve Gods requires at least one woman per ship, preferably an officer.
Gilligan Cut - In a way. When Locke first meets the Falconer, the book cuts to a short flashback chapter were Chains infodumps Locke (and the reader) about Bondsmagi. He concludes with the following warning:
Chains: "Sorcery's impressive enough, but it's their fucking attitude that makes them such a pain. And that's why, when you find yourself face to face with one, you bow and scrape and mind your 'sirs' and 'madams'." (chapter break) Locke: "Nice bird, asshole."
Go-to Alias - Locke and Jean have had a lot of aliases in their time... but when pressed for an identity on short notice, they can always fall back on Tavrin Callas. (This is sort of a prank on their part; the first time Jean used that name, he was infiltrating the cult of the death goddess and faked his own suicide. They figure if anyone traces the name far enough back, the followers of the death goddess can declare it a miracle.)
Though it likely won't be fatal, Locke's move at the end of book two could also count. At the very least, he intends it to be a heroic sacrifice.
Heterosexual Life Partners - Locke and Jean, very, very much so, down to repeatedly risking their lives to save each other, attempting to sacrifice their lives for each other, or attempting to leave the other in order to protect him (which the other staunchly refuses to allow.)
At the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies, they argue vociferously over who gets the single vial of antidote, each insisting the other should have it, until Jean announces he's going to physically restrain Locke and force him to drink it - at which point Locke reveals he already slipped it into Jean's wine.
Their sole attempt at a major life plan involves buying a pair of aristocratic titles and retiring to neighboring estates. In fact, the end of Red Seas Under Red Skies sees them sail off on a yacht together with no real plans other than to idle around.
There's also Locke's fit of jealousy when Jean gets interested in Ezri and starts spending time with her, although he eventually concedes that she can come along with them.
I Know You Know I Know - The Gentlemen Bastards engineer a level 3 situation of this on the Salvaras on purpose, so they don't have to bother keeping up the much more complex level 1 deception.
Locke even remarks that it's amusing how the Salvaras make ambiguous comments in their belief of being on the superior level of two.
I Know Your True Name - If they know your true name (even a fragment) the Bondsmagi can control you. This backfires on the Falconer when Locke reveals that his entire name is assumed.
In Medias Res - Red Seas starts with Locke and Jean already deep into their plan to cheat their way up into Requin's office.
Indy Ploy: Locke tries to pull off elaborate schemes, but he frequently ends up desperately improvising.
And it tends to work out rather well for him.
Insult to Rocks - "To say that he was an intemperate, murderous lunatic would wound the feelings of most intemperate, murderous lunatics."
Just Like Robin Hood - The Thorn Of Camorr. Notably subverted, though; even he points out (in another guise) that he's not donating money to the poor; he considers the act of stealing from the rich action enough against them. Actually, he and his band kept their vast stolen fortune in a private vault and had no idea what to do with it.
Kansas City Shuffle - The Salvara game is this. The Salvaras now damn well that Locke is trying to con them. What they don't know is that the man who told them about that, and convinced them to play along, was Locke himself in a different disguise.
Oh My Gods! - "Twelve Gods!" for most people, while Locke and other disreputable characters usually include the god of thieves in the pantheon, making it "Thirteen Gods!" (or "Crooked Warden!" if they're referring to him in particular).
Out-Gambitted - During the climax of Red Seas, this happens to the Priori when they try to kill Locke after he helped them get rid of Stragos
Locke: "You amateur double-crossers. You make us professionals cringe. [...] I saw this coming about a hundred miles away."
Scary Shiny Glasses - Requin has a pair in Red Seas Under Red Skies, but they've been alchemized so they don't just reflect light, they permanently glow orange. And they fit him, too.
Schedule Slip - The third book was originally due out in autumn of 2009, and has now been pushed back to March 2012.
Schizo Tech - The world lacks explosive weapons or combustion machinery and printing presses are a rare and expensive invention, yet ships are at least 17th century level of sophistication, clockwork machinery and navigational instruments rival late 18th - early 19th century in complexity, "alchemy" provides ubiquitous non-combustion lighting, complex medicines and poisons on par with 20th century chemistry, medicine is at least on par with American Civil War age in ability to cure horrible battle injuries. Justified in-universe as some past ages (the Therin Empire) were far more advanced and current-age people try to recover the lost knowledge.
Serial Escalation - Locke's thieving spree in the second book. In four hours he steals four purses, a knife, two bottles of wine, a pewter mug, a brooch, gold pins, earrings (while they were being worn), a bolt of silk, a box of sweetmeats, two loaves of bread, and the necklace of the mistress of the governor. In the governor's home. In the governor's bed. With the governor sleeping next to her! Oh, and did we mention that he did this while half drunk?
Tempting Fate - Locke and Jean are about to sail into a storm, but Jean confidently asserts that experienced sailor Caldris will get them through it. No sooner have the words passed his lips than Caldris staggers in and dies of a heart attack.
The Dung Ages - Averted. Real Life medieval cities were reeking of human waste and their rivers and canals were open sewers (no plumbing and lots of people cramped together), but the authorities of Camorr were wise enough to get rid of all their shit, literally, by hauling it away with condemned prisoners.
The Medic - "Physikers" (also known under nicknames like "leech") are extremely skillful for a world which is roughly comparable to 14th century Earth inasmuch as debilitating injuries are quickly healed and the miserable diseases of Real Life history are too rare to be mentioned.
The Power of Friendship - Locke is a master manipulator, Jean is a skilled fighter, but when it truly came to the edge, when facing the power of the Falconer, none of their talents was useful enough. What saved their lives and allowed them to win and give him a Fate Worse Than Death was the fact none of them could give up and allow the other to be killed.
Third Act Stupidity - The Falconer stops trying to manipulate Jean into killing Locke and tries to force Locke into killing Jean, which backfires on himself. Justified in-universe, as any person with a grain of tactical sense would try to get rid of the strongest opponent first, in this case Jean. The Falconer's plan had been sound, but not even a Bondsmage can take into account all possibilities.
This Is Reality - A scene in Red Seas Under Red Skies has Locke and Jean discussing the relative merits of romantic fiction and non-fiction.
Locke: But romances aren't real, and surely never were. Doesn't that take away some of the savor? Jean: What an interesting choice of words. 'Not real, and never were.' Could there be any more appropriate literature for men of our profession? Why are you so averse to fiction, when we've made it our meal ticket? Locke: I live in the real world, and my methods are of the real world. They are, just as you say, a profession. A practicality, not some romantic whim.
Unspoken Plan Guarantee - We never hear how Locke and Jean intend to get past Requin's vault's allegedly unsurmountable security measures. And we never hear that they weren't actually going after the vault, while their actual plan works perfectly...except that the paintings they steal turn out to be reproductions.
The epitome ofWretchedHives: The Cauldron of Camorr is so bad that Locke who had been orphaned by an epidemic and hid a few years in a deserted graveyard is too horrified to even contemplate it from a distance.
You Don't Want to Catch This - Locke and Jean pretend to be what basically amounts to lepers for a little while in Red Seas Under Red Skies.