If you haven’t yet familiarized yourself with the majestic prose of Scott Lynch, you’re missing out. Lynch, a fantasy writer, has three books in the Gentleman Bastards cycle already published and you should read them immediately, if not sooner.
The characters are complex and well-developed, and most importantly, relatable. Locke and Jean (the mains, the bromance) are flawed and beautiful. The settings are lush, the descriptions detailed without being long-winded, and the structure. Oh. My. God.
The structure, my doves.
The uneducated would say he tells at least half his story in flashbacks, but that’s not quite right. He’s telling two different, parallel stories about the same characters from different points in their lives. You would think it would be confusing, but it isn’t—the stories interweave meaningfully.
Plus, everything is dusted in what I would consider a fine layer of steampunk, which really gets my gears moving, as it were.
But this isn’t a book review. Or a series review, despite the above gushing. No. This is about Lynch’s magnificent dialogue, and specifically, his foul-mouthed characters.
Locke and Jean are sarcastic. The type of sarcasm born of brotherly love, long-time familiarity, and adolescent competition; they speak in quips and snarls, eye rolls and pointed silences, and brutally honest, sincere tirades.
And being thieves and con men, they curse prolifically. Fucks and gods damn fly about on gilded wings. Colorful barnyard inspired insults paint the pages. It’s glorious.
It’s glorious for one reason: it’s natural.
They are thieves, having grown up in an underground society, educated by the Right People in all the tricks of doing the wrong things. Cussing is how they communicate.
They are, essentially, brothers. That comes with a special variety of hateful love. Cussing is how they communicate.
They are constantly in danger. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been in a dangerous situation that hasn’t let a “oh, fuck that,” slip out to warn of, I dunno, an impending asteroid collision or something. Cussing is how they communicate.
I’m emphasizing this for two reasons. One is to educate any writers out there on dialogue; make it natural for your characters, whatever that may mean. If they are from a specific geographical region, you may want to give them an accent. If they grew up in a certain culture, you may want to give them verbal tics (like cussing). The point is to make it organic for the character that is speaking. You don’t want a peasant speaking like a lord, spouting of “prithee, fair maiden” hither and yon. Unless that peasant is mocking royalty or is a rich dude in disguise.
You get the idea.
The second reason is more personal. For a long time, I believed—for what reason, I’m not sure—that a fantasy or science fiction book must have it’s own curse words.
If it has little to do with our modern Earth I thought it need a whole new vocabulary.
I’d experienced a lot of custom oaths in other books, and televisions shows like Farscape and the like, and I guess I just thought that if I was going to make a character curse, it had to be a newly invented thing. I was trying to improve upon the metaphorical wheel and it wasn’t working.
Well, reading Scott Lynch taught me that it does not have to be that way. I can say fuck if I want to, if it’s true to the character.
That is no less than a divine revelation. It freed up so much of my stilted dialogue in crisis situations. So, thank you, Mr. Lynch. Thank you very much.