Richard Sharpe, cold-blooded killing machine of the Napoleonic land wars comes to mind. So does Lymond. And so does Locke Lamora. Well, I would love Locke Lamora, but he probably wouldn't love me back.
But how could I not completely fall for Locke Lamora? From the earliest pages of The Lies of Locke Lamora (first in a series called Gentleman Bastard -- again, how can I not love this?), in which he is just a little kid, Locke is set up as the most devious, shifty, troublesome, prideful, thieving, amoral little turd no parent or teacher or citizen of the world would ever, ever want to encounter, and indeed, the "Thiefmaker" whose troupe of trainee-pickpockets Locke tricks his way into joining is at his wits end with the kid and all but ready to pay the guy in charge of the next stage of this world's elaborate criminal training enterprise to take Locke early. Let that sink in for a moment. The guy who gives little kids their first lessons in thievery can't handle Locke because he's too devious and precocious. Because Locke breaks all the rules of being a little kid thief (including picking the pockets of the guards who sold his batch of orphans to the Thiefmaker, thus putting the Thiefmaker's entire operation into jeopardy before the kid is even actually a part of it!).
And that's just the first 30 pages or so. And then Locke grows up! Fortunately, his new father figure, the shifty pseudo-priest, Father Chains*, while an even greater criminal than the Thiefmaker, is a man with a plan, and that plan includes creating the Gentleman Bastards. Locke shall be but one of them. Chains raises him alongside two Weasleyesque twins, the fantastic Sanza brothers, and a big lug with a head for numbers named Jean. The friendship these kids form is true and deep and lovely to behold, both when they're learning to be gentlemen and when they're acting like bastards. Hilarious, hilarious bastards. Like Dorothy Parker and Joss Whedon teamed up for the dialogue bastards. With plotting help from, say, Donald Westlake and Patricia Highsmith and Clifford Irving.
Which is to say, they grow up to be con men, and their central caper in this novel (well, aside from the actual plot of the novel, which I'll get to in a moment) is a wonder to behold: no less than a live action pseudo-medieval** enacting of the famous Nigerian phishing scam -- but Locke and the boys go it one better by also pretending to be what amounts to the FBI, coercing the scam's victims into cooperating with the scam, actually handing over the cash, as part of a supposed sting operation. I mean, delicious!
But where the first half of the novel feels like a Lymond story with a laugh track (and I'm not kidding about the dialogue, you guys. If you don't laugh with complete uncool abandon at this dialogue, you must have gone to Vegas and awakened in a bathtub full of icewater with your sense of humor removed), the second half is more like The Count of Monte Cristo with a pyrotechnics budget. That is because of the plot. Which, oh my goodness, the plot. But you know what? That's all I'm going to say about the plot because you just need to go read the book, my dearlings.
And, O ye readers of GRRM and the like who roll your eyes at the treatment of women in them, rejoice! The Lies of Locke Lamora features a whole bevy of kickass women of astonishing variety and importance. While it's never explicitly claimed that this is an egalitarian society (I speak in terms of gender issues only, here; it's still got all the trappings of feudalism, after all), men and women both can be fighters, thieves, priests, political authorities, scientists (well, okay, alchemists***) gladiators (actually, no, the kind of gladiators we see in this world are only female, and they leap from tiny platform to tiny platform over seawater because their opponents are ferocious mutant sharks that can leap 20 feet out of the water!), maybe even the Godfather (Godmother? Godsister?) of the whole damned underworld.
Be prepared though, when you take up this book, to do a bit of mental heavy lifting, because the chronology of this narrative is as complicated as it could possibly get without also containing time travel. It's quite seamlessly and masterfully done, most of the time, but it's not a straightforward beginning-to-end narrative. A few scenes are replayed from different points of view, and then there is a whole big thread of flashbacks in which elements that are important to the main plot are doled out in the midst of often hilarious stories of the Gentleman Bastards' upbringing, which means that exposition is pretty deftly handled and goes down easy. And pay attention to those bits, because no Chekov's guns go unfired in this story.
And now I'm going to do something I don't usually do, especially since I'm still committed to reading one book at a time this year, and that's to immediately start reading the sequel. Indeed, I have already done so. And it starts off with a real shocker.
Scott Lynch is the MAN.
*And I know what people are probably thinking. Shifty priest. Little boys. Well, stop it. It's not like that. Indeed, there's really no sex or romance at all in this book. And it doesn't need it, because stuff is always happening. Glorious, glorious stuff that is way more interesting to read about than kissing parts.
**Except there are all sorts of hints and elements of the world-building that indicate this is more likely a human colony on an alien planet than a pseudo-medieval standard fantasy past. The island city that is the setting for the novel is built on the ruins of an alien settlement, the basic architectural elements of which still remain in the form of vast, still usable towers and other structures of "Everglass" which is unbreakable, unmeltable, indestructible in every way, and beautiful, and in some way some kind of storer of solar energy, which it gives back after sundown in the form of "Falselight." Oh, and there are three moons. But that's it. Otherwise it could be any other standard Europeanish fantasy world. Well, except for the wolf sharks and the scorpion hawks and stuff.
***If I have a gripe about this book, it's the reliance on the hand-waving invocation of "alchemy" with no further explanation to explain everything from artificial light to how pack animals are kept under control. But it's a slight quibble. I'm over it.