Now, I haven't read many series where the main characters are the 'bad guys', but this book series actually does a really good job at making me want these characters to succeed. Yes, they are thieves, but the reasoning behind their lifestyle and their own personalities gives them credibility. They're stealing from the rich, but it isn't justified by making them out to be Robin Hood, either. I like to see these characters win not because they are good, or even because they are bad, but because their sights are set in high places, and I want to see them pull of things that seem impossible.
Let me back up a bit and say this book was a little difficult to get into. The first part of the book covers Locke's upbringing, and what his childhood was like, but the real plot is when he is in his twenties. In fact, there are three different timelines in the book, which can be difficult to follow at times, but luckily the one I like the least (when he was a child) is covered by the end of the first part. The reason that I didn't like it is because I wasn't really interested in what was happening. The only occurrence that got my attention was that the main character was shunned from the rest of his thieving brothers and sisters because he was too good at stealing. That's established pretty early on in the book, so its not quite a spoiler, but for me that was the sole thing that drove me to keep going.
In the beginning of the book, it seems to be set in medieval Italy, but it becomes apparent that this is a different universe, as the religion of this world follows a pantheon of a distinct number of gods, and magic is also not unheard of in this world. It is a sword and sorcery, but I wouldn't call it epic fantasy, because the scope of this story isn't epic. There are big things happening, of course, but the characters are lords and ladies dealing with secret plots and the like, not armies, dragons, and dark lords.
The two things that I liked most in this book (and I say this without having read anything but the first book) is the sense of kinship that the main characters have for one another, and the mastery they have for lying and cheating. The Gentlemen Bastards aren't really a band of thieves. They are a small family of one. Many of these characters grew up with each other, so Locke has known these characters for more than half of his life. They all work together seamlessly and their bonds are really strong. Even reading about actual family members in fiction, I rarely get this profound a sense of attachment between characters. Second, these people are all thieves of the elite. They can believably act the parts of a noble, or a merchant, or peasant in the span of minutes. Imagine watching a character walk into a store, use an accent to make them believe they're a foreigner, then walk in a second time minutes later with a hunched back and wicked sneer and make that person think that they are a completely different person without even having to change clothes.
This book is pretty loaded with crude language, especially in the beginning. As I said, the book was hard for me to get into, but rarely have I been so immersed into these characters. I actually believe all of those people could have existed, which is a feeling I don't get in epic fantasy. I am thoroughly impressed with how well rounded Scott Lynch was able to make each of the characters, and I can't wait to read more of the next one. So while I wouldn't want anyone under fifteen reading this book, I'd recommend it to anyone that loves to read for the immersion. To my knowledge, this universe isn't actually all that different from what the world was like centuries ago. If it wasn't for the magic, I could actually believe that all of the names were of real people and places back then. It doesn't even really take a whole lot of suspension of disbelief because the book starts off slow and eases you in to what's really going on, so go pick it up and remember the first fourth of the book is a pretty bumpy road.