Please Adapt: Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard Series

There are countless reasons fan-favorite books may not make the leap to either big or small screens—or at least, not as quickly as we’d like. Some tried-and-true, hugely popular favorites resonate within the SFF community and fandom, but never cross over into the larger cultural zeitgeist with a movie or TV interpretation. Some series are overlooked for one reason or another while others endure production issues, or get stuck in development purgatory, or fizzle out due to creative differences between those involved. And some (many, even) just haven’t gotten their chance yet, but still might…

But we’re readers, and the innate desire to see some of our favorite stories adapted successfully into a visual medium is strong. Maybe every book isn’t fit for the screen, and that’s fair. But I can think of myriad stories I’d love to see in theaters or on streaming services.

In my new “Please Adapt” column, each installment will feature a book or series deserving of a breakthrough. In some cases, I’ll focus on books that have been optioned or entered development but haven’t made it all the way to the screen yet. In others, I’ll dive deep into series that have yet to garner the attention of Hollywood’s creative forces and explain why the head honchos at filmmaking firms should take notice. I’ll examine series that I believe could be incredibly successful if adapted to the screen. I’ll even offer suggestions for the proper medium or perhaps suggest a creator whose style and flair could be a nice fit for the content and style of the original story.

This month’s selection is Scott Lynch’s Gentleman Bastard series, the oft-optioned series that has yet to find its well-deserved way to becoming a brilliant movie or TV adaptation.

 

The Story So Far

Lynch’s series opens with The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006). Two sequels follow: Red Seas Under Red Skies (2007) and The Republic of Thieves (2013). The fourth book, The Thorn of Emberlain, has been eagerly awaited for years now, with no updates or release info available at the moment—let’s not harp on that, though. I’m sure I’ll enjoy book four as much as the first three, no matter the wait. Instead, let’s look at the series’ torrid on-again, off-again affair with Hollywood.

The first glimmer of hope came from Warner Bros. The company purchased the rights in 2006. The project made little progress, though, and the rights lapsed in 2010—Scott Lynch confirmed this in a Tumblr post.

Sometime after those rights lapsed, another company optioned the Gentleman Bastard sequence, as confirmed by Lynch in a 2019 tweet announcing the third and latest acquisition of the rights. I dug around for a while but couldn’t find out which mysterious second company bought the rights and allowed them to lapse again. Phoenix Pictures (famous for Shutter Island and Black Swan) has held the rights since 2019. Lynch’s original confirmation clarified that Phoenix Pictures had optioned the script, implying that it could yet again fall to the wayside. Barring any major surprises, it appears that’s the case with Phoenix Pictures’ potential adaptation (the company’s website only mentions released projects).

Outlook: bleak. To date, The Lies of Locke Lamora seems a tough nut to crack on screen. But the book and its sequels still very much deserve the star treatment.

 

Setting the Tone

The Lies of Locke Lamora taught me how different fantasy can be. Medieval settings packed with highfalutin nobles and lords are commonplace in the genre, as are Chosen One narratives and rags-to-riches storylines. Gentleman Bastard subverts and twists all of these tropes. Lynch fiddles with reader expectations and creates a world that feels at once brutal and lighthearted, cynical and hopeful.

Gentleman Bastard isn’t Game of Thrones. Lynch may owe a lot to Martin and other fantasy predecessors, but his books say “Yes, and…” to the tropes of yore, serving up a witty, vulgar, and cutthroat atmosphere in which a joke and a gruesome murder might easily appear on the same page. He embraces tropes and conventions more often associated with other genres (up for a heist, anyone?), welcoming them into his work with open arms, making his stories feel fresh and fun.

Nothing showcases this quality better than Lynch’s character work in these books. Father Chains raises Locke Lamora and his comrades in a disguised temple, teaching them to steal from the rich by emulating the behavior of Camorr’s elite. Locke and his comrades Jean, Calo, Galdo, and Bug learn every trick of the con artist’s trade, as well as how to cook hearty meals, speak in various accents, crunch numbers, and lie with a gusto that gets them exactly what they want.

Lynch distills vulgarity and thievery into finely tuned, gentle arts, turning the Robin Hood trope on its head by empowering the thieves with open disdain for their targets. The Capas of Camorr are formidable, no doubt, but losing a hefty sum of their fortune to the Gentleman Bastards’ schemes equates to Jeff Bezos dropping a few bucks on the sidewalk.

Couple the joyful art of larceny with the quick and nimble wordplay of the crew’s verbal interactions, and you’ve got a unique and comical team ready-made for the screen. Simply put, Gentleman Bastard has its own distinct feel, of a sort that you don’t often find in the fantasy genre.

What better fit for an onscreen adventure? So many shows lean into the medieval, formal language peppered throughout epic fantasies. It certainly can work, and has in the past, but Locke Lamora avoids such conventions, favoring instead a new hybrid style. If done right, it might finally prove once and for all that fantasy doesn’t need to be all, “Ho there, what business?!” Sometimes, it’s “Nice bird, arsehole.” Humor can strengthen the emotional weight of a story, catch us off guard only to deliver an emotional twist, leaving us stunned. Perhaps the fusion of humor and darker dramatic beats can be treacherous terrain, but plenty of recent shows and films have walked that line, and Gentleman Bastard could be the next to succeed.

For my money, it’s a perfect fit for a James Gunn series, à la Peacemaker or Guardians of the Galaxy. The brutality of the former, the teamwork of the latter, and the humor of both would combine into a cohesive and endlessly entertaining Gentleman Bastard adaptation.

 

Genre-Bending Character Growth

As I’ve said above, Lynch fuses different genres and tweaks storytelling expectations with his fantasy. He isn’t afraid to be different, and his work feels wholly unique.

The Lies of Locke Lamora melds fantasy, crime caper, a coming-of-age story, magical elements, and plenty of mystery, and it’s hard to define the way these combined aspects all feel unless you’ve read at least one of the books. In the thick of it, Gentleman Bastard feels like a cohesive whole. Once you set it down and think back on the story, you realize just how many disparate elements Lynch has thrown at you, and how well they all work together.

In other words, Lynch loves to play with your expectations to keep you alert. To some degree, it’s like Game of Thrones and the season one death of the show’s apparent protagonist, or the general “nobody is safe” anxiety of GOT’s first six seasons. Lynch gives that same sense of stakes by connecting his themes and genre inspirations, but he grounds everything in the camaraderie of Locke and the crew. Losses feels more shocking and devastating as a direct result of the love and investment he makes you feel for his characters and the bonds and shared history between them.

Read the books, and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about here. Red Seas Under Red Skies is every bit as good as its predecessor if you ask me (if you ask someone else, they may disagree with a surprising level of vehemence—Lynch fans tend to have strong opinions about the series). Locke’s world undergoes some intense, spoilerific changes between books one and two, opening up a world of opportunity for Red Seas. Lynch plays around with new genres and themes in each volume—each book is new and fresh, but they all feel distinctly like Gentleman Bastard stories.

The series is dynamic. It changes because the characters change. The world transforms, and Locke has to react in real-time. His goals change along with the subgenres of the books, so the story never feels stale or static.

For all these reasons, I long for a Gentleman Bastard TV series. The medium would let us steep ourselves in all the character growth, allowing enough runtime for the regular switch-ups and twists to take proper shape on-screen. Episode-ending cliffhangers could ease the transitional shock and provide more gradual narrative shifts. Lynch doesn’t give us a sitcom reset at the end of each story: Locke’s destiny evolves, and it would be a joy to watch that play out across multiple seasons. Moreover, Gentleman Bastard would certainly benefit from an all-star cast invested in the story more than, say, a string of budget-wrecking battles and giant set pieces. Don’t get me wrong: Lynch’s prose is captivating, especially in his descriptions of the setting (more about that in moment). Beautiful imagery can’t stand on its own, though. A show has to say something to stick with us, and the characters need to make us feel something. Get this right, and a Gentleman Bastard series could enrapture audiences everywhere.

 

The Camorr Of It All

Maybe I just want to see the Berangias sisters fight a demon shark, okay?

Well, it’s not just that. I want to see Camorr brought to life. And then the Sinspire. And then Karthain. As much as I love Lynch’s characters, themes, plots, and dialogue, the setting remains my favorite facet of his work.

Camorr is best described as a fantasy Venice where thieves are commonplace. The world has a structure, multiple belief systems, and a moral code. Camorr abides by a hierarchy in which the richest get richer and the poor must scrap and scrounge for a living (sound familiar?). Thieves must fork over a percentage of their earnings to Capa Barsavi. Locke and the crew exist in a tenuously peaceful world of systemic thievery; they abide by some of its rules while surreptitiously breaking others.

Lynch makes this world feel bustling and crowded. Locke and his cohort show us both sides of the system. They exist in the criminal underbelly of Camorr (though they secretly outearn every other thieving crew), and their plentiful alter egos insert themselves into the upper classes, thanks to extensive training from Father Chains.

Beyond the visceral and relatable feel of the world, it’s also stunning in its visual descriptions. Lynch writes sweeping passages about the locales of Camorr and beyond, all primed and ready for panoramic shots of a dirty-but-thriving city, replete with canals, gondolas, colorful buildings, and shady dealings between suspicious passers-by. Zoom in on the events of the novels for tense negotiations aboard a luxurious barge. Or pan around a vicious battle between two warriors and the primal marine beast they’re fighting. Then follow the camera through the secret entrance to the Gentleman Bastards’ hidden lair, accompanied by the sights and sounds of a sizzling meal-in-progress and the laughter of Father Chains, thrilled at his pupils’ latest score.

These potential cinematic morsels are all over Lynch’s novels, and they’d make for a captivating visual treat that would translate perfectly to the screen. Show me Camorr in all its shady criminal glory…show it to me through the eyes of a thief as he convinces a local noble to fork over half of his fortune.

 

Outlook: Cautiously Optimistic

As I explore possible book-to-screen adaptations in this column, I’ll try to give a realistic estimate of each property’s likelihood to make it to theaters or streamers.

Here, I’m cautiously optimistic. Production companies have publicly acquired the rights to the Gentleman Bastard books a whopping three times, though with no real progress beyond the optioning phase. Could be it’s a tough outlook for the movie scene, and I get that. There are a lot of moving parts to grasp in Lynch’s complex world. Again, I think The Lies of Locke Lamora would be better served as a TV series. Let us marinate in the story for a while and watch the characters grow and develop. There’s a lot of story to cover in the limited span of a movie’s runtime, but an eight or ten-hour series (with multiple seasons to cover the sequels) could do Lynch’s series justice.

Let’s say it’s possible, but not likely. I’ll resign myself to continuing my monthly deep-dives for any updates on Lynch’s crown jewel and eagerly await any smidgen of a hint that a real adaptation is on its way. In the meantime, what are the books and series you’d love to see on screen? Drop me a note in the comments!

Cole Rush writes words. A lot of them. For the most part, you can find those words at The Quill To Live or on Twitter @ColeRush1. He voraciously reads epic fantasy and science-fiction, seeking out stories of gargantuan proportions and devouring them with a bookwormish fervor. His favorite books are: The Divine Cities Series by Robert Jackson Bennett, The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, and The House In The Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

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