The Gentleman Bastards is a much-loved fantasy series that is particularly popular in audiobook format. Fans who’ve listened to the audiobooks regularly recommend them, the narrator Michael Page has won awards for his performances (including his narration of The Lies of Locke Lamora), and author Scott Lynch has made no secret of the fact he thinks Page does a brilliant job:
Of course, there are many other great audiobooks out there, and what you might call ‘matches made in heaven’ of skilled narrators with great books. However, the more I listen to the Gentleman Bastards series, the more some small conspiracy-theory part of me whispers that it’s too perfect to be coincidence. I imagine Scott Lynch writing his books, slipping in scenes and thinking, ‘This’ll sound great with Page reading it,’ or ‘Let’s hear him read this!’. Equally, I imagine Page coming across them and smiling as he accepts the challenge.
It’s unlikely my imagined scenes in any way reflect reality – Lynch is probably just focusing on writing great books, and Page is probably just focusing on voicing books to the best of his ability (he’s been recording audiobooks since 1984) – it just happens to be a very good match of narrator with book.
Still, I’ll attempt to explain why that match feels almost too perfect to be coincidence, while avoiding spoilers for the three currently-available books in the series (though I will mention general content and scenes that don’t give away major plot points, so if you don’t like that then stop here!).
The Lies of Locke Lamora
Michael Page is not just a voice artist but also an actor, and his voice feels like it belongs on the stage. It’s rich and theatrical, crisply enunciated (when he means it to be) and comfortable in a variety of different accents.
When he voices the world of crass thugs, clever thieves and haughty nobles that is The Lies of Locke Lamora, it’s like he’s standing on a stage playing the broad spectrum of roles with an energetic cast of one, bringing every character to life. When Lynch’s characters spout colourful insults and witty rebukes (which they regularly do) Page delivers them with an eloquent gusto that makes them all the more potent and amusing.
Lynch has created a city with a noble elite, an affluent middle class, and a downtrodden poor, not to mention a thriving underworld and a law force rife with corruption – all the while focusing on the master thieves who slide with ease between these layers of society. Page enhances this world by using the historic suggestion of class inherent in various British accents, as well as simply through an expert performance. The ease with which the thieves take on their different roles is all the more impressive as Page acts out characters that are, themselves, acting. In short, he voices this brilliant book brilliantly.
Red Seas Under Red Skies
It was when I started listening to the second book that I began to entertain the fanciful notion that Lynch was thinking of the audiobooks while writing it. Sure, the release date of the audiobook makes that chronologically impossible, but why let logic get in the way of a good theory?
Red Seas Under Red Skies introduces a whole new set of characters, most notably: pirates. And I must admit, when I encountered the first ship’s captain, I smiled ear-to-ear. Lynch had given Page a bunch of scurvy dogs and swarthy sailors to voice, and boy, did he do a good job of it. With his array of British accents and his mastery of rough, male characters, it felt like it was just meant for him. The colourful curses became even more colourful as Lynch set us out to sea, and there were several jokes that made me laugh out loud, all the funnier for Page’s delivery (I think it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that many of them involved cats).
The Republic of Thieves
I mentioned earlier that Page’s voice has a theatrical quality to it. You can see on his Tantor Media profile that he’s a professional actor, a professor of theater and “has a particular interest in Shakespeare and Eastern European theater”.
And what does Lynch give us in The Republic of Thieves? Among many other things, stage actors rehearsing for a play written by the classical playwrights of this fantasy world. So Michael Page is now voicing flamboyant stage actors delivering faux-Shakespearean lines that have been expertly crafted by Lynch.
There’s even a scene that demonstrates the difference between a lack-lustre performance by a novice actor, and an expert one by an experienced theatre director… and you can hear the difference when Michael Page performs the two. I stepped back and tried to imagine reading the scene in print. I’d see the same lines repeated on the page, and yes, I’d have descriptions as to how they were delivered differently to fuel my imagination (which I like to think would provide accordingly) … but would it have been as impressive as Page showing me the difference in his delivery?
This is a point where I couldn’t help but ask: did Lynch put this scene in here just for Page to have some fun with it?
Simply a Good Match
I know I’m trying to see a kind of active collaboration or creative relationship that probably isn’t there. Lynch had already given some of the characters a penchant for quoting classical plays in the previous books, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise when we see characters engaged in acting these plays. In a world of thieves and con artists, it also shouldn’t be so surprising that pirates get involved, or that theatre and theatrics become a central focus. It’s unlikely Lynch wrote scenes just so Page could ace them in the audiobook version. More likely it was just a very clever pairing of narrator with book (and kudos should be given to whoever orchestrated it!).
I suppose I could ask Lynch or Page to know for sure… but they have more important things to be doing (e.g. writing and narrating books), and truth be told, I don’t want to risk having my imaginings wholly debunked.So as I await the release of the fourth book The Thorn of Emberlain… or, more accurately, the audiobook (I presume Michael Page will be voicing it again as I can’t bear to consider an alternative), I’m looking forward to seeing not only how Lynch continues to weave this enchanting story, but also what interesting new scenes and characters Page will be giving voice to.
Have you listened to these audiobooks? If so, what do you think of them? Or do you know of any other narrator-book matches that are uncannily perfect? Let me know in the comments!