Tome of the Undergates, by Sam Sykes [Aeon’s Gate #1]

  • TITLE: Tome of the Undergates (Aeon’s Gate #1)
  • AUTHOR: Sam Sykes
  • PUBLISHER: Gollancz
  • PUBLICATION DATE: January 1st 2010
  • RATING: ★★★★★
TomeOfTheUndergatesSamS9100_fBefore I read Tome of the Undergates I had read Sam Sykes.

Not his books, obviously, but his blog and his Twitter and Facebook. Take a look at my Link Pool. See how much of it is Sam Sykes? That’s because he’s good. When it comes to opinions and musings about pretty important issues and topics within the genre community, Sam pretty much hits the nail on the head without looking, without a hammer, and whilst juggling an army of pugs and angry gerbils. He’s good and has a way of saying things that eloquently sums up so much of what’s floating about in my own head.

Two weeks ago I was a Sam Sykes fanboy and I’d not even read his work.

Now I have.

I’ve never described a book as being so very like its author. But that fits perfectly now: Tome of the Undergates is so very Sam Sykes. The book is Sam concentrated, distilled to his purest form and woven into the pages of his book.

Yet, there was something about the blurb from Stephen Deas that gave me pause about reading this book, months and months after I’d bought it.

“… Slaughter-fest fantasy… “

I don’t like gore. I’m squeamish as friggidy-doo and I was genuinely discouraged, expecting a typical Alpha-Male fantasy with blood, gore and death.

But then I thought about it: Sam Sykes wouldn’t write that kind of crap… Would he?

Nah – he’s above that. I went with my gut and plunged in. Literally, since there’s a lot of water.

Tome of the Undergates is an excellent book.  No. It’s not just excellent; it’s superb.

Complete with an extremely well developed cast, all of whom are written flawlessly, Lenk finds himself chasing after a book that was stolen from a priest – the very priest he and his company of adventurers are supposed to be escorting.

There are demons, both within and without, things that shouldn’t exist, and tensions running so high that it’ll be a wonder if one of his companions doesn’t kill another, merely for the kick of it.

Still, Lenk leads them to the island to which the tome has been taken. It is certain death, but the tune of a thousand gold pieces seems worth dancing to. But on the island loyalties are tested, sanity pushed to its limits, and notions of truth and how things are supposed to be are turned upside down. If they don’t kill each other first they’re probably in for a grisly death at the hands of the walking fish-demons that simply shouldn’t be. But with something lending unexpected aid to Lenk, and ideas regarding their companions changing, maybe they actually will grab the tome and make it back to dry land in one piece.

The characters make this book. With a quest fantasy, it’s so easy to be lazy and fall into the expected stereotypes.

Sam Sykes laughs at that.

Sure, you might think there’s the classic DnD party here. But there’s not: it’s a trick. And a good one.

These characters do not fall into archetypes, they are not cliché, and the world they exist in doesn’t allow for half-assed characters with ill-developed personalities.

Each character is presented and written so well that their motivations, fears and expectations are clear from the start. You care about these characters because you know them. I love Kataria and Dreadaeleon best, and am heartened that Lenk is short, because so am I.

But as with the reality of meeting anyone, you never know everything all at once and Sykes is great at giving sudden morsels of insight here and there. It’s expertly done. They evolve and grow throughout the book and Sykes juggles the multiple characters excellently. Nobody is left behind.

There’s so much to say about this book that would border more on an essay about Tome of the Undergates and not a review, so I’ll bring this to a close, lest I risk paraphrasing into infinity how good this book is.

This book helped me through a hard patch, so maybe in my opinion, there’s no higher praise than that.  Sam Sykes is an excellent writer who has definitely earned his place in the genre. Already a favourite author due to his online presence and constant musings, Sykes is now a favourite writer, too.

Tome of the Undergates is a book that constantly delivers. Its characters are excellently woven, its setting different and exiting, and its execution capable of keeping tension drawn out without running the risk of snapping the cord that holds it all together and taut.
A “surprising pathos”, says the blurb: that’s true if you don’t know Sykes online. If you do, it’s not surprising at all, and entirely in the best of ways.  I got exactly what I wanted from this book: excellent, thrilling, authentic fantasy written by someone who knows their stuff. Sam Sykes is a writer who has fast climbed to the top spots of my “favourite authors” list.
Just read him. Seriously.
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