I didn’t get the chance to read Tome of the Undergates when it was published in April so I recently decided that I’d waited long enough and got to it. Though my expectations weren’t so many, this book delivered with style. This is Sam Sykes’ debut novel as well as the beginning of yet another fantasy series, Aeon’s Gate, one I now have great hopes for. While falling under the (very) hefty books category, Tome of the Undergates’ length is not to fear; as it stands, this is one of the strongest debuts of the year.
Adventurers. Long loathed for their knowledge of nothing beyond murder and thievery, they are the savages, zealots, heathens, monsters; the thugs of society. And Lenk, a young man with a sword in his hand and a voice in his head, counts them all as his sole and most hated of companions.
His otherwise trivial employment under an esteemed clergyman is interrupted when bloodthirsty and eloquent pirates, led by an ageless demon risen from the depths of the ocean, pilfer the object of their protection: the Tome of the Undergates, the key to opening a door that guards the mouths of hell. A hell the demons want out of.
Against titanic horrors from the deep, psychotic warrior women, and creatures forgotten by mankind, Lenk has only two weapons: apiece of steel and fie companions who are as eager to kill each other as they are to retrieve the book.
Tome of the Undergates has got some weight to it, and I’m not talking physical weight. This is the kind of debut that comes around rarely. It possesses a strong and riveting story, an amazing set of characters and some quality prose for such a fresh writer. There is very little bad in what Sykes has done in Tome of the Undergates. Perhaps this book’s only major shortcoming is that it has very little worldbuilding detail beyond what is strictly necessary to the immediate story. For many, this will not even be a problem, but for those such as I, which is to say a geek obsessed with every little irrelevant detail, it might be a disappointment not to discover more of what appears to be a vast and rich world. Hopefully, this is something following entries in the Aeons’ Gate will venture into.
Nevertheless, this is a book filled with action and it all begins on page one. Sykes throws us into the thick of things instantly. The initial action is good but it just keeps getting better and better from there - the demons come later. Demons and beasts of all sorts roam freely through the pages of this book and a new one has the tendency to show up just when you were about to get used to the last one. Tome of the Undergates has convinced me that there are few fighting scenes better than one that involves demons. Or at least those involving demons that have sprung from Sykes’ imagination.
As far as characters go, our merry (or not so merry) crew of adventurers stand firmly. Sam Sykes’ characterization is one of the aspects of the books that shines out the most. Every adventurer has been outfitted with a long and emotionally poignant backstory that bears clear relevance to the events of the story. This does not mean that we are presented with a bunch of morose killers walking about - this is where Sykes’ abundant wit comes into play. At any time, especially in one of the more tense moments (of course) one of the characters is likely to pull a one-liner, or any other form of humor, simultaneously relieving said tension and causing the reader to unexpectedly grin and/or crack up. Also, every character is well defined in the sense that each has its own identity, something Sykes never fails to reassert by attributing each of the characters with a precise denomination. In this way, Lenk is the young man, Deanos the rogue, Dreadaeleon the boy, Asper the priestess, etc.
It should be noted that for a debut writer, Sam Sykes has a spectacularly powerful voice. From the first lines of the book his tone and style are spot on and continue to be until you’ve reached the back cover. The aforementioned wit is probably one of strong points of his prose yet behind it Sykes manages to sneak in a level of depth that could be missed at first glance. Hidden amongst all the apparent levity of the superb dialogue, there is also reflexion on the nature of the characters that only benefits Sykes writing. Though he evidently has room to improve, it is impossible not to envision Sykes as one of the major voices in the fantasy genre’s future.
I’m glad I made the decision to read Tome of the Undergates, it is an experience you’re not likely to want to miss. Yes, that means I’m heavily recommending it. Now, I’m left looking forward to the sequel and second volume in the Aeons’ Gate series; expectations are high. For those not in the UK, where it was published in April, Tome of the Undergates will be released by Pyr Books for the US market in September. Pre-order it or add it to your to-read list! If I can make one last statement: thank God Sykes is such a young writer - because of this we are sure to have him write stories for a long time to come!
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Sam Sykes Website: http://www.samsykes.com/
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