Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review of Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes


The debut novel from an extraordinarily talented twenty-five-year-old author. Fantasy's next global star has arrived. Lenk can barely keep control of his mismatched adventurer band at the best of times (Gariath the dragon man sees humans as little more than prey, Kataria the Shict despises most humans, and the humans in the band are little better). When they're not insulting each other's religions they're arguing about pay and conditions. So when the ship they are travelling on is attacked by pirates things don't go very well. They go a whole lot worse when an invincible demon joins the fray. The demon steals the Tome of the Undergates - a manuscript that contains all you need to open the undergates. And whichever god you believe in you don't want the undergates open. On the other side are countless more invincible demons, the manifestation of all the evil of the gods, and they want out. Full of razor-sharp wit, characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunging the reader into a vivid world of adventure this is a fantasy that kicks off a series that could dominate the second decade of the century. Right off the bat, I gotta say this book was just frickin' awesome. AND... I need the next one as soon as possible. The thing that made this a really enjoyable read (by far not even the best part of the book) was simply the dialogue between this mishap band of adventurers. And when I say mishap, I mean that Sykes started his story off with five adventurers that could not possibly be any more different in their personalities. So much so that their conversations with one another are filled to the brim with so much sarcasm, hostility at times and witty dry humor that you can't hide the smiles and sudden bursts of laughter at what they are saying.
Lenk, the young, slight of build, silver haired human of the bunch is the leader of the band. His part in the start of this series doesn't dominate the script but, you can definitely tell that the story is centered around him. He faces tough decisions throughout the book that make me cringe and the majority of the time he is just in the wrong place at the wrong time or maybe the right place at the right time to take the position of the leader. His right as the leader may only be held onto the simple fact that he keeps his cohorts from killing one another. By the end of the novel though, as Lenk is starting to lose his grip on sanity, one wonders if he himself might not just start taking out his companions. The unknown conscience inside Lenk's head that is more and more present at the end is enough to keep me reading. My inquisitiveness has to know why this is happening to him and what is causing it. That is not to say that I think we have not already gotten some clues from the conversation he has on the ship ride home but, I still need to to know the nature of this thing that seems to be plaguing him. Which leads me to the next favorite character of the story, Kataria.

Kataria is a Shict. A race of people that are named after the sound of an arrow hitting it's target. How freakin' cool is that, right? She is of lean muscle and sinew. Her ears are long and pointed above her head and she hears a great deal. Also, her eyes are large and emerald of color. Her people were sought out to be destroyed by humans and she carries a hate for them that at times seems like a huge burden. Her relationship to Lenk is a strange one but almost instantly you see that there is going to be something more there. But will it actually happen? Who knows? I don't and, this is just another reason to keep me in the world of the Aeons' Gate. Their troublesome relationship really brought out the thought in my head that there really is a ever so fine line between love and hate. I don't know if this thing between the two of them can end well.

Dreadaeleon or just Dread is the wizard of the band. A lanky thing and scared senseless most of the time boy has his own set of problems. It's like Harry Potter just graduated from Hogwarts and this is where he ended up. I really hope to see this one grow throughout the rest of the series. I think there is a lot of potential that this one shows, young padawan. Dread most definitely has a thing for Asper, although things could go awry there in a heartbeat. And what will become of him now that he has possession of the red stone? His most engaging quality to me (although not brought out a whole lot in this book) is his intelligence. I got the impression from the few parts of the story that talked about his studies at school that he is no slouch and most likely is mad smart. Yeah, most definitely interested in seeing were Sykes takes this character.

Asper is the healer of the bunch. Like a modern day traveling medic who is very religion conscious. A lot is revealed about Asper throughout the the book, most interestingly this curse that she cannot stand and also knows really nothing about. Here again this one aspect of her character is not really discussed a lot but, it is one of the things that is going to keep readers turning these pages to find out what in the heck is happening to her. What in the heck IS happening to her? Being a healer, she fights hard with herself to be warrior like any of the others that she travels with. I thought this was a great add to the people the story is centered around. It added just one more difference to them and kind of solidified in my mind that opposites attract and every piece has a place in the puzzle.

Denaos, A rogue / assassin / specialized interrogation expert / well, I don't know what all else he is but, he may just be the most sane out of all of them. He reacts with the notion that his head is on straight anyway. In a lot of ways his character was elaborated on as much as the other five. This added a certain mystique to him that will hopefully be more fleshed out in upcoming installments.

And finally Gariath... What can you say about Gariath? Gariath is a Dragonman. Supposedly the last of his kind. Gariath doesn't seem to like anyone and tells anyone that frequently. There just does not seem a gap anywhere in him that allows anyone in. But you get a pretty good look into how this came to be near the end of this volume. All in all Gariath turned out to be my most favorite of the bunch. He just doesn't care what anyone else thinks and sets out to do what he does best. He has respect for someone that can put up a good fight and more or less just tears down anything in his way. The fact that he is part dragon (tail and all) and part human is just icing on the cake.

Well, there you have it. All in all this is a quest style fantasy novel with lovable aspects coming out the wazoo. But, at the heart of it, I kept reading for the characters. It is amazing how Sykes weaved together a plot that would keep this rag-tag bunch of misfits together throughout. There is so much more to the beginning of this series that I am not even covering here in this review. So many questions unanswered is why I will keep reading these books. You might not think it is possible to take some of the bleakest scenarios and add things into them that make them laugh out loud but Sam Sykes makes it happen. I applaud his great work here with Tome of the Undergates. And I look forward to the rest of this series. Thank-you Mr. Sykes for making an adventurer out of me through your story.

1 comment:

  1. Looks awesome. I've been going back and forth on this one. There's been a lot of criticism, but I can't help thinking "I'd love an opening that's 200 pages worth of a battle."