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Tome of the Undergates Hardcover – 1 April 2010
About the Author
- Publisher : Gollancz; 1st edition (1 April 2010)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 704 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0575090286
- ISBN-13 : 978-0575090286
- Dimensions : 16.2 x 4.5 x 24.2 cm
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from other countries
And yet… it has SOMEthing. Something in the act of imagination, the ensemble of characters and villains that is kind of reminiscent of early ‘seventies sword’n sorcery novels, as evident in the character of the Shict, the leather-clad assassin (whose name I’ve forgotten. Deneos? Daneus?). It was enough to get me through to the end, anyway (although I confess to skip-reading the second half). Enough to have me buy another in the series? Probably not. But enough have me think twice about hunting the author down and killing him like a dog for putting me through this.
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.
Tome of the Undergates contains all the traditional trappings of a fantasy epic. A party of adventurers, an ancient prophecy, a trapped demon god and even a bit of a "chosen one" in place to restore the powers of light. And the adventure itself is no different. The party takes a ship to a lost island, battles pirates, finds an evil temple and attacks the alien Dark in its very Citadel. Like Krull, except without the deadly frisbee.
Where Sykes displays his creativity and talent is in the characters and in the narrative format. Adventurers aren't good guys, he explains in the very first pages. They're licensed looters that can't fit in with established society. They're suicidal, untrustworthy mercenaries. With that angle taken up front, the reader is then introduced to the most bonkers group of "companions" you can imagine. The leader is going slightly insane, the archer is an Elf-analogue that loathes humans, the fighter is a Dragon-style lifeform that hates ALL mammals, the wizard is a foppish nut, the cleric is a pretentious ass and the rogue (always my favorite) is a sociopath. If it weren't for the relentless flood of enemies, they'd all just kill one another.
Sykes also eschews the traditions of the epic in *how* he tells the story. Rather than relying on floods of expository prose, virtually everything is introduced in dialogue. Naturalistic, biting, funny and often quite touching dialogue. There's no set-piece banter, comedy, romance or drama - just the sort of earthy chat that comes with a party of dirty, battle-weary adventurers. Despite the wildly fantastic premise and setting, everything is treated as "real-ly" as possible - an incredibly difficult task, given the tools at hand.
A fantastic book, and one I highly recommend. Sykes sits easily on the shelf with Joe Abercrombie and George RR Martin and, in certain arenas, exceeds them both (Tome of the Undergates is less self-knowingly 'witty' than The Heroes and more creative than Game of Thrones). Fans of either of those two - or fantasy in general! - should immediately pounce on Tome of the Undergates.
The book begins with a sea battle that lasts a quarter of the book, by far the longest battle scene I've ever read. During this sea battle, the adventurers are introduced. In other stories, readers learn about the characters when they were still young or through deeds that they performed. However Sykes introduces the adventurers in this book by having them constantly argue with each other. It's a different way of introducing the thinking and the believes of the characters to the reader but at times it just became too much and hindered the movement of the plot. I had difficulty remember who's who at certain points as it kept jumping between battle scenes and arguments.
Things began to pick up pace after this as the adventurers are tasked with the responsibility of retrieving the tome from the demons. The fight scenes are vividly described and visceral. At the same time the bantering between the characters become more bearable and I actually find myself enjoying the exchanges. Strangely this part reminds me of my time in boarding school. We had a wide range of characters just like the book and despite how much we might have liked or disliked each other, we were stuck on the same boat so to speak and can't get rid of each other.
I thought that towards the end of the book the quick pace would continue and the book would end with a cliffhanger but instead the energy that we found earlier died down instead. Despite this, there are some really great writing in the last few scenes that make you forgive the change of direction and makes you rethink if the natures of the characters.
The book is a little rough and pace uneven but when the book is good, it is really good and the series show a lot of promise. I'm sure the story will become tighter as Sykes hones his craft and gain more experience as a writer. I understand the criticisms this book receives and that it may not suit everyone's tastes but if you are looking for something different then do give this book a try! I'm dying to find out who is that voice in Lenk's head, what's up with Asper's arm and what will happen to the rest of the gang.