Lenk and his merry albeit sociopathic band of adventurers are back in Black Halo, the second book in The Aeons’ Gate series. Having recovered the Tome of the Undergates and stopped a giant fish demon from escaping Hell, Lenk and his crew are now stranded at sea, waiting for rescue from the mainland. However, as you would expect, all does not go according to plan, and soon the group is separated and washed up on island reeking of death. What follows next? Deadly Librarians, fiery urine, giant lizardmen and much more, as Sykes makes a grand return in his second book and does what he does best, crafting a compelling story with humor, pathos and just a little bit of insanity.
By this point, fans of Sykes should know that he can write, and he can write pretty damn well. Tome of the Undergates had plenty of humor, a tight plot, great characterization, and a surprising amount of pathos. Black Halo continues this trend and in better form. Sykes steps his game up in this book, and you really get the sense that he’s coming into his own. The dialogue is crisper, the scenes crackle with tension and description flares to life with beautiful prose. Black Halo does have its fair share of obscene humor and moments of questionable sanity, but they always serve the story and they are always well written.
The world is bigger than you know
Tome of the Undergates took place on a ship for the majority of the book. We heard names of cities, cultures, religions, and so on through the characters, but the reader never got the chance to experience them except through memories. This time, however, Sykes makes a wise move and begins to pull back the curtain, showing what the rest of the world is like and who occupies it. Several new characters are introduced; my favorite is Bralston the Librarian, but every reader will find their own. The world is growing under Sykes’ steady hand, and by the end of the book, you’ll have a better appreciation for the magic you see, the cultures you come to know and the demons that you come to fear.
Double edged sword
Ah, the plot, the double edged sword, so to say. On one hand, I’m really happy with the plot of the book, because not only is it well written, it continues the wonderful characterization of our main characters while showing us a living, breathing world. However, by the end of the book, I couldn’t help but feel that this book was just used to get certain players into place for the third book.
Don’t get me wrong; what Black Halo lacks in advancing the threat, it more than makes up for in its characters and their discoveries. We understand more about where everyone comes from, and their relationships together grow in strange and interesting ways (I’m looking at you, Lenk and Kataria!). In a way though, it seems that was the main purpose of Black Halo: to continue exploring the inner conflicts and desires of the Adventurers. Lenk’s sanity, Kataria’s identity crisis, Denaos’ guilt, Dreadaleon’s complex, Asper’s condition, and Gariath’s search for life are all written very well and are as compelling as they’ve ever been. My only problem was that I felt these explorations of character did not balance well with moving the plot of the demons forward; that only reappears towards the last third of the book.
So why should you read this?
If you enjoyed the insanity that was Tome of the Undergates, then you are going to love Black Halo. Not only does Sykes continue his streak of intense characterization, larger than life monsters and hilarious moments, he does it all better than before. Even though the plot sometimes takes a backseat to the exploration of character, it is not something that holds the book back from being a wild ride from start to finish. I have a feeling book three, The Skybound Sea, will deliver.