Tome of the Undergates, the first book in The Aeons’ Gate, is the impressive debut novel of Sam Sykes, an energetic young author who was recently selected as The Ranting Dragon’s number one author to follow. The sequel to Tome of the Undergates, titled Black Halo, comes out on March 22, 2011.
In Tome of the Undergates, Lenk is an Adventurer, a profession which most believe is filled only with the scum of the earth. And with Adventurers such as the elf-like Schict, a dragonman, a petulant young wizard, an overly religious healer, and a cowardly rogue who all hate each other, most people aren’t wrong. Bad enough that Lenk has to work with them; he has also got to make sure they all don’t murder each other. But when the Tome of the Undergates is stolen from under their noses, Lenk and his crew have to go and get it back, lest a giant underwater demon end their bickering once and for all. Cue frogmen, loquacious sea pirates, purple skinned female furies and a whole bunch of hell breaking loose.
Mixing humor and fantasy can be like a high school science experiment: most times it will end up exploding in your face, taking your eyebrows in the process, and sometimes it will look amazing for a moment before it coughs and dies and you’re left with a soupy substance that smells and looks vaguely of cheese. But sometimes, the two work in harmony to create something that is fresh, exciting, and ultimately engaging in a way you’ve never experienced before.
Sam Sykes has crafted a novel with a great balance between humor and plot. One does not take away from the other. In fact, one thing I applaud about the humor’s effectiveness is that the characters are the ones saying it. Most times it’s ridiculously simple to find the author in the jokes; they don’t invest the humor in their character, they write it because they want a cheap laugh. Sykes lets his characters speak, and for a bunch of murderous, scummy adventurers, they’re a hilarious lot.
And you know what? It works. I was laughing along with the characters just as much as I was scared with them when things looked bleak. Sykes’s humor works because he lets the characters make the jokes, just as he has them make the hard decisions.
I said Pathos earlier…
For a hilarious book, it’s not all fun and games. One thing I’ve gleaned from Sykes’s writing is that above all, it is the characters he’s invested in. Most readers won’t care if the Dark Lord of Dark Darkness is stopped if they don’t care about the characters involved in stopping him. Likewise, if Sykes hadn’t written such wonderful, heartbreaking characters, I wouldn’t have cared about the giant fish-preachers or slimy frogmen.
“Wait, heartbreaking? I thought you said this book was funny!”
It is, theoretical reader, but the wonderful thing about it is that every character has a past they are trying to run away from. They have questions no one can answer, and they have desires no one can sate. They have sorrow and rage and confusion battling within them, and it is a wonderful thing to watch as they lash out because they refuse to confront it.
Some reviews I’ve read hate how each adventurer disdains the other. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. The book works because they’re all kindred spirits whether they know it or not. Despite all the belittling and the constant death-threats, they come together, and it is fascinating to witness.
Slogging through the sea
If there is anything negative to say about Tome of the Undergates, it is that it takes a little while for things to get going. The first two hundred pages take place over the course of two hours and a giant battle, but the plot doesn’t really start moving until that has passed. From there, it picks right up but it takes a bit of time.
Some folks might also be a little perturbed about a lack of answers in this book. Most mysteries are set up and while we get snippets along the way, nothing is truly given a definitive answer. But calm yourself; it’s the first book in a series and he’s got plenty of time to answer questions. Oh, and what do you know? The second book, Black Halo, comes out March 22, 2011!
So why should you read this book?
Tome of the Undergates is a hilarious and poignant look into the lives of six dysfunctional, some would say sociopathic, compatriots as they quest to prevent a giant fish demon from being released and destroying their world. If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will. A fun and destructive romp on the high seas, delivered by one of the newest voices in fantasy, Tome of the Undergates is definitely a book worth reading.
It is, as I told Sam Sykes himself, a “blasphemously delicious” book. If you are looking for a fresh voice in fantasy full of adventure, comedy, and pathos, then you need to hop on the Sam Sykes bandwagon and grab a copy of Tome of the Undergates!
Bonus: We’ll be conducting an interview with Sam Sykes soon! If you have any questions you would like us to ask him, e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org!