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Tome of the Undergates
Sam Sykes
Gollancz, 637 pages

Tome of the Undergates
Sam Sykes
Sam Sykes currently lives in the United States with his two hounds and, at any given time, is probably yelling at something inanimate. Tome of the Undergates is his first book, but far from his last.

Sam Sykes Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Dominic Cilli

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Tome of the Undergates is the debut novel of Sam Sykes. It isn't an exceptionally complex tale. It's the story of band of mercenaries who are led by a man named Lenk. The adventure begins with the group aboard a ship being paid to protect a high ranking church official. Almost immediately, the ship comes under attack by pirates and then soon thereafter by certain other denizens of the deep. The group then finds themselves on a nearby island fighting with said denizens and some other particularly nasty enemies in an attempt to recover the title book that was stolen during the first engagement. In between these two massive battles, we get a healthy dose of in-group bickering and Sam Sykes gives us the feeling that if these characters weren't so damn busy bludgeoning the enemy, they'd be trying to kill one another. If this sounds like it may be an oversimplification, it is, but not by much. Tome of the Undergates is primarily a character driven story and we do get some very interesting characters. It all starts with their leader Lenk, who just happens to be possessed by the spirit of a deity. Then there is Gariath, a dragonman who finds humans to be little more than prey. Kataria, one of two females in the party, is a Shict, an expert with a bow, and a "ranger" type. (She also happens to hate humans.) Asper, the second female in the group, serves as the group's healer and the lone non-secular voice in a party of decidedly secular people. Finally, this band of "merry adventurers" is rounded out by Denaos, a rogue, assassin and general scumbag and Dreadaeleon the wizard who yearns for respect and recognition.

Potential is the first word that comes to my mind when I think of Sam Sykes debut. Gollancz is touting Sykes to be the next in a line of great young authors that includes the likes of Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch. After reading Tome of the Undergates, one can easily see how and why they are making the comparisons. Sykes has a style that somewhat resembles these great authors. It is very dark and very unconventional, but unfortunately he is nowhere even close to being on the level of those three authors. So if you go in expecting to read an author on the level of Abercrombie or Rothfuss, you are going to be disappointed. However, Sam Sykes is still very young. He is only 25 years old, so it's not as if there isn't hope and it's not as if Tome of the Undergates doesn't have its merits nor isn't a worthwhile read.

To begin with, Sam Sykes has an extraordinary ear for dialogue. The exchanges between characters are acrid, snappy and often times laugh out loud funny. Sykes is an extraordinarily witty writer with a very black sense of humor and dialoguing skills to spare. However, plotlines, character development, world building, all essential features of fantasy literature are present, but glossed over to the point where it's difficult to discern why it has taken Sykes nearly eight years to write this novel. In place of these features, we have about 450 pages of pure bloodletting coming led with about 150 pages of transitions from one fight to the next. That being said, I will be reading the next installment of this series to see if this story evolves into something more then a couple long fights and some laughs, but until it does, this type of novel isn't going to appeal to many "seasoned" advocates of the genre.

Copyright © 2010 Dominic Cilli

When asked to write a third-person tag line for his reviews, Dominic Cilli farmed the work out to an actual 3rd person, his friend Neal, who in turn turned it over to a second person who then asked his third cousin to help out and this person whom Dom doesn't even know then wrote in 8th person Omniscient mode "Dom's breadth of knowledge in literature runs the gamut and is certainly not bounded by the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre. One thing I can say with certainty is that of all the people I don't know who've ever recommended books to read, Dom's recommendations are the best.


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