Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes
Sam Sykes is an author that has been on my radar for a while now. His twitter feed is probably one of the biggest highlights of my day for his undeniable charm and boundless humor. Seriously, check it out, he’s hilarious.
Anyways, I’ve been meaning to check out the first in his Aeon’s Gate Trilogy for a while now, Tome of the Undergates, and recently found the chance after binge-reading all of the Dresden Files. Based on his twitter and blog I was expecting something completely different than what I read. Although I must say, for an author at 25, Sam Sykes has quickly jumped the ranks to my top tier of authors to watch out for along with the bigs like Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Peter V. Brett.
The plot of the novel is very contained, taking place over the course of a few days. There’s a solid chunk of the beginning that takes place during a single battle on ship, lasting for some 200 pages. While normally I wouldn’t like a long drawn out battle, and it did take me a little longer than normal to get through those pages, Sykes managed to never bring a dull moment as new characters are introduced and their abilities put on miraculous display. What follows is the main characters, a team of 6, journeying to recover the lost Tome found in the title and face their own issues in the process.
The worldbuilding of this series appears to be top notch from what we’re given in book 1. Myths and legends of demons and the Kraken Queen are abound (there’s nothing quite like a dignified scholar of a demon talking civilized to the “heroes”). The creatures, ranging from the frogmen to the Abysmyth all the way to the Deepshriek – a creature with a sharks body and 3 human female heads, it all seems well-thought out and captivating on a number of levels.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most glaring detractors I had of this book, and that would be the P.O.V switches. Throughout the book there was multiple instances of a quick switch between points-of-view with little to no warning. While each character was distinct enough that it wasn’t often a problem figuring out who’s head you were in, it was a little jarring for me as a reader and would mess with the flow of the book for me. (To his credit, Sykes did use this technique expertly a few times as well, switching in battle between the attacker and the victim.)
Personally, my favorite character was Dreadaeleon. I am usually partial to the mages of the group and Dread turned out to be relatable on a number of levels to the awkward kid in me. Not to mention his talk of the Venarium and the laws of magic drawing me in more swiftly than I had expected. I hope to see more information regarding the mages of this world and the culture they bring with them. Speaking of the magic, the Longfaces, giant purple-skinned humanoids that appear near the end of the book are some of my favorite types of characters to read about. Their alien nature and fierceness in battle are captivating to read and judging from a cliffhanger epilogue will feature more in the upcoming books.
Sykes did something very unique when I reached the conclusion of the book. As everyone was recovering from the final battle they all had moments of increased character development. The amount of depth to personalities that went into those last 4-5 chapters is astounding. As I mentioned, Sykes does a wonderful job at teasing just enough to get you interested and ask all the right questions while the ending makes it worthwhile as some are answered and even more questions are asked.
Gariath the dragonman benefits the most from this in my opinion. Transforming his character from a likable one with oddly destructive habits into one with full blown sympathy and understanding through the course of a single chapter of some of the most heart-wrenching prose I’ve read. The reader also comes to understand the main character of Lenk on a different level as the aspects of his character are given more defined shape while still leaving enough mystery for books 2 and 3.
All-in-all Tome of the Undergates has given me exactly what it set out to do. An awesome sword and sorcery type story filled with an intriguing cast of characters and worldbuilding that answers enough questions for me to have dozens more. It’s a sure thing I’ll be picking up Black Halo before too long and pre-ordering Skybound Sea. Do yourselves a favor and grab Tome of the Undergates and enjoy the epic ride Sam Sykes has laid out for us in his wonderful prose.