The heart of civilization bleeds. Cier'Djaal, once the crowning glory of the civilized world, has gone from a city to a battlefield and a battlefield to a graveyard. Foreign armies clash relentlessly on streets laden with the bodies of innocents caught in the crossfire. Cultists and thieves wage shadow wars, tribal armies foment outside the city's walls, and haughty aristocrats watch the world burn from on high. As his companions struggle to keep the city from destroying itself, Lenk travels to the Forbidden East in search of the demon who caused it all. But even as he pursues Khoth-Kapira, dark whispers plague his thoughts. Khoth-Kapira promises him a world free of war where Lenk can put down his sword at last. And Lenk finds it hard not to listen. When gods are deaf, demons will speak.
Sam Sykes is the author of Tome Of The Undergates, a vast and sprawling story of adventure, demons, madness and carnage. Suspected by many to be at least tangentially related to most causes of human suffering, Sam Sykes is also a force to be reckoned with beyond literature.
At 25, Sykes is one of the younger authors to have arrived on the stage of literary fantasy. Tome Of The Undergates is his first book, published in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Holland, and Canada. He currently resides in the United States and is probably watching you read this right now.
Good second book in the second trilogy from Sykes. Lots of faced paced action, but also interesting questions posed by the storylines of each character. This builds on the previous books, but also has good sub-plots in it's own right. Looking forward to the next book.
This book. I actually needed time to just sit and decompress after this one. You know that feeling at the end of Empire Strikes Back when you are thinking 'HIS HAND!!' and 'HIS FATHER?!' -- it's like that only multiplied by all the main characters.
I was a little worried at the beginning of The Mortal Tally because it took me a while to get reorientated in this world. (This included re-reading and skimming through parts of the previous novel). But once I had all my characters in order it was smooth sailing. This is the main reason I went with 4 stars. At the end of The City Stained Red, our five main characters are all off doing their own thing. Therefore going into this book, it took me a little extra to sort out the details of who's who and how the five story lines overlap and interact with each other.
The novel essentially follows each adventurer as they go on their own to somehow stop the chaos and death in Cier'Djaal. The characters are each dealing with themselves, demons, gods, lovers, magicians, friends, foes, different species -- this whole dynamic world to figure it out. The writing is excellent, the characters feel real and are well thought out. I truly feel vested with them as they struggle with their lives and choices made along the way.
Definitely a great read. Now I just need to go make myself some cliff notes so I can jump right into the next book when it comes out :)
Man, oh man, Sam Sykes can write. The first installment in this series read like a D&D adventure without the cheese factor. Great characters that break the mold over and over again, starting with Lenk and circling back around to end with Lenk. This installment further expands on our cast of characters, adding depth and backstory, and finally wrapping up with cliffhanger endings that will make you grit your teeth until the next book arrives.
The one thing I do want to point out with this book: Everyone thinks they have the answer to the world's problems. Everyone. All but Lenk, and all he wants to do is get out so he can be with the one he loves, but he can't until he finds a way to keep the world from burning down around them. Wrong decisions for the right reasons are what keep this book close to my own soul, and Sykes' prose will weave a spell that will draw you in over and over again.
This is a relentlessly grim-dark book, even more than the first one. Frankly speaking, reading the story of this book made me hopeless. It was bloody, brutal, unforgiving, and a selfish world that Sykes portrays with his signature dark humour and irony. This is also a book about characters, more than events, their inner conflicts that leads to choices of destruction in the world finds acute focus in Sykes narrative. It takes time for the reader to wrap their heads around the story, and the characters who are wildly complex in their own ways. This is a book where I think that each and every character suffers from an existential crisis and adopts a nihilist attitude to the world.
The worldbuilding is interweaved into the story, and is done quite well. This book focuses on Lenk's journey to find the forbidden city of the great demon Khoth-Kapira. It gives us a awesome vision of the city along with the Demon's ideal to carve a perfect world in a mortal realm where god's remain deaf to human prayers. It is terrifying in splendour, as well as endearingly human in the nature of grand ambition. Along with the journey of Lenk, Sykes also develops the subplots relating to the struggles of the Tulwars and the uprising of the shicts, and the shadowy war between the Jackals and the Khovura. The atmosphere of the imminent conflict is set up very brilliantly, and being a middle book it doesn't slow down, rather intensifies the action to the breaking point. A sufficient amount of attention is given to the society of Tulwars, and their dwindling race along with their enmity of the human and the shicts. Moreover, the author also gives some glimpses into the backstory of the Aeons and their fall from grace. It is one hell of a shitty and a troublesome gloomy world, and I can only hope that the demons make it more fucking awful.
The characters are sometimes frustrating, and also dynamic at the same time. As such, it was difficult for me to emotionally engage with them at all times. But, it is this complexity that adds depth and nuance to their contrasting personalities. The most interesting character for me is undoubtedly Mocca, aka, the great demon Khoth-Kapira. His character is developed with subtlety, refinement, and a tragic depth that isn't generally seen in a anatagonist. It would be ironical and at the same time true that I felt more affinity with Khoth-Kapira's vision than the spiteful, and ever fighting petty humans with their broken grasp on freedom, honour, dignity, mindless destruction, and greed. Gariath in this book is broken, and acts like a mindless maniac hiding his self-pity in his lust for destruction. I despised him to the core. He doesn't see beyond killing, and is irredeemable. Others like Denaos, Asper, Kataria, and Dradaelon deals with their own problems, though they are as fucked-up as the others.
I enjoyed reading it. It was filled with blood, fire, and grit to the brim. The action was o visceral at places that I can almost smell the corpses from the pages. It was freaking awful. I can definitely guarantee that readers will root more for Khoth-Kapira after reading this book. Sykes exposes the rotten condition of civilization in a very uncompromising manner, and gives a very bleak picture that leaves no hope. It was a pretty long book with 600 pages, but the pacing was extremely well fraught with dangers, twists, and action in the narrative. I have already started the third book, and very much eager to see where the story goes.
Sam Sykes shows great promise in book two, by keeping me engaged with the characters, the action continues non stop, just the way I like it! Looking forward to book three, finding out how all of this concludes. Strong writing, good work, Thanks!
When it comes to writing characters there are three authors who I've always thought stood out. George RR Martin, Robin Hobb, and Joe Abercrombie. In some order. The people in their stories will stay with me forever, truly.
Sam Sykes is quickly approaching that group. This series is like the Baldur's Gate or Icewind Dale games but on "great writing steroids". I love those games to death, but I love to read more. The best part of ID was creating your own group and giving them their own backstories and fears and passions (even if just in your head). This series is like that, but with the immensely creative Sam Sykes at the helm. And as I said from the start, Sykes breathes life into the six companions, as cliche as that saying has become.
I'm not much for reviews, but if you like Fantasy/humor/BG and ID, even Diablo - buy these books. I'm pleading. I want to quickly spout on the main cast.
Lenk - Our main man. He has so many emotions pulling him in all different directions. Dealing with betrayal. Doing thr right thing for thr greater good, if it isnthr greater good. Wanting to finally belong. Wanting to give up the only thing he's known. It hurt to read some of his sections.
Kataria - This felt like her book. It's not, it's all of theirs, but she shines throughout. One of the few times I've read a love triangle and enjoyed it. Kudos to Kwar being a fully fleshed out side character. If I were in Kataria's position I'd be totally making all the wrong decisions. Kind of like her. Not in a frusterating way, but a human one.
Asper - Possibly the most noble or "good" of all the main players. She spends most of the book trying to save lives. But I've always appreciated the concept of "killing one life may save hundreds". It's hard to stomach, especially for the priestess who is sicked and tired of all the killing.
Gariath - My favorite character. Whether or not he admits it, he's in pain from being abandoned. So he soothes that pain with violence and hatred for his old friends and that stinking city. He does some fairly horrible things in this book. He has some redeeming to do.
Dreadaeleon - This dude. So angry, so depressed. He has addiction problems and hallucinations giving him troubles. Sick of being disrespected. But I tell you what, for "an old man" he has a lot of growing up to do.
Denaos - The ultimate, "just one more" character. Reminded me if you go out drinking, but while pregaming you play Super Smash. And your girlfriend keeps asking if we can go. One more round! One more. That's Denaos. On top of debating how many times he's changed names. Changed lives. Essentially restarted. Can he do it again? Does he really want to...
Kudos, Sam. Love your books.
*Quick mention. While I throughly enjoyed The Mortal Tally, I would recommend rereading TCSR. I had to think hard on who some characters were and their place in the story.
If you like your fantasy to have well-rounded characters, villains that aren't easily described as evil, and worlds that feel real and lived in then you need to be reading the Bring Down Heaven series. There are so many moments in the second book of this series that made it worth my time and money but one moment stood out to me. It isn't a spoiler so I think I can detail it here. One of the characters has found respite in the company of a prostitute. He thinks he loves her and when he believes that he needs to make an escape he tells the woman that he can save her, bring her with him. Which at this point she asks him if he knows her name. Throughout the first book and the second this character has been obsessing over this woman. He called her by a fake name and she encouraged him to continue. But at no point does he ask her her real name, or where she came from, or what she would do if she could get out of the bath house she is indentured to. And she makes this all plain to our main character by asking him what her name is. It's a great moment in the book for a few reasons, but mostly I thought it was neat because Sam Sykes took this throwaway character, who has existed only for the pleasure of one of his main characters, and pointed out that she's more than what she has been perceived as. I might be looking into it too much but it felt like a bit of a commentary on how women are treated in fiction in general. Neat trick I thought. There are also Dragonmen who lead rebellions and fire giant balista's into other, even bigger Dragonmen. There is a Priestess who should be the frail, weak support class character but is in my opinion the bearer of the biggest pair of balls in the entire series so far. There are amazing sword fights and battles reeking of blood and carnage and not for one moment does Sykes let you forget that these are characters with feelings as they partake in all this violence. I love these books. I am both elated and saddened that there is only one more book in the series. Elated because there is more to read (he also recently released a short story but I think it's digital only and I hate reading books on screens) but saddened that I will have to say goodbye to these characters. I don't know if the series ends definitely but I hope not. I love this world. Sykes has a new book coming out soon set in a new world with new characters. I suggest you read it, and read all his other books.
I cannot, for the life of me, figure out who this book is supposed to be for. The descriptions of violence and the over-use of profanity seem to suggest it's meant for adult readers, but the writing itself and the characters within feel like they're targeted for middle-school readers. The language is extremely basic, and full of repeated words, sentence after sentence. I believe every author should read their own writing aloud just once, so they can hear how awkward it is when someone "puts the tip of his sword against the tip of his finger, noting the sharpness of the tip" ect. The characters all behave like children, old young and in-between. They're fussy, they're over-emotional, their thought process makes absolutely no sense. I could understand this being the case for a head-strong simpleton or two, but not the entire cast, including the characters who are supposedly wizened old-timers. Most of all, this book is boring. It's sprawling in its scope, meandering from one plot point to the other with the kind of slow, description heavy world-building that one would expect to find in a Tolkien novel. But this is not a Tolkien novel, and the world it contains is not half as interesting as it thinks it is.
I am a bit torn here, first of all I love Sam Sykes, his fantasy world is the kind I love..deep, interesting and full of action. The characters are well fleshed out and the dialogue is smart and funny. Oh, yes my friends the witty remarks run deep in these waters.
However, I do have a few issues, and I mean a few. The book suffers from the second book syndrome, the pacing gets a bit draggy and slow but its all good because things get set up for the next book. Some of the characters are a bit hard to like, but that is a "me" thing, still well done...just not really easy to get behind.
That being said, Sam Sykes writes kick ass fantasy..read it even with minor issues you will not be disappointed.
I absolutely loved this book. I really really liked City Stained Red and this book was even better. Fun, funny, full of adventure, action packed, and full of heart. The main characters are all great. Highly recommended.
This is such a hard book to rate because there are so many main characters and POVs and I feel so differently about all of them
Lenk - 5 stars, everything about his chapters are amazing. Sad murder boy being gaslit by the apparation of a god that no one else can see who keeps telling him that they could make a better world if Lenk would only join him. Incredibly sexy, a bonafide MOOD, genuinely the only thing I'm actually here for, would make a good novella all on its own because at this point I genuinely don't see the point in any of the parts that aren't about Lenk and sometimes Kataria.
Kataria - 4 stars, not quite as good as Lenk but I've always got room in my heart for another bisexual murder wife and I do like her chapters.
the healer lady and the thief guy - yeah we're getting to the point where I don't remember their names ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Anyway, 3 stars, they don't do much for me but there's some interesting parts and I don't automatically groan when I get to one of their chapters
the dragon dude - 2 stars, genuinely just annoying. We get it everyone who doesn't wander off into the desert alone to make their own way without help from anyone is a giant pussy and you're so cool and tough. He's exhausting.
wizard fuckboy - 1 star, I goddamn hate this dude. At least the woman he's been pretending that he gives a shit about for this whole series told him off here so I know that Sykes knows what he's writing, but I just absolutely hate him and I hate all of his chapters. Every time someone shows up like 'ok we're gonna execute you now' I'm just like PLEASE. Save me from this asshole.
Luckily for me Lenk seems to get the most chapters and wizard fuckboy seems to get the least so at least my most hated character isn't the main one, but it's still a very long book to read considering I have such varied feelings on it. I'm gonna read the last one because I want to know what happens but I definitely won't be going back to the first trilogy and I definitely don't think this is on par with Seven Blades in Black. I wish this series was just about Lenk but alas!
Let's talk about middle books for a minute. They tend to be problematic. You start in the middle of the story and then you end in the middle of the story. That feels weird. The first book usually gives the reader a bit of closure. The second screws everything up. Then the third wraps it up. The City Stained Red doesn't really give closure, but this book does its job and REALLY screws things up. At the end of this book things look bad for all of our "heroes" (who am I kidding, there are no heroes in this story) and the world in general. But that's how it should be at this stage. I don't think I enjoyed this one quite as much as the first book, but it was still really good. It's very different from the first book, since the group is split up and never comes back together in the course of the story. There are a few interactions between original group members, but basically each of them is off doing their own thing. The really cool part of that, though, is that this story is becoming the story of a war with a LOT of different sides to it, and each character fits into one (or more) of those sides. So, by splitting up the party we get to see a lot of details of what's happening. I have to admit, I found the middle third of the book to be a bit of a slog. Took me a while to get through it, but then the end picks up and blasts towards a series of impressive climaxes (although there is no resolution). So, I liked this one a lot. But it did what second books are supposed to do: made me excited to move on to book 3.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Very few book series can claim to be as enthralling or as good as their first installment, but Sam Sykes proves his aptitude for storytelling once again in The Mortal Tally - the second book in the Bring Down Heaven trilogy. After the shock of a city fallen to chaos, armies warring in the streets and religious fanatics of God-King Khoth-Kapira erupting into demons, one would think Sykes couldn't up the ante. A thought swiftly proven wrong. Handling the realities of war and those who get dragged into it, alongside mistake after mistake made by Lenk, Kataria, Gariath, Denaos, Dreadaleon, and Asper alike, The Mortal Tally presents questions, the answer of actions, and the consequences that follow. Much the same way as The City Stained Red, The Mortal Tally is a source of vivid descriptions that build an incredibly tangible world. It is a welcome and refreshing experience to read a novel that an author has so clearly put their very heart and soul into, it pours off the page. The plot twists and turns, sets the world one way and then flips it on its head, all without losing the reader or becoming overly complicated. It's a sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat ride from beginning to end and never once lapses - I recall late nights spent reading this book because of that need for 'just one more chapter'. Sykes has rapidly become one of my top 'go-to' authors for a fantasy fix and I would urgently press this trilogy on anyone.
The Mortal Tally is the second book in the Bring Down Heaven Trilogy and follows right on the heels of the first book The City Stained Red. It has everything you've come to expect from a Sam Sykes book thrilling action, dark humour and a deep and innovative world.
The characters from the first come back but with added depth as they lurch from one bad decision to another as they try to save the city of Cier'Djaal, and their own skins, in a world gone mad. The characters were well rounded before, but you get a real insight into them as they are all pushed to the limits. They are all flawed, some terrible people, but you will be invested in them and rooting for them to succeed none the less.
I knew from reading other Sam Sykes books I would like this. Still, beyond the epic monsters, evil gods, murder, betrayal and intrigue, there was one thing that made this really shine. I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen. With most books, no matter how good, you might not know what will happen minute to minute, but you know a ring will end up in a volcano or the hero will get the girl. In this, I had no idea how it was going to end until I read it, and that is a rare thing indeed.
The Mortal Tally is a rare beast both dark and funny, action-packed and meaningful and it keeps you guessing right to the end. It is a flawless book that hooks you early and keeps you invested right until the thrilling finale. I can't wait to read the next book.
I have heard Mr. Sykes speak about writing on many occasions and always his top priority for any story is emotion. Whether or not you agree with him is irrelevant, but I mention this because it translates so well into his story.
Each chapter is an emotional journey for the character whose point of view it's from. Their choices are steep in emotion and the consequences of their ideals. This book has been an exceptional read that I highly recommend.
The only thing negative I would mention about the book is that the main characters don't interact much in this novel. That's a pity since their relationships to each other were the main driver and my favorite part of the first novel in the trilogy. It's most obvious to me as the scenes where they do interact in this novel are my favorite ones. If you enjoy fantasy novels with a sarcastic cast of characters, each of which is a bundle of complex, emotional issues to unravel, then I highly recommend this series.
Also I never know where to put this organically in my reviews so here it goes, but my favorite character by far is Asper.
I really enjoyed this awesome middle book in the trilogy - and it's rare I enjoy the second more than the first, but in this case, I did! Part of that is that it's set in many more places, following the characters on thier individual journeys, rather than together, but also because there was a lot of action, unexpected but very very welcome! Normally, the middle book is the centre of the storm, and there's little action but for that setting us up for the finale. This was more the filling of the sandwich, and though I can see what's left for the next book, I'm quite happy with this as a stand alone if needs be! Which, considering the next is waiting to be read, I don't have to! The writing is action-packed, as I've said, following the gang on their seperate paths after the battles in the streets seen in book one. There's great characterization, fantastic adventure and plenty of strange happenings setting up the next book, and this is definitely a favourite of the year, probably a 4.6 rather than a 5, but there's no half measures on good reads lol!! Recommended for any fantasy novel lover x
I enjoyed and thought this an improvement on the first book (which was already good)
A bit less of an adventuring party and will less surprises (as we already know the characters) this basically shows what happens when already corrupt/fanatical people in a corrupt city endure civil war and the effective collapse of society.
it also shows us the personal changes of each of the main protagonists, most developing very believably and focusing on their insecurities, their loves, fears and how they cannot escape their histories.
i particularly like the feral elf types and how our main lead is tempted to follow a path that could be demon led - he wants to make restitution and anything that can do that is tempting. The dragon man follows exactly the path I liked - not being a cuddly monster but being exactly what I thought he would be. The young kid super mage - he annoyed me a lot and I imagine actually he would have been murdered in his sleep at least 5 times
The overall plot is great, the book reads well and has a bit more pace to it than the first and all is good
Broken people. Broken people make life interesting. Broken people make bad decisions based on the same evidence that "unbroken" (boring) people make. Broken people then compound their bad decisions with mistakes and bad actions. Every step of this story, you want to scream at the main characters - and I mean that as a compliment. Because while you can see that the decisions they're making are the wrong decisions...it completely makes sense to them and to you. This is how people behave.
That's the biggest compliment I can give to a work of fiction. These broken characters seem so real in their pain, sadness, anger, confusion, and "broken-ness" that the bad decisions they make, which compound on each other, completely make a certain kind of sense. Anxiously looking forward to reading installment #3.
So many terrible choices. I kinda like that in Sykes' characters, it's very human to do something stupid and tell yourself it's going to be alright because you mean well or you had no other choice or anyone else would have done this (but of course my favorite character is Asper).
Edit: Wait, wait, I have an actual comment to make! It's not about the story, though. It's that the author doesn't seems to grasp what exactly is a fresco. It breaks my art school heart to see him describe a mosaic to the tile, or a bas-relief's careful sculpting, and call all of it a fresco. I know it's Lenk's perspective and that he isn't exactly an artsy person, but this is not a first person book on which the author is justified in calling things the character doesn't have a name for "thingie".
This was an excellent second book in the series. Continuing where the prior book, The City Stained Red, left off and takes it to a whole new level. We have the same familiar set of characters and these are thrust into ever more challenging circumstances as they struggle to contain (or exploit) the violence surrounding Cier'Djaal. With a strong set of characters, an engaging plot, and an intriguing setting, this book was a pleasure to read. As before, the book has a dark, gritty, violent tone with moments of wry humor thrown in to manage the tension.
A mark of good writing for me is creating characters that I become so attached to that their suffering crushes my heart. There was so much heart stomping in various forms in Mortal Tally, in the aftermath of the quirky DnD-esque escapades of the first book. The misfit crew of adventurers draws you in to their struggles, and this part of the story really puts them through some rough sh*t. I found Kataria’s story particularly effective in this book. I spent most of it irrationally angry at her, so that was some effective storytelling. Can’t wait to see how Sam manages to weave all the pieces together and let them live happily ever after and maybe go on vacation or something. Haha.
Initially, I was a bit reluctant to tag along to the adventures of Sykes's protagonists. There was something about them that made me uneasy whenever they made a poor decision or reacted poorly, or even said the wrong thing. Then I realized that it's because of how relatable he's made these characters, they're not only a series of actions that add up to a protagonist, but also driven by emotions, by desires. And now I'm glad to have started 2019 with the 3rd part of this series. Looking forward to more Sykes stories in the future!
This series is just fun, honestly. There's just a constant underlying tone of enthusiasm that shows that Sykes just damn well enjoyed writing it. And I damn well am enjoying reading it. I like how neatly the character arcs overlap despite each acting separately to each other. I like the anger and the purpose that drives each of them. Lost that 5th star for the pacing. It just seemed a bit off this time around. Certainly keen to pick up book 3 soon.
The mortal tally is the middle of the bring down heaven trilogy, but managed to stand on its own as a story that does not need the preceding or succeeding novels to make sense. Sam Sykes expertly blends action and character development, building the relationships between characters and fleshing out the world they live in.
If you enjoyed City Stained Read (which you pretty much have to read to understand this book) then there's a pretty good chance you will like The Mortal Tally. It has that excellent mix of humor, action, and character development that you can expect from Sam Sykes, and (in my opinion) presents it all with even better pacing than City Stained Red.