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Aeons' Gate #1

Tome of the Undergates

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Lenk can barely keep control of his mismatched adventurer band at the best of times (Gariath the dragon man sees humans as little more than prey, Kataria the Shict despises most humans, and the humans in the band are little better). When they're not insulting each other's religions they're arguing about pay and conditions. So when the ship they are travelling on is attacked by pirates things don't go very well.

They go a whole lot worse when an invincible demon joins the fray. The demon steals the Tome of the Undergates - a manuscript that contains all you need to open the undergates. And whichever god you believe in you don't want the undergates open. On the other side are countless more invincible demons, the manifestation of all the evil of the gods, and they want out.

Full of razor-sharp wit, characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunging the reader into a vivid world of adventure this is a fantasy that kicks off a series that could dominate the second decade of the century.

612 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2010

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About the author

Sam Sykes

44 books1,181 followers
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.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 183 reviews
Profile Image for Terence.
1,114 reviews345 followers
June 28, 2018
A revered priest hired a band of adventurers to be his escort. The band consists of Lenk a man with a sword and a voice in his head, Denaos a career criminal, Kataria a pointy eared savage, Gariath a monster known as a dragonman, Dreadaelon a young wizard, and Asper a cursed priestess. This unlikely group takes on a high priced job to retrieve an especially dangerous book, the Tome of the Undergates, when it is stolen by a demon.

Tome of the Undergates simply fails to hold my attention. It has interesting enough writing, a diverse group of characters, and some mystery but I simply don't want to know any more about any of them. The book is too long for me to be so disinterested in what's happening.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that the characters are largely stereotypes who don't seem to have any overly intriguing characteristics. I should deeply care why Lenk has a voice in his head that speaks to him and what Miron isn't telling everyone, but it's largely a yawn for me. The only moment that stirred anything for me was when Denaos was called in to torture someone for information. Unfortunately that feeling was fleeting.

Tome of the Undergates simply wasn't a book for me.
Profile Image for Chelsea.
148 reviews32 followers
October 30, 2012
This is a rollicking tale, featuring a standard set of fantasy characters, off on an adventure. Sounds typical, but I promise it'd not. The book is receiving mixed reviews, at best. I can definitely see where others had problems with the book, but my enjoyment outweighed the potential problems with the plot.


The dialogue and humor are definitely the strongest parts of this book. It made me laugh out loud several times. The writing itself is actually very strong through out, POV approach not withstanding (see below). You can tell Sykes likes to weave a tale.

The characters are really well conceived. Even though they're all obviously based around typical D&D stock characters (fighter, elven archer, barbarian, wizard, cleric/healer, rogue), each one is given a history, problems, weaknesses, and strengths that make them fresh and unique. I particularly like Denaos and Dreadaleon. Sykes allows their struggles and histories to actively affect their actions and thoughts. He makes this character-building shit look EASY.

In terms of worldbuilding, the gods and mythology of the world are much better explored than the setting itself. Where is the mainland? Is it all islands? Why are there all these pirates? Where is everyone from? Maybe these things were mentioned early on, but I apparently didn't pick up on them. I guess this counts as a pro and a con. I want to know more about the world, but I'm comfortable in my level of knowledge as it pertains to the story. I am not overloaded with info. There are some conversations and scenes to fill in the adventurers as they begin their quest, but they don't come off as "Well, Bob"s.

I do like all the different gods, and the idea of the adventurer. The world has a feel like an RPG which allows the experienced reader to relate to the world easily without having to know who's kingdom fought who or which area worships which god.


Pacing? Maybe? It's hard to qualify the pacing of this book. Plot wise, it moves in jumps and starts. Even though the story is one long, ceaseless adventure, the action pauses to let the characters sort themselves out. While it's good to give the characters breathing room, I think it could have all been written more efficiently. The first 200 or so pages describes a sea battle between pirates, sea monsters, adventurers, clerics, etc. The PC characters have time for lengthy conversations between lulls in the fighting. It could have been handled a little more deftly. 200 pages is a very long battle, offering a time where the action is intense, but the story at a stand-still, all at once.

The book is in third-person perspective throughout, skipping from one character to another, sometimes in a jarring manner. At one point, the POV skips between Kat and Denaos, back and forth, without clarity as to who's thoughts I was reading. However, in another section this technique was well-used, when the POV skips from one person, to the person who kills him. Mostly, though, I would put this into the "weakness" category of the book.

I'll definitely read the next one. I've read some interviews from Sykes, talking about his growth as a writer, and I'm interested to see what he does for the next part of the tale.
10 reviews
June 28, 2014
I have to be honest. I thought this book was not-so-good. I have read a lot of books and a lot of author's first books and this has to be the worst.

Don't get me wrong, the story, when I could follow it, was a good one. It was the execution that was poor. Character development was terrible, plot development was haphazard, and it was impossible to follow dialog at times.

I'm still not sure exactly what the plot was trying to achieve. They lost the Tome even tho' they didn't know what it was, they found it again and barely know what it is. No one was even curious enough to open it up when they found it.

As far as I could tell, the entire plot was about 6 separate angst-ridden moral justification journeys. Was the human-hating cat-like person fighting with humans for a reason? I don't know. Was the dragon guy on a mission to find his lost people? I don't know. Was the thief trying to do anything at all besides irritate the other characters and the reader? I have no idea. That was the whole theme for this book, I have no idea.

It's almost like someone edited out ALL of the exposition and the book leaped from angst scene to action scene and back again with no comprehensive anything in between.

I think the plot was good, there was a good adventure story in there somewhere, I just wish I'd actually read about it, rather than the angst and tripe I did read.

Maybe the 2nd one in the series will be better, but I doubt I'll try to slog my way through it, like I did this one.
Profile Image for Megan.
457 reviews74 followers
October 16, 2011
(Re-posted from http://theturnedbrain.blogspot.com)

You can’t help but admire an author with the audacity to open a book with an almost 200 page battle scene. No, that wasn’t a typo. The sprawling fight that opens Sam Sykes’ ‘Tome of the Undergates’ is as long as some novellas. It takes a certain kind of chutzpah to ignore the rules like that, and I tip my hate to Mr. Sykes for it.

In fact, I tip my hate twice, because unconventional as the opening was, I enjoyed every second of it. This surprised me, because I have a tendency to skim over fight scenes in books, even when I’m already attached to the characters. But Syke’s prose is crisp and tempered with a unique kind of humour that my interest was held from the get go, even though my investment in his characters was zero. I actually really liked the way each character was introduced mid fight. It was a change from how these things are normally done, and watching how each adventurer reacted to life threatening danger provided deep insight into them right from the get go.

Sykes' characters are definitely on the Abercrombie end of the Tolkien/Abercrombie character morality scale. I wouldn’t say unlikable, although plenty of people have, but certainly they have their flaws. It might be because they all claim to hate each other so much that their worst traits keep showing up, or maybe it’s just because they’re adventurers. Still, I found there was something to like in each of them, which stopped all their bad sides from being too much. On the downside I would have liked to see more character growth as the book progressed. They went from hating each other to…. Still hating each other. From being happy to let each other die to… Being happy to let each other die. Plus, man, the self pity! They hate each other, they hate themselves, come on guys! It’s not all bad!

Enough about them, let’s talk plot. The book opens at a hurtling pace and continues on that way. There are no pauses to let the reader no what’s going, you have to figure it out for yourself. Which might bug some people, but I am a fan of working shit out for myself. So, we have a team of adventurers (who rank somewhere below cockroaches in this universe) who are on a ship providing protection to some priestly fellow and his tome. Or should I say Tome with a capital 'T,' because this is one important book. The ship is best by adversaries, the Tome is stolen, and the adventurers must retrieve it against all odds. Now there’s nothing wrong with a simple plot, but I think ‘Tome of the Undergates’ was too simple. Some obstacles or complication to the adventurer’s quest would have been welcome.

Furthermore, while I hugely enjoyed the action filled opening to the book, once that battle ended and the gang set off in search of the Tome my enjoyment began to slip. Sykes handles scenes of high action extremely well, but he seems lost when it came to quieter, more introspective moments. It seemed a bit like the characters were just standing around, waiting for the next fight start. Instead of skimming the battles, I found myself skimming all the stuff between battles, which was certainly a first for me. Overall the book felt like fight scenes linked by filler, like a d-grade action movie.

Honestly, I think if I hadn’t enjoyed the actual style of Sykes’s prose so much I would have given up on this one. There’s a really unique, almost visceral quality to the way he writes, and an almost total lack of clichés. Plus, and I know I mentioned this earlier but I’ll say it again for emphasis, Sam Sykes is wicked funny. Every sentence drips with cynical humour, but the it never comes across as too joke heavy. It’s an overall air of cleverness, instead of joke after joke.

I will give the next book in this series, ‘Black Halo’ a try. I feel like even though ‘Tome of the Undergates’ may have neglected character growth and plot, there is real potential there. And if nothing else I know it will be written with style.
Profile Image for Marc Aplin.
Author 4 books388 followers
July 26, 2011
I first heard of ‘Tome of the Undergates’ via Twitter. I had seen the rather interesting ‘@SamSykesSwears’ tweeter shouting out about Fantasy and generally interacting with users and causing a bit of chaos. I must admit, I actually hadn’t heard of the book until I clicked this ‘@SamSykesSwears’ profile button and found that he was in-fact an author.

I quickly read the synthesis of his book:

‘The name never uttered without scorn, they are long loathed for their knowledge of nothing beyond violence and greed and their utter disregard for human life, least of all their own.

And Lenk, a young man with a sword in his hand and a voice in his head, counts them as his closest company.

Charged with retrieving the Tome of the Undergates, a written key to a world long forgotten by mankind and home to creatures determined to return, Lenk is sent after ancient evangelical demons, psychotic warrior women and abominations lost to myth. Against them, he has but two weapons: a piece of steel and five companions as eager to kill each other as they are to help him.


Seemed like my kind of thing and over the weeks I grew to enjoy the Tweets that came over Twitter so I picked it up. I’m pretty glad I did because whether or not it will be to every-ones tastes or not – it is certainly doing something fairly unique and there is nothing else like it out there.

Essentially ‘Adventurers’ are based on our easily recognisable ‘Fantasy Party’. We have the swordsman, the thief, the ranger, the priestess and the Dragonman. They have been sent on a mission to retrieve an object and in order to retrieve it they are going to have to kill pirates, demons and generally realise their destinies.

But wait... this doesn’t sound very unique right? Well no... I think that is the beauty of the book and Sam Sykes as an author. He doesn’t try to make the ‘fantasy’ side of things different. OK, we know what Fantasy is... Sykes could create new races and new settings and things like that, but he doesn’t for good reason. Within about 10 pages you feel sufficiently orientated. You know roughly who does what and the kind of story you would expect.

So... the uniqueness... it’s all in ‘the voice’. Sam Sykes writes like almost nobody else. I guess if I had to liken him to someone it would be Joe Abercrombie, but even that is a fairly thin comparison. The third person narrative in Tomes of the Undergates is done in what is called ‘Third Person – Free Indirect Discourse’. Basically the story is told in third person perspective but through the language and mind of the character the narration is focusing on. This in itself even is not that new – but the constant and rapid shift from character to character is. One minute you could be in a Priest’s head – then the next a Frogman’s as he is slain and the next you could find yourself with the main character looking at the death of the Frogman from the perspective of an outsider. It is at time dizzying, but in an enjoyable way and a way you will quickly come to appreciate.

The next element of ‘uniqueness’ I’d like to focus on is the argumentative characters. Most often we see minor arguments of characters in novels, but essentially they agree and go together or separate and do their own thing. The characters in Tomes are far more realistic than that... like friends / colleagues of everyday life, they bicker, they argue and tend to hate each other throughout most of the day. A few people in the blogging community have commented that this arguing made the book hard to read – but I think in the main part it adds to the style and enjoyable nature of the book. The arguments tend to be amusing and the outcomes move the story / relationships between the characters forwards.

So... the story? Is it worth reading? I must say that it is. Although I think the ending to the story could be guessed upon reading the back of the book (Five adventurers set out on a quest to retrieve a Holy item!) I think readers will be happy with the in-betweens. There is an amazingly well done 200 page skirmish – that shifts between a certain win to a certain defeat and back again and again. There are meetings with beings that extend beyond our comprehension. And generally the characters do develop. In-fact, I think that the last 100 pages of the book show that this story has a lot, lot more to it. Sam Sykes reveals a few hidden secrets to the story that will no doubt be very, very important in any following volumes.

I would like to explain now why I think Sam Sykes is someone to watch out for. For me, I think there is a lot, lot more of Sam to come. This book is probably only going to be embraced by a set group of people. I see Sam Sykes has written a book that he wanted to write – something he would have liked to read. Because I’m quite a similar age, have similar interests (women, epic battles, pirates, cool demons, fantasy races, gritty battle talk and banter) – I love it. Generally I have described the many fantasies of a fantasy fan and Tomes will meet the traditional / D&D fanboys head on. The majority of people I have seen slate the book have been people who were expecting a huge and epic story with multiple threads and complicated back stories, etc. Sam Sykes himself will tell you ‘Tomes of the Undergates’ is what it is. It is a cool adventure book!

That being said; the description in Sam’s book, the narrative style and the single ‘emotional scene’ that quite frankly nearly had me in tears (I don’t cry... ever!!!) shows that Sam Sykes is a fantastic writer and capable of doing pretty much whatever he wants. I think Tome of the Undergates would be a very, very good book to pick up today and a promise of even greater things to come.
Profile Image for Liviu.
2,255 reviews630 followers
April 19, 2010
There are books that are so bad to be funny, but this one while as bad as I've read in a long time is not that funny; if you like potty humor and enjoy a paragraph describing the potty habits of various characters and deep ruminations like "potty habits never change", or if you like juvenile humor going back and forth in the middle of supposedly tough fights, maybe you should try this one, but otherwise steer clear; I had high expectations when the book was announced but the reviews I saw kind of tempered them but I still expected a readable book

Maybe it works as fantasy humor but I am not in the market for such and this one is definitely not sold as such either.

Profile Image for Marcus Gipps.
70 reviews8 followers
August 28, 2010
Well, it's called Tome of the Undergates, and the cover is a man with a sword standing in water looking cool/like an idiot (delete according to preference). Of course it isn't going to be 'brilliant', depending on your definition of brilliant. There is no way that a non-fantasy reader would pick this book up and, unlike some other Gollancz debuts, I wouldn't recommend that they did. My trouble is, I'm not sure I'd recommend it to anyone else, either, which is more than a little unfair of me, as it really isn't that bad. There's a real back-to-basics feel about the book, by which, really, I mean that it feels like it was written up based on a game of D&D. A really long game, that took ages to think up, and everybody took very seriously, and was really fun, but nobody else quite understands the attraction of. Actually, that sounds like a lot of fantasy fiction.

Things aren't helped by the fact that it's such a brick of a book. I don't mind long books, and I don't mind fantasy trilogies, but the first two hundred pages are taken up with a fight on a boat. That's it. Oh, there's plot exposition and characterisation (although not much, to be honest), and it sets up the rest of the novel, but in the end what there is is a big fight on a boat. It's quite well written, and has some clever ideas, and displays well the time and effort that the author has put into his setting. But it's two hundred pages of it (two hundred and nineteen, to be precise). That's too long. The energy and excitement of the first thirty or forty pages just get eroded. For me, that sums up my main problem with the book - by the time I'd got to the end of the first section, I was actively annoyed about how long it had taken. All of the good stuff - and there is some - was getting submerged by my wish for the book to move on.

Oh, I'm sorry, it's late and I'm hugely behind on blogging and I just didn't like the book as much as I hoped I would. I'll concentrate on the positive, and there is a lot of that. The characters - yes, there are six of them, one's a cleric, one's a mage, one's a thief, you know the drill - are quite enjoyable to read about. Alright, they all hate each other and threaten to hurt each other at every opportunity, but still, there are some nice touches. Sykes has some good and original ideas for his setting, which help to keep the narrative moving, and the main plot is clear and, for the most part, enjoyable. Something about a book which will unleash demons on the world, I think. That doesn't really matter - what does is the journey towards it. The fight scenes are fun (although the one on the boat is too long - have I mentioned that?), and there's an energy to the prose that works well in this context. Perhaps I was just hoping for something a little more 'different', and yes, I realise that's a nebulous and unfair criticism. I'll have a look at the next one - this is, after all, a first novel, and I'm confident that Sykes will produce something a little less self-indulgent next time around.

I read a proof while on holiday over the New Year (yes, I'm very behind), and the book is out now, ISBN: 9780575090286.
Profile Image for Mpauli.
157 reviews458 followers
November 11, 2014
Ever wanted to read a novelization of an anime? While reading Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes I often felt that this was exactly what I'm doing.

We're following a group of misfit adventurers led by Lenk a silver-haired young man who hears voices in his head. He is accompanied by the thief Denaos, the peace-loving priestess Asper, the very young mage Dreadalion and two non-human companions. One is Kataria, a female shict (I never understood it completely...feral elf with wings, but really aggressive and animalistic), the other is Gariath, a dragonman who thinks that all other beings are cowards and beneath him.

As far as the plot goes, the book is quite simple. Our "heroes" have been hired to escort the high priest Miron Evanhands on a ship journey. When we start the book, the ship is about to be attacked by pirates.
I don't give you any more of a synopsis...mostly because there is nothing more. If I would write 2-3 more short sentences, I would have reached the end of the book. So why, you might ask, is the book over 600 pages long?

That is a great question. The answer to this brings us back to my comparison of the book to an anime. As you might have guessed there is a lot of conflict potential between the characters. The priest is not amused that everyone else seems to be so violent and without morales and the non-humans spent page after page to tell us that all humans are cowards.
Like in an anime a huge chuck of the book is constant arguing between the characters. Most of the chapters are 2/3 of pure dialogue focusing on the endlessly repeated arguments.
That is why the first scene on the boat takes up almost 150 pages, cause all the characters are introduced during the fight and of course every character has to tell every other character why they actually don't like each other. This is then repeated in every of the following settings.

Another feature that reminded me of animes were the pretty nasty and imaginative demonic enemies. As you would expect there are some creatures in it, where the heroes look at each other and going "How are we supposed to fight that?" which is another great excuse for one of the non-humans to start the umpteenth "humans are cowards" debate.
And of course, like in an anime, the antagonists are all very sophisticated and eloquent and explain in bloomy detail why the heroes are inferior to them and throw around a lot of names and titles that noone can really pronounce, but are mightily important to them.

I have to admit that I am a plot lover and I prefer a well-constructed world. But the book is more about the characters and their disputes and of course we learn in some cases towards the ends, why some of them are so awfully annoying to each other.
So, if this sort of anime-like style sounds appealing to you, this might be at least a solid read, for me personally it was a rather exhausting experience though and thus I can't rate it any higher than 2 stars, despite my sympathy for the author in general. I really hope that his style gets more balanced in his later works.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
April 4, 2013
4 Stars

Tome of the Undergates is one of those rare books that I want to give full marks just because I enjoyed it so damn much. In that regards this is 5 stars all the way and this type of novel is a guilty pleasure of mine. This sword and sorcery fantasy has it all, magic, swords, bows, dragonmen, demons, and even mermaids too. This is an epic adventure that takes place on land and on the sea. The cast is quite a mixed group that we get tidbits of information and backstory on, all through this rather hefty book.

The main hero Lenk, like all his comrades is an anti-hero, a pretty nasty guy, and a very good killer. The plot is nothing new; it is the typical go and “fetch this” type quest for gold and for glory. The characters all bring different aspects to the novel and found myself liking each more as I read on. I loved all the action and this book is nothing but action from start to finish. There is so much in here and I found myself glued to my Kindle wanting to read more and more. I devoured this book and had a blast doing so.

Sykes writes with a lot of wit and a great deal of banter too. Most of it seemed to be centered on the rogue Denaos.

“‘You had a lot of time to think while hiding?’ Kataria asked.
‘It’s really more a matter of instinct,’ Denaos replied.
‘The instinct of a rat,’ Kataria hissed, ‘is to run, hide and eat their own excrement. There’s a reason no one listens to them.’
‘Forgive me, I misspoke.’ He held up his hands, offering an offensively smarmy smile. ‘By “instinct”, I meant to say “it’s blindingly obvious to anyone but a stupid shict”. See, if I were attacking a ship bearing a half-clad, half-mad barbarian that at least resembled a woman wearing breeches tighter than the skin on an overfed hog, I would most certainly want to know how many men I needed to take her with no more holes in her than I could realistically use.’”

“His laugh was not joyful. ‘Ha . . . guarding the cargo.’
Yes, he told himself, that’s what you were doing. While all the men were dying to the pirates and the women were being violated in every orifice imaginable, you were guarding cargo, you miserable coward. If anyone asks why you weren't fighting like any proper man, you can just claim you were concerned for the safety of the spices.”

This is a super fun and dirty sword and sorcery type novel that fans of the anti-heroes will love. There is plenty of vulgarity and potty humor too. The book ends but as with most trilogies, it only ties up a few plots and one must go right on to book two. My highest recommendations.
Profile Image for Mike.
658 reviews41 followers
September 24, 2010
Sam Sykes plays or has played D&D. I don’t know if this is true but I’m going to believe it anyway. While your average roleplayer might hope that their party of adventurers is something like the companions from Dragonlance, or Drizzt and his coterie, what they end up with is something more like the adventurers of Tome of the Undergates; a group whose only commonalities seems to be their contempt for one another and a willingness to kill just about anyone or anything. At least that is the case in any game I’ve played in or ran; which, if I think about it too hard, might say something more about me and my friends.

As Lenk, the nominal leader of the group in Tome of the Undergates, writes in the opening of the novel being an adventurer boils down to being the lowest of the low. Skyes casts adventuring as something one does when all other options are exhausted; a task undertaken by people who typically lack the moral fortitude for other work and whose personalities exist at the borderline of psychotic and beyond. There is a slight tongue-in-cheek quality to that portrayal, or at least a deadpan sell of the idea, that what the reader thinks they know about adventurers is completely and horribly wrong. Skyes takes that idea and runs with it. There is no-one in this novel that I would ever really want to know and their banter, near constant, oscillates between amusing and grating.

Tome of the Undergates is decidedly old school in its approach to fantasy. We learn next to nothing about the world it takes place in outside of what is integral to the characters and the action. Indeed having been reading Swords and Dark Magic of late I’d argue that Tome of the Undergates falls firmly into the Swords and Sorcery camp. The story itself centers around Lenk and a motley assortment of cantakerous and capricious individuals including Kataria (a savage vaguely elf-like creature who hates humans called a shict), Deneos (a human assassin who seems to hate just about everything except money and drink), Dreadaleon (whose massive intellect and dedication to magic places all other beneath him), Gariath (a dragonman who sees everything that isn’t a dragonman as less then himself and free for killing), and Asper a healer with some secrets of her own. This group is tasked with finding the titular Tome which is stolen at the start of the novel during a lengthy attack by pirates, fishmen, and a horrid demonic sea born abomination.

As somehwat mentioned above each of the characters has a secret or interesting facet to their personality: Kataria’s fascination with Lenk, Deneos’ past, Gariath being the last of his kind, Asper’s arm, Dread’s infatuation with Asper, and the fact the Lenk is seemingly possessed by a powerful spirit of some kind. Despite the Gollancz edition’s surprising 600+ pages the typeface is pretty large and the action so swift that most of these little facets get only a few moments to shine and those moments typically only occur during the course of the story and never really detour the plot. Individual secrets and haunted pasts asside Sykes’ spends a lot of page time examining the push and pull between Lenk and Kataria. He does a brilliant job in capturing the sexual tension between the two characters while keeping both characters and readers cognizant of the violent nature of their liftestyle and the years of hatred between shict and a human. That relationship is particularly important to Lenk and serves as a grounding post as the voice inside his head becomes increasingly dominant. Kataria is the more difficult case as her fascination with and attraction to Lenk is obvious but the reason why less so.

Of the others I gravitated most strongly towards Gariath and Asper. While Deneos gets some interesting moments and some hint at his history that I’d like to see explored Dreadaleon felt the most underdeveloped and walked closest to the cliche line. The same might be said for Gariath right up to a scene towards the end of the novel that was perhaps my favorite in the entire book that opened up new avenues to explore in the big dragonman. Asper is the biggest mystery of all. While readers get a hint early on that something is not quite right with the priestess it isn’t until late in the novel that the nature of that wrongness is revealed and the past tragedy that exposed it barely hinted at. I want to know the how and why of it; a sentiment that I can express for just about everyone and everything in Tome of the Undergates and a sentiment that will have be back for the next novel.

As I mentioned the unrelenting banter, and the lack of just about any redeeming qualities amongst both hero and villain can grow a bit wearying. The pace is something near frantic with barely a breath for something that isn’t a fight. Of courses it should be noted that this is a debut novel and the few moments in the novel, particularly towards the end when things did slow down, the man-to-man conversation between Deneos and Lenk, the Wilson-like stand-in for Lenk during a scene with Kataria, and Gariath’s scene towards the end are wonderful character moments that I’m hoping there are more of in future volumes. Tome of the Undergates is a novel I wanted to like more than I did and one I enjoyed probably a bit more than I ought to have. A fascinating debut with vibrant dialogue, colorful characters, and a penchant for violence and viscera that exceeds most genre novels on the market today Tome of the Undergates is a difficult novel to recommend. That being said if you’re curious about the novel I highly recommend you check out a sample as Skyes’ tone is consistent from start to finish; thankfully US publisher Pyr has one up here. I’ll be checking back with second book of the Aeon’s Gate series, whenever it arrives, see what happens next and if those final, deeper character moments carry through the bulk of the next narrative.
Profile Image for Kaila.
821 reviews102 followers
March 4, 2016
Unfortunately, Tome of the Undergates probably should have gone in my "abandoned" pile, but I persevered, hoping it would get better. It never did.

I love the basic idea that Mr. Sykes went with here - adventurers are jerks that are just out for themselves. After thinking about that, I decided I agreed completely. It is one of the harder problems to overcome in the fantasy genre: how do you make your characters decide they need to go on an epic quest? Gallivanting off in the world out of the goodness of their hearts can be hard to swallow, as is randomly joining up with a party just because the character wants to see the world. Role playing games glaze over this fact a lot, because it is easier to just walk into a village, get some quests, stab some pirates, goblins or what have you, and get your reward. It is rare a player actually feels an emotional resonance with the people in the game, whether it be Skyrim, World of Warcraft, or your friendly neighborhood Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Whatever you're doing in those games, you're doing it for yourself. So to take the idea that adventurers are fantasy's assholes is a great idea, in theory. To back it up, however, is going to be much more difficult, because assholes simply aren't going to last long in a group entirely made up of other assholes. It's not going to be fun to read about, and it's not going to be realistic, unless you can really pull out some awesome character development.

Tome of the Undergates introduces us to a typical fantasy group. There's the fighter, the barbarian, the cleric, the wizard, the rogue, and the ranger. This is our asshole fantasy adventuring party, of which not a single person is endearing. They constantly threaten to kill each other. After a while, I was beginning to hope it would happen, as that might have been more interesting. Why the hell do they decide to stick together? I know that the main "quest" of the novel, if it gets completed, will mean a thousand gold pieces will rain down upon our intrepid protagonist's heads. The whole idea falls short for me. We know they're adventurers, and that means they're jerks, and only out for themselves and that gold. That is literally the only reason they stick together, and it's simply not good enough. Why they even began the journey never became clear, and the reason for continuing on in each others loathsome presence wasn't a good one. Character development was at a minimum, with more energy going into quippy come backs than any sort of growth. All the inter-relationships are shallow and explained in the first 50 pages, and they never go anywhere from there.

Over at The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review (an awesome blog by the way) is a great interview with Sam Sykes. The question that I had on my mind after finishing Tome of the Undergates was asked here - how much Dungeons and Dragons have you played? The novel seems like a campaign gone awry. He puts an end to rumors by saying his Dungeons and Dragons experience is minimal at best. After learning this, I decided he probably would have benefited from having played more of the game. A good dungeon master is hard to come by, and it is a bittersweet and unforgiving (though sometimes really epic) job. A good balance of role play and fighting, with perhaps the occasional riddle or puzzle thrown in, is only easy in theory. Put that theory onto Tome of the Undergates and this is no campaign I would want to be in. The opening sequence of the novel is a 120-page action sequence, followed by 200 pages of "role play" (in this case, that means traveling, talking to your party members, and getting ready for action, but not actually getting to it), closing with another 150 pages of action. That is what you would call a bad dungeon master. The pacing was completely off; I kept getting bored with action and then getting bored with role play. This isn't to say that there's not conversations in the middle of the action, but they all felt out of place. Like our party members seriously had time to sit and discuss religion and politics while fighting for their lives.

Another seemingly small choice that had me in gaped mouth horror was the amount of casual references to raping. Within just the first 100 pages I had already noted several allusions to rape. Have some quotes!

Page 22: "'See if I were attacking a ship bearing a half-clad, half-mad barbarian that at least resembled a woman wearing breeches tighter than the skin on an overfed hog, I would most certainly want to know how many men I needed to take her with no more holes in her than I could realistically use.'"

Page 23: "'I can think of at least one muscle of his that you'll find unpleasant when he comes over'"

Page 30: "'Obviously, we were triumphant. If we hadn't, you'd like have at least a dozen tattooed hands up your skirt by now.'"

or page 51: "'If you had your way, we'd all sit around praying to some weak round-ear god for an answer while they sodomised us with steel!'"

What the FUCK. In what universe is that a good idea? We get it, you're trying to tell us that your characters are tasteless. You know what's NEVER EVER FUNNY? RAPE. IT IS NEVER FUNNY. Joking about rape was a substitute for character development, and that is officially the most ridiculous statement I have ever made in a review. If that is true for any novel, it needs to be on the do-not-touch-with-10-foot-pole list. And here we are, with Tome of the Undergates.

This book didn't have much to go on and it got even less as the story, such as it was, progressed. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I finished it. Hopefully I won't have to read a book that talks about orifices or bodily functions quite so vociferously ever again.
Profile Image for Nicole Gozdek.
Author 8 books59 followers
October 26, 2019
Dark Fantasy mit umständlichen Dialogen & ungewöhnlichen Charakteren, aber die Mehrheit blieb mir fremd, was das Lesen holprig machte. Wie soll man mit einem Wahnsinnigen oder Besessenen (was er ist, ist nicht ganz klar), einer nicht-menschlichen Wilden und einem Drachenmann und den anderen mitfiebern, wenn man ihr Denken und Handeln nicht versteht? Ich bin froh, dass das Buch vorbei ist, und werde die Folgebände nicht mehr lesen.
Profile Image for Nathan.
399 reviews123 followers
September 13, 2011
I was tempted to give this book 4 stars, but a bit of a slog in the middle keeps that from happening. That said, the book starts out exciting, and has a great ending. What the hell happened in the middle? Oh well...

Would you like this book? Yes, if you want fantasy that is clearly for "classic" fantasy fans, and enjoy some humor as well. This is clearly an old "group of different people go on an adventure tale." There are strange monsters, intelligent species other than humans, and magic a-plenty.

But there is also some heart hidden in this sarcastic WoW raid. Lenk's hold on his group of adventurers is intriguing through out.

This is also very clearly the first of a series, with a ton of unsolved questions. I for one, look forward to the next one.
Profile Image for Justin.
381 reviews126 followers
August 29, 2011

Who is Sam Sykes?  Parts of Tome of the Undergates would suggest he might be to fantasy what Douglas Adams is to science fiction or what Christopher Moore is to whatever the hell genre Christopher Moore writes.  Other parts make me think he's a glorified AD&D Dungeon Master who decided to write down his most recent campaign in painstaking detail.  And still others make me think he might be the next great voice in epic fantasy.  So I guess my answer to my opening question is - I don't have a freaking clue, but I really want to find out.

Tome tells the story of a band of six adventurers (pejoratively) none of whom particularly like one another or themselves.  Led by Lenk, a charismatic warrior with some sanity issues, the group is hired by Lord Emissary Miron Evenhands to recover a stolen tome that has the power to return the demon goddess Mother Deep from the depths of hell (or its reasonable approximation).  To accomplish their goal all they have to do is kill a few fish-men, a couple demons, and some purple longfaces, while not killing each other in a fit of pique.

Now does that sound like a AD&D campaign or what?  Making up Sykes' party of adventures are the aforementioned Lenk, Kataria the shict (elfish) archer, Gariath the dragonman barbarian, Daenos the craven rogue, Dreadaelion the powerful yet sleepy wizard, and Asper the whiny cleric.  I do believe that's the perfect mix.  Healer? Check!  Tank? Double check!  Backstab and traps? Check!  Ranged Damage? Check!  I'm not being remotely critical either because I actually think AD&D shenanigans is what Sykes was trying to do.  Tomes is a caricature of a pen and paper role playing game with six players, a deranged DM, and maybe a few bong hits in between battles for comedic purposes.  I mean, look at the map Sykes gave to his German publisher and tell me I'm wrong.

It's in this activity where Sykes frequently calls to mind Douglas Adams or Christopher Moore.  His dialogue is snappy and clever.  He makes fun of the misuse of the term irony, and then displays lots of proper irony.  Embracing the unexpected, Sykes' barbarians have a gentleman's courtesy and a professorial vernacular.  Half of his main characters hear voices, hinting at best mild schizophrenia and at worst full blown demonic possession, while the other half are chicken shit or oblivious.  Even his most hard-boiled killer at one point dances a jig while teasing someone about being a pansy.  The whole thing reeks of satire and frequently induces belly jiggling laughter.

While the satire works (for the most part) that doesn't mean there aren't significant flaws in the narrative. Most noticeable are the first 160 pages of the novel which consist almost exclusively of an extended fight scene that left me cold and more than a little bored.  Excising, shortening, or perhaps relocating the entire section would have done a great deal for the novel's first impression on this reader.  Beyond the early struggles Sykes also frequently falls into the trap of allowing his band of adventures to break character for humorous asides.  Sure the humor nearly always hits the mark (Sykes is a funny dude), but I found that oftentimes it took me out of the story and reminded me I was sitting in my living room reading a book.  All in all the novel's missteps felt like a debut author finding his way into his characters and the story he wanted to tell.

And then... the strangest thing happens.  Sykes puts the laugh track away and closes out the novel with 100 pages I'll hold up against anybody in the genre.  Wouldn't you know it, Sam Sykes has heart.  I won't go into detail here about these pages because they are frankly a gem that should be enjoyed without any expectation placed on them.  I will say though that one chapter in particular featuring Gariath could be an award winning short story.  In addition to these later pages, Sykes divides the novel into three acts beginning each of them with an entry into Lenk's journal.  Similar in style to his concluding pages these entries set down the opportunity to explore more serious themes should he choose in future novels.

Tome of the Undergates is a difficult book to rank.  I purposefully don't give ratings as a reviewer (on the blog anyway) because I think they're misleading and any star rating on this novel wouldn't do it justice.  Strictly as a narrative, I didn't particularly enjoy it.  For it's comedy and irreverence toward the AD&D paradigm, Tome is a breath of fresh air.  In terms of being able to watch a potentially brilliant, and wholly unique voice in the fantasy genre come of age? It's priceless.  And I mean that in the least lame way possible.

I look forward to reading Sykes' sequel Black Halo soon.  To anyone reading this, who is not following Sykes on twitter @SamSykesSwears stop right now, open up another window, and follow him.  He's better than Shark Week (not really).
Profile Image for Blodeuedd Finland.
3,405 reviews292 followers
May 3, 2011
My thoughts:

This was one big book of fights, I will tell you that at once. What a gang, I honestly thought they would kill someone in their own group, but it was also very amusing to read. I am taking a step back to explain.

Lenk is the leader, a young man with a sword and a voice in his head. What is going on? Is he loosing it? He started to really intrigue me after a while and when it ended I did want more of him. Other interesting characters include; Kataria, a warrior woman who hates humans and calls them monkeys. There is also some tension between her and Lenk, either they will kill each other or get it on. And I sure hope it will be the latter. Another one of the adventures (they are even worse thought of than mercenaries, so bad people here), is Gariath, a dragon man who can crush a man's skull with his foot. There is also a wizard, a skulking rogue and woman named Asper who is a healer and who follows them to learn to use her craft. There you have, a mismatched crew who only wants money, while some wants money and to kill. But they are so strange that you have to like them.

The whole book starts with an almost 200 pages long battle, yes I am not joking. I do confess that it was hard at times to get into the book because of this long battle, but there was always something there making me continue. And the more I read the more I got into this book. Because he always manages to surprise me, there are frogmen, purple women, and screaming mermaids. Always something interesting.

As for the story it's about the hunt for the tome that has been stolen. This book can open a gate and demons will get out and tear the world asunder. They must get it back and while doing it they will meet a lot of dangers, a lot of fights, creepy demons, and a lot of great tension since they all get so angry. And that is a good thing.


Interesting fantasy that is not afraid to try something strange. It will surprise you and make you wonder. And at the end you will want more if you are as curious as I am. It might not end with a total cliffhanger, but the world is by no means saved.



Profile Image for Adrian Faulkner.
Author 7 books18 followers
April 16, 2010
This is quite a complex book to describe: Hyper-violent yet lyrical, funny yet incredibly moving at times.

There are issues with it, but I have to be honest and say I was relieved to find that they bothered me a lot less than I thought they would. They certainly didn't spoil my enjoyment of the book, which left me eagerly awaiting a sequel.

The first 200 pages skip along, not only giving us 3 skirmishes that make up the battle but introducing us to the six (yes six) protagonists, their relationships with each other and setting the plot in motion. And it's all done, pretty effortlessly. As has been noted, our heroes all hate each other, and their banter in many ways reminded me of the TV show Firefly. It was fun, and at times, laugh-out-loud funny. I think if you like the banter on that show and like fantasy, you'll probably really like this.

With such a big cast, you'd worry that some of them would get lost, but they are all very distinctive, each with their own stories. And you do genuinely care about them by the time it gets to the end.

I think if you want a big over-the-top, fun book you could do a lot worse than Tome of the Undergates. Once you start putting it up to heavy scrutiny, then issues do emerge, but I think it really depends on how you enjoy your books, read for escapism or to analyse.
96 reviews3 followers
February 9, 2018
The cast of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" as stars in a fantasy adventure novel. Well, not quite, but it's the best one-line summation of this series about a group of oddballs, jerks, and coward mercenaries going a mission to retrieve a magical trinket. This is an intentional throwback to Dungeons and Dragons style books, but with a gritty twist and an aim at R-rated humor and action.

It's not perfect by far - the author himself recommends starting with the City Stained Red, a book set in the same world with the same characters - but it moves along at a fast clip, the characters are mostly all very interesting and *fun* to read about as they fumble through a battle or fail at stabbing each other in the back, and the creatures fall under the cool factor (some are quite creepy.)

On the negative, while the characters kept my interest and entertained, some of the negative reviews for this first volume might come from the fact that much of their interior lives only shows up in the final 50 pages and, when it does, it's often only teased at for sequels. There's a fairly effective emotional scene with, of all people, a dragon-humanoid remembering his children, but it's one of the last chapters. He would've been a far more interesting character if we had seen it even right before the climax. It's possible that the better-received City Stained Red juggles this character background with more skill, because while I *wanted* to know more about the characters, it was often held back from me. The paragraph choices (as in what is and is not a paragraph) are also quite odd.

Overall, a fun but flawed first book and I will continue on to #2 in the future.
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 109 books538 followers
November 12, 2017
I read this as part of the collected trilogy An Affinity for Steel. I had previously read The City Stained Red, another book featuring these same characters.

This is pure, hardcore epic fantasy, with a fresh feel. The book reads like a bunch of people who hate each other are playing AD&D together, with everyone riffing off a different fantasy character trope. If anything, the hate aspect feels wearisome at times--I wanted to yell at them to stop snapping and sneering at each other--but I didn't find that to detract from the overall book, because Sykes's banter is so very, very good. As are his action scenes. The book largely revolves around two major action sequences, so if you love that kind of thing, you're in for a treat.

I will continue to read the next two books in the next while, with short breaks between.
Profile Image for Susanne Krajan.
791 reviews6 followers
September 14, 2020
Dieses Büchlein ist absolut Geschmackssache und man muss es echt mögen. Ich für meinen Teil hatte mit den Längen, Wiederholungen und Streitereien zu kämpfen. Dieses Buch hat durchaus gute Seiten und zeichnet sich durch wirklich genialen und derben Humor aus, aber das rettet den langatmigen Inhalt nicht immer. Ich werde weiterlesen, weil es mich reizt wie es weitergeht, aber eine wirkliche Leseempfehlung kann ich nicht geben. Leider
Profile Image for Ranting Dragon.
404 reviews230 followers
March 5, 2011

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.

Truthful humor
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!
Profile Image for Amanda.
707 reviews96 followers
July 14, 2010
A motley assortment of adventurers, led by Lenk, find it difficult to do anything but bicker with each other as they travel the world in search of pay. In fact, there seems to be not an ounce of goodwill between any of them - you'd think when their ship is attacked by pirates, it would mean they'd band together, but the insults just fly worse. As Lenk attempts to round them up and point them all in the same direction - towards the demon that has appeared to threaten their lives and souls - he realises that he is having a very bad day. What follows is a rollercoaster ride as Lenk and his band are sent to take back the Tome of the Undergates from the demons that need it to open the very gates of hell: green-haired fish women, purple skinned Amazonians and the manifestation of all evil stand in their way as they try to fulfil their task.

The description above really doesn't do justice to the action-packed story within the pages of Tome of the Undergates. Sam Sykes kicks off the action with an immense sea battle and rarely allows the reader to pause for breath as he sends his characters into almost-certain-death time and time again. He appears to revel in putting the characters through some of the worst imaginable scenarios - madness, mutilation and murder. If you're looking for a a fantasy book filled with political intrigue or farmboys discovering their destiny, this might not be for you. For anyone who enjoys their fantasy daubed in blood and filled with crotch stomping incidents, I would urge you to give this a try.

The writing is demanding, breathless and very, very aggressive - even the romance is conducted in an aggressive fashion. Once started, it is very hard to extricate yourself from the world that Sykes' characters inhabit. There is a desire to find out what exactly motivates these people - but Sykes keeps an admirable poker face until the end game to really start revealing some of the secrets about his characters. For some people, it might be difficult to read a book that is so stingy on the big reveal, but I actually found this refreshing - no horrible info dumping moments here! The reader discovers pretty much everything as the characters do.

Despite the monumental battle scenes that send the pulse racing, I actually think that Sykes' greatest strength comes from the quieter moments that find his characters talking genuinely to each other. The dialogue is effective and allows the reader to really get a handle on each of the 'voices'. In fact, some of the dialogue is very funny in an extremely dry manner. Take this for example:
"Of course we're going in there," Denaos snapped. "It's completely brainless, bereft of any logical reason and totally suicidal. Why wouldn't we go in there?"

Considering the manner in which Sykes writes the majority of the book, it is also surprising and distinctly pleasant to read some very poetic moments that indicate there is more to come from this author than just bloodshed and mayhem: "The dawn was shy, too polite to come and chase the stars away, contenting itself with slowly creeping into the twilit conversation one wisp at a time."

With all that said, it's not perfect. You could level the accusation that the setting is a little D&D: the mismatched band of characters (rogue, archer, magician etc) and their constant bickering do give that impression. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, and Sykes is certainly not the first to have taken the route of introducing an ensemble cast such as this.

Until the plot really grips, you can find yourself a little lost and wondering why these characters are spending time together. In fact, Sykes drops the reader right into the very middle of a battle and declines to really explain what is going on or how the characters got to this point - you have to take on faith the fact that you will find out what is going on.

Some of the prose is a little rough and ready, but, given Sykes' age I'm willing to forgive this in the knowledge that he can only improve as he goes from book to book. Certainly this would not deter me from picking up further writing from this author.

In conclusion, this is a debut book with faults, but I'm willing to overlook these in exchange for the fun that is on offer. You certainly cannot deny that Sykes is breaking the fantasy mould and stamping on it in the process! It is unique, cataclysmic and deserves to be read.
Profile Image for Mieneke.
782 reviews84 followers
November 7, 2010
Sam Sykes is a very funny man. Reading his tweets and his blog makes this abundantly clear. He's not just funny, he's extremely likeable. When Tome of the Undergates was released the reviews were mixed. Some people thought it was wonderful and funny, others decried the pacing and crude humour. So, while eager to read the book, I approached it with a bit of trepidation; especially since Sykes has repeatedly stated that a reviewer's first duty is to be honest. What if I didn't like it? Luckily, despite some hiccups, I had a great time with this book.

Right from the first few pages, it's clear that this book isn't your regular story. In the prologue we're not just painted a quick sketch of where we will find ourselves once the curtain lifts and with whom, but we also encounter the dry humour that pervades this novel throughout. This humour has been the subject of much criticism and even though I can see why it might not be for some people, it had me chuckling more often than groaning, even while rolling my eyes. The prologue also firmly grounds the novel in the Sword and Sorcery tradition, something only strengthened by the sequence that follows, a battle lasting well over a hundred and sixty pages. Said battle containing both a lot of sorcery and huge amounts of swords, knives, knuckles and arrows. Starting out with that battle and sticking with it for so long was a gutsy move on Sykes' part. It sets a roiling pace, which leaves the reader little time to find their footing in the novel as the hits keep coming.

One of the complaints I've seen a lot is that the furious pace in the first third of the novel leaves little time for the character development of the main characters. I have to say I don't totally agree with this assessment. Yes, the character development is sparse and we certainly don't get a lot of motivation for the actions and decisions of our protagonists, but Sykes does have snippets of information in the narrative that made later revelations click even more for me. In a way it's very subtle, since it's easy to be distracted by the bickering, the gore and the action. Still, in some cases it would have been nice to have had a bit more background, such as in the case of the Serrant. I still haven't completely figured out what she is and how she got to be on the Riptide with Lenk and his crew and their charge. Why was she cursed and how does it work? Hopefully though this will be explained somewhere in the series.

The last one hundred fifty or so pages the pace finally slows down and I really enjoyed them most because suddenly a lot becomes clear(er); every character gets his or her back story explained to a point, though some more than others. While Denaos is my favourite of the bunch thus far, you know what they say about women and bad boys I guess, the vignettes that touched me most were Asper's and Gariath. Asper's because it shed such an unexpected light on her piety and Gariath's because it was truly a beautiful and evocative scene. It was such a soft, fragile scene, which was surprising given the way Gariath is portrayed as a maniacal, murderous monster during most of the book.

The Tome of the Undergates is not a book to read in bits and pieces. I found this out the hard way, as I usually read in snatches - over lunch, during the baby's nap, in the evening after dinner and before bed - and I often found it hard to get back into the story. To find my feet again and to re-orientate myself on where we were exactly. It reads quicker and more enjoyable in larger chunks, as I found out when I got sick and had to stay in bed all day and I fairly flew through the remaining four hundred pages of the book.

In all, I enjoyed this author's debut novel and I'm curious to see where Sykes will take the series, both in terms of character development and of solving the quest. I'm looking forward to its sequel, Black Halo, due out next year. If you're not fazed by blood, bodily excretions and bickering and you like a fast-paced, action-packed story, The Tome of the Undergates is definitely worth the read!
Profile Image for Ryan Lawler.
Author 2 books19 followers
August 4, 2016
A fantasy world completely different to our own, savage monsters that want to conquer the world, a magical artefact that holds the power to control the world, and a team of adventurers on a mission to retrieve the magical artefact from the savage monsters thereby saving the world. It sounds like a familiar story doesn’t it. A story that you have probably read in some shape or form many, many times. But what if the adventurers were the bad guys? What if the adventurers were despised because all they do is run around the place messing up everyones shit? What if all the members in that band of adventurers truly hated each other, and I mean the sort of hate that goes right down to the bone? Well you would probably get Tome of the Undergates, a story that feels familiar due to the use of familiar fantasy tropes, a story that makes its own fantasy tropes to create an experience that is unlike anything else.

Tome of the Undergates is a violent, adrenaline fuelled, action-adventure story that uses a tried and tested plot to get from A to B. In a time where authors are writing books where every single back story has its own back story with convoluted connections to the main story, it is refreshing (and smart) to see an author strip away all of those excess complications and go for a solid plot that is fun to read and accessible to everyone. The plot is not the star of this story, and its not tryíng to be; its job is to provide a solid platform for the characters to work from, a firm foundation for the real stars to shine.

While the plot may say that this story is about finding the Tome of the Undergates, I say that this story is really about the complex characters and the unique relationships they have with one another. Adventurers are scourge of the world and for one reason or another each of these characters has chosen Adventurer as their profession, be it the natural choice given their upbringing or be it an act of self loathing. As the story progresses Sykes gives you a bit of insight into each of these characters from the brutish Gariath who is trying to come to come to terms with the destruction of his race, to the timid Dreadaeleon who has a desperate need to prove his worth as a competent wizard. These characters all have some very significant strengths but the nature of their occupation forces them to be defined by their weaknesses, and this story really focuses on how each character copes with this imposed definition and what they do to overcome it (if anything).

Their profession is all about the money, there is little loyalty between Adventurers and this particular band of Adventurers truly do hate each other. This variation may seem subtle but the end result is quite varied and unpredictable, and often times each battle seen as an opportunity to eliminate the competition. Despite this engrained hatred, the team has formed a very productive working relationship, and at times you get the feeling that they don’t all hate each other as much as Sykes would have you believe.

With this story being all about the characters, Sykes has written his scenes with a very heavy emphasis on character development, a technique which can be quite absorbing at times, but a technique which really inhibits the story from progressing at a decent pace. The final 50 – 100 pages are a perfect example of this, I was completely fascinated by all the information I was finding out about each of the characters, but I found myself starting to get bored with the complete lack of progression; I just wanted the story to move on to its conclusion. Its a small point but a pertinent one as I find it very hard to read a book if start to get bored.

Tome of the Undergates is a book that just worked for me, a refreshing take on some of the more dated fantasy tropes. While the story may be slightly simplistic, it is backed up by a high quality production and is packed full of very likeable characters doing all manner of unspeakable things that I like reading about. I look forward to reading the second in the series, Black Halo, and all future works to come from this very talented author.
Profile Image for Ken.
186 reviews28 followers
September 3, 2011
Tome of the Undergates is my August book club read with Fantasy Faction. Before I go into details, I have to say that this isn't the kind of Fantasy novel that people are used to. To really get into this book, you have to understand who Sam Sykes is. If you're not already following him on Twitter at @SamSykesSwears then you really should. The energy and outrageous humour that you see in his tweets are clearly present in this book.

The book begins with a sea battle that lasts a quarter of the book, by far the longest battle scene I've ever read. During this sea battle, the adventurers are introduced. In other stories, readers learn about the characters when they were still young or through deeds that they performed. However Sykes introduces the adventurers in this book by having them constantly argue with each other. It's a different way of introducing the thinking and the believes of the characters to the reader but at times it just became too much and hindered the movement of the plot. I had difficulty remember who's who at certain points as it kept jumping between battle scenes and arguments.

Things began to pick up pace after this as the adventurers are tasked with the responsibility of retrieving the tome from the demons. The fight scenes are vividly described and visceral. At the same time the bantering between the characters become more bearable and I actually find myself enjoying the exchanges. Strangely this part reminds me of my time in boarding school. We had a wide range of characters just like the book and despite how much we might have liked or disliked each other, we were stuck on the same boat so to speak and can't get rid of each other.

I thought that towards the end of the book the quick pace would continue and the book would end with a cliffhanger but the energy that we found earlier died down instead. Despite this, there are some really great writing in the last few scenes that make you forgive the change of direction and makes you rethink if the natures of the characters.

The book is a little rough and pace uneven but when the book is good, it is really good and the series show a lot of promise. I'm sure the story will become tighter as Sykes hones his craft and gain more experience as a writer. I understand the criticisms this book receives and that it may not suit everyone's tastes but if you are looking for something different then do give this book a try! I'm dying to find out who is that voice in Lenk's head, what's up with Asper's arm and what will happen to the rest of the gang.

3.5 Stars

(Reposted from http://www.paperlessreading.com/2011/08/tome-of-undergates-by-sam-sykes.html)
Profile Image for Shedrick Pittman-Hassett.
Author 1 book56 followers
January 11, 2015
From my blog: http://serialdistractions.com


For me, the term has always had a romantic connotation. Swashbuckler. Explorer. Hero. But in Sam Sykes' exciting and rambunctious series, the word is synonymous with cutthroat, murderer, and associated only with those who would take on the vilest of jobs. They are a step below even mercenaries and sell-swords. Adventurers are scum of the earth--and the protagonists of Sykes' book are hard-pressed to prove their reputations as otherwise.

There's Lenk, their leader, a talented swordsman who hears a deadly voice in his head spurring him on to kill. Then there's Kataria, a barbaric schict who farts in her sleep (and doesn't smell very good otherwise) who adventures in order to kill as many humans as she can. The rogue, Denaos, is everything the reputation of the adventurer encompasses--cowardly, murderous, and drunkenly carousing. Gariath, the haughty dragonman, is enigmatic and violent, as prone to injure himself as the humans in his path. Asper, the cursed priestess, tries to do good but finds her faith in humanity waning as she follows her companions into danger time and time again. Finally, there's Dreadaeleon the wizard, who follows knowledge for its own sake and whose magic can prove dangerous to both his target and to innocent bystanders.

This ragtag group are all on a quest to find the Aeons' Gate for their patron, a priest by the name of Miron Evenhands. But while onboard a ship bound for their next destination, they are attacked by pirates who target Evenhands--or, more precisely, a tome in his possession. When the tome is ultimately taken by a demon allied with the pirates, the adventurers agree to chase it--and the demon--down. Of course, the fate of the world hangs in the balance--as well as a thousand pieces of gold.

Imagine if Joe Abercrombie wrote RPG fiction and you'll get a feel for this novel. Deeply gritty with a sense of the absurd and a through-line of humor, the prose is highly enjoyable. The characters are somehow likeable, despite their many flaws. These are definitely not characters you want to be or to be around, yet you continue to want to read about them. It's clear that the author is having a great deal of fun with his story and that comes through in the reading. It's contagious.

The plot is a pretty straightforward adventure story. The events of the novel are set up by a long sea battle that takes up a good third of the book. Still, there are monsters, sirens, a strange warrior race, demons, all manner of good stuff in here. It is definitely not light on the action.

All in all, Tome was an excellent opening for a series that I want to read. I'll be looking for the next book in the series, Black Halo. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Jacqie.
1,616 reviews75 followers
October 24, 2012
This is another one I put down and never picked back up. It really needs a couple of different ratings. One for ideas/creativity, the other for writing ability.

One interesting thing to start- I believe that Sam Sykes is the son of Diana Gabaldon. I like the fact that he used a different name instead of riding on her popularity.

This is a fairly standard fantasy adventure with fairly standard fantasy characters: the leader ( not really sure why he's the leader), the feisty female warrior, the uptight female cleric, the rogue with the dark past, the young insecure mage, and a dragonman. Okay, the dragonman's not quite standard. Unless you play D&D 4th ed. These tropes are reasonably well-characterized, and I did care about most of the characters (except the leader, unfortunately). The book is lots of combat and a little plotting (at least the half I finished). That's not a bad thing; I like a good fight scene. A lot of the story seems like someone's role playing campaign that got written down, but there are good ideas here. The frightening otherworldly amphibious emissary of a dark goddess, the weird birds with teeth, there was really some atmosphere created there. It was well done.

However, our hero and the feisty female warrior obviously have a thing for each other, and they are incredibly juvenile about how they go about unaware of their feelings and getting on each other's nerves. They got on my nerves too. They actually have a big fistfight at one point, and that made me uncomfortable. The girl seemed to be able to hold her own in a fight, but seeing that kind of violence as flirtation is really not my thing.

The writing... this book could have used more editing. There are the bones of a good book here, but the author could have used some guidance about sentence structure, sentence flow, and awkward phrasing. It was distracting. And it's what eventually made me put the book down and not pick it up again. I left it on my table for months, thinking that the mood would strike me and I'd start reading again, but I just never really wanted to.

I'm curious to know if anyone thinks that the second and third books improve in basic writing style. I'd actually be interested to see more of this world and these characters, but don't want to end up frustrated by wading through sentences trying to figure out what the author was getting at. And no more middle-school romance!! But I've read plenty of first books that needed some help with writing style, and as the author became more experienced, the books got better and better. Jim Butcher comes to mind as an example.
Profile Image for Todd.
519 reviews4 followers
October 15, 2013
A new fantasy novel that follows a adventure team led by Lenk, as they search for a world ending treasure. Lenk has grey hair, is short, young and has a lot of problems. He is followed by a pointy eared Shick, who lives in trees, hates humans, shoots a bow and seems to sound a lot like Tolkien's elves. The love hate relationships between the two and their inability to communicate is a ongoing sub-plot. They are 'helped' by a giant dragonman, a rouge, a healer and a boy-wizard. Only the healer and dragonman are shown any background or character development.

This seemed to be the new book to read in Fantasy.... but to be honest. I felt that it was ok. The writing was drawn out and a little tedious.

Most people greatly appreciate the banter between adventurers, something that is new and unique.... it didn't really do it for me. I guess the idea is that the reader should sit there wondering "what is it that keeps these entertaining misfits together." I can see why some people would think that, but I can't help but think... "these characters are awful...."

None of the characters were clearly explained. I read an entire book and I only have a reasonable understanding of one of the characters. Then there is the Shick, Dragon and Healer, who are the only ones who have any kind history. The rouge is mysterious and struggles not to betray his companions throughout the book.

Sam Sykes decides to mention urination and bowel movements regularly, which leaves me on a fence between. Realistic and childish.

Overall, I might read the second one if I borrow it from a friend or the library. I don't think I would have been happy to pay full price for this one.
Profile Image for Peter.
304 reviews4 followers
May 22, 2015
This is a tough book to rate. There are as many impressive factors in Sam Sykes' Tome Of The Undergates, as there are deterrents.

For a book with 600+ pages, Sykes' prose carries you easily through the narrative. It's easy to read with good characterisation and descriptions. He has a particular knack for writing sharp and often humorous dialogue and the banter between his characters was one of my favourite things about Tome Of The Undergates.

The characters themselves are a generally flawed and despicable bunch that you can't help but love. On the negative side of things, there's not really much in the way of plot progression. The story kind of feels like a weak way to connect the characters and only really seems to develop in last hundred or so pages, which is obviously setting up the next book. Tome Of The Undergates can also be a little hard to follow at times, as Sykes has a tendency to switch point of view without so much of a page break, or a mention of the character's name when the switch occurs (he tends just to say "he" or "she").

All that aside, I really enjoyed Tome Of The Undergates. It's worth more than three stars but doesn't quite grasp four. Sykes shows great promise, considering this is his debut novel, and I am looking forward to seeing how he progresses with his subsequent novels.
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