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Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes
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Book Name: Tome of the Undergates
Author: Sam Sykes
Publisher(s): Gollancz
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: September 7, 2010

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:

Adventures. 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 everyone’s 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. Okay, 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 ten 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 Tome 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 certain win to 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 Tome will meet the traditional/D&D fan-boys 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, Tome 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 is a promise of even greater things to come.

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Autumn2May says:

    It looks like this is going to be our August book club read! I’m excited to start it! 🙂

    http://fantasy-faction.com/forum/book-club/

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