SPFBO 6: Finalist Review Black Stone Heart

Black Stone Heart


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Multi-Book Review


Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

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

On a ship in the ocean, bound for a faraway place, in search of an ancient magical gateway, a group of adventurers fight off a band of evil pirates and encounter a creature too terrible to exist in either our world or theirs. In the ensuing battle with said beasty, an ancient tome is stolen and our heroes go boldly off to reclaim it! Well maybe not boldly…but they do go.

Who are these adventurers you ask? Well our heroic group consists of Lenk a young swordsman and the leader of the group, Kataria the elf-like shict an expert archer and tracker, Asper a priestess of Talanas the Healer, Dreadaeleon the wizard, Denaos a thief, and rounding out the party is Gariath the dragonman.

This might sound to you like a typical sword and sorcery novel or possibly even the plot of a Dungeons and Dragons one-shot campaign; however, nothing could be further from the truth.

If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you’ll notice that this one has a different format then the others. In my normal reviews, I try to write a three to four paragraph summary of the plot, roughly equivalent to what I would expect to see on the back of the book, then move on to how I liked or disliked the story. But this book stumped me. I couldn’t do a straight summary of the plot. All the ones I started looked just like the first couple of paragraphs above and made the story sound dull and flat. For weeks, I would go back and retry, looking at different angles, using different formats, but nothing sounded as good as the story actually was.

I’m happy to say I’ve finally figured out why. The story in Tome of the Undergates is not unique. The setup, the main plot, and even the villains’ motivations, are what you would call standard fantasy fare. Trying to make it sound otherwise just didn’t work. So what is it about this book that sets it apart and makes it something I would fully recommend you read? It’s the voices.

Both the author’s prose and the characters themselves have, without a doubt, some of the most unique voices I’ve ever read. The prose of the story is in one breath comical and humorous and in the next deep and solemn. And where the story may seem to be a rather typical adventure, it is really a journey of lost souls, seeking meaning in a world where none of them truly belong. The plot of this book is really just a steady current that carries our heroes through their turbulent lives; forcing them to either go with the flow or stand against it, choosing their own fates instead of letting them be decided by others. There are also a lot of pee jokes. Hey, I said it was unique.

Each character while being a very typical trope was also a real person (or creature), not just a cardboard cutout glued flat to the page. Lenk, the fighter, is a true adventurer following wherever his path takes him and haunted (literally) by a past that set him on that path. Kataria is what the rest of the world would call a savage, yet she follows Lenk, partly to discover what it is about humans that make them so hated by her people and partly for reasons she doesn’t understand. Asper is trying to be true to her faith even while doubts of its validity continually bombard her. Gariath is an enigma and probably the deepest character in the story, but I don’t want to spoil too much, and I think you get the idea. By the end of the story, each character is a fully fleshed out person (or humanoid) with just enough of their personal story left untold that you want to keep reading after the book is finished.

So the characters are all troubled souls, clinging to each other for support, right? No actually, they hate each other. They fight constantly, verbally and physically. Most don’t care if the rest live or die, as long as the others’ deaths don’t affect them personally. The dialog between them is one of my favorite parts of the book. Their snarkiness reminds me of the days all my guy friends invade my house and verbally beat on one another while playing games over chips and highly caffeinated soda.

For me this book works on so many different levels, but it’s too hard to explain it without giving too much away. And now I’m sure I’m beginning to sound little fangirlish, so let me step back and tell you what I didn’t like about the book. I could tell even before I finished, that this story would not be for everyone. I do think the beginning was a bit slow, and if you don’t like the fact that the characters are constantly arguing, then the first part might be hard to get through. I also didn’t like the fact that the point of view switched back and forth between characters without any warning. That made it a little hard to follow in a couple spots, but once you get the feel of the writing, it does get easier to keep track of whose point of view you’re in.

Okay, so what do I think overall? Well, overall, I think the book was excellent. It really had everything I look for in a fantasy novel: a good (if simple) story, excellent characters, funny dialog, great prose, and a lot more heart than you’d expect from a book with this many fart jokes. And I as soon as I can get my hands on the sequel I am definitely picking it up.

Sam Sykes’s Tome of the Undergates and its sequel Black Halo are available now. The third installment of The Aeons’ Gate series, The Skybound Sea, is still in the works. (There was a progress chart on his blog, but it was too complex for me to decipher.)

For disclosure purposes, I won a copy of Tome of the Undergates from the author in a Twitter contest, but chose to review it on my own. Winning the book did not influence my opinion in this review.


One Comment

  1. Avatar Khaldun says:

    I heard a few people with issues regarding the start of this novel (supposedly starting off with a battle and not really letting up for 100+ pages). Thoughts?

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