Cover illustration: Paul Young
TOME OF THE UNDERGATES
THE AEON'S GATE BOOK ONE
Publishing Date: 15 April 2010
On the Cover:
There is a lot of Fantasy out there with focus on worldbuilding and near perfect heroes going on noble quests, so to read action-filled Sword and Sorcery feels like a breath of fresh air. And that is what Tome of the Undergates is, a good honest Sword and Sorcery adventure. Sure there is elements of Quest Fantasy here but it doesn't take over and the book stays Sword and Sorcery for me throughout.Adventurers. long loathed for their knowledge of nothing beyond murder and thievery, they are the savages, zealots, heathens, monsters; the thugs of society. And Lenk, a young man with a sword in his hand and a voice in his head, counts them all as his sole and most hated companions.
His otherwise trivial employment under an esteemed clergyman is interrupted when bloodthirsty and eloquent pirates, led by an ageless demon risen from the depths of the ocean, pilfer the object of their protection: The Tome of the Undergates, the key to opening a door that guards the mouths of hell. A hell the demons want out of.
Against titanic horrors from the deep, psychotic warrior women, and creatures forgotten by mankind, Lenk has only two weapons: a piece of steel and five companions who are as eager to kill each other as they are to retrieve the book.
There's been a lot of talk of the "200 page fight scene" that opens this book. I found this quite exaggerated, there is a lot of fighting in the first part of the book but there is also much more. Sykes is good at delivering information to the reader through the thoughts of the heroes as they are fighting. And there are several passages in between the fight scenes where you get more information about what is going on. I also felt that Sykes managed to get the personality of the adventurers across nicely.
The action is handled very well by Sykes, and so is the interplay between the characters. What can be both a bit confusing and annoying is the fact that Sykes does not reveal much background to the reader. It takes quite a bit of time before you find out what is going on, and even then much is hidden. But as you progress in the story it becomes clear that this is done deliberately, and I felt that Sykes revelations towards the end of the book pays off the patience of waiting for answers. And I also felt that there is a lot here that is being saved for future installments, and I look forward to finding out more about these characters.
As I stated at the beginning of this review Tome of the Undergates is Sword and Sorcery, although I must say there is a lot more Sword than Sorcery. The book reminded me a bit of Michael Moorcock's Elric, but first and foremost I was reminded of Robert E. Howard's Conan.
So when the name Venarium pops up about halfway through the book, I immediately thought "Aha, Conan!". (Note: Venarium is the Aquilonian fort inside Cimmeria where Conan participates in his first mayor battle at the age of fifteen.) But not taking anything for granted, I used the wonder of modern social media to ask Sam Sykes if this was the case. This was his answer:
"Hah, not really, no. I had no idea there even was a Venarium until Tome was finished. It's just based off Venarie, the magical source."
And that got me thinking about a quote from Robert E. Howard of how he felt that he was relating events that had happened, and how when he couldn't write Conan later felt that the man had stopped standing at his shoulder and moved on. (The whole quote is found here, beginning at the sixth paragraph from the bottom.) -And who knows, maybe the spirit that dictated Howard in Texas has moved on to Arizona...
Tome of the Undergates is a book for people who like the action and adventure of Sword and Sorcery. If you're a fan of Robert E. Howard's Conan, as I am, you really should get Sam Sykes' debut. And after you read it, I'm quite sure that you will join me in eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.
LINKS: Sam Sykes Gollancz