Tuesday, 16 February 2010

FANTASY REVIEW: Tomes of the Undergates - Sam Sykes


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.


Gollancz has a good solid reputation for introducing new authors to the fantasy reader that seem to hit the spot, so usually it’s a fairly good sign if they’re backing someone new for the reader. Whilst a number of people are going to love their latest protégé I have to admit that I’m not that enamoured of this first novel.

I’m not being down on the guy but to be honest my biggest gripe was with the characters. As individuals they’re interesting but as a group they not only annoy but I wanted to bludgeon them personally with something big and heavy. Why? Well a group of misfits that fight together is one thing but when their own personal hatred has them threatening to kill each other for a huge chunk of the book then you really need to go back and do some editing as whilst it’s a bit of fun for a few pages, you can imagine the tedium after 150. Yet this seems to be the core of the tale which is backed up with a 200 page battle that feels like it lasts forever. Having said that the body count and gore is sufficiently high to give Conan or Kull pause and he does do it well but keeping an even pace so that the reader has the lulls to let the adrenaline down is something that the author has yet to master. Its almost as if this title is based upon a roleplay scenario and each character is played by individuals that are seeking ways to massacre the others so that they’re the king of the levels.

I’m not saying that you won’t get fun out of this and there will be a huge number of people who disagree with my view but personally, if I can’t get a handle on the characters and get to like them, then I find it almost impossible to love a tale. With luck future offerings will temper down the problems and mix it with a wiser head. We can but wait to see.

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