Meet Lenk, erstwhile leader of a band of truly strange and psychopathic adventurers. Lenk is small of stature, has sliver hair, and has to not only contend with making sure that his group has work but he also has to ensure that his group don’t kill each other before said-job has been completed.
Then there’s Kataria – a Shict with a passion for making sure as many humans as possible end up dead;
Dreadaeleon, a wizard with, well, shall we say, mental-age problems;
Asper, the healer and struggling moral compass of the group, who’s trying to find the answer to the greatest question of all: “Why?”;
Gariath, the terrifying Rhega who lives for battle and slaughter and finding a worthy opponent;
and Denaos, the thief / ladies-man / assassin who would argue against alcohol’s medicinal uses.
We meet the group while they’re busy trying to repel very eloquent pirates from boarding the ship they’re traveling on – the group has to fight wave after wave of these foul Cragsmen because they’re being (or will be) paid to do it; forget the fact that they would rather be anywhere else, relaxing or getting drunk. And it is on this ship that they discover that the pirates are but a prelude to the kinds of hell they’ve have to put up with – either that, or forfeit lots and lots of gold.
I really sit up and take notice of a book that starts with everyone in trouble – I mean, it’s difficult not to. Bloodshed and violence aside, Sam opens the book with a length battle scene which sets the stage for everything that comes after, showcasing not only the fact that he can write battle scenes that are visceral, gory (though in a kind of understated, subtle manner, because I flinched without him having to describe the bloody details in, well, detail – mental imagery and imagination, my friends, and the images you see will be different to mine) and explosive, but that even these scenes give us further insight into his very cool characters.
Characterization is something Sam is very, very good at – not only did each character hold my attention throughout (and Sam switches between the various characters quite often), but each character has their own unique view of the world, their place in it and the situations they find themselves in. This worked incredibly well because the world that Sam creates in Tome is definitely not a black-and-white world, and there were many instances in which I was able to see a couple of different sides to the same situation. I don’t have a favourite; they’re all awesome, all interesting in their own right. 🙂
The world that Sam has built is still sparse, but that’s fine – how much of the world are we really going to see while we’re following characters who spend most of their time either on a ship or on an island? Granted, other readers might focus on the aspects of the world outside of the main plot and find the book somewhat wanting, but I felt that the worldbuilding that was revealed was just enough – this tale is extremely focused and intense, taking place over a short period of time, and I feel that Sam walked the tight-rope pretty damn well indeed.
The action in the book is epic; really big set-pieces, snarky and snide comments by the players, and some really cool jaw-dropping moments all combined to keep me turning the pages at a fair clip, and the action was made all the better by the characters themselves – each character had different reasons for being where they were and for how they did things, and Sam has managed to keep them all interesting and memorable, a definite plus for the next book. 🙂
Some readers might have an issue with how much the characters go through and how they survive -which I can understand- but one thing that was very apparent to me while reading Tome was that his characters come across as real, normal characters – each of them aren’t necessarily the best examples of their race or gender, but they live in their world as we live in ours; with a good dose of luck, some knowledge and life-smarts, and sometimes even utter confusion. 🙂 Our lives are governed by the same things and sometimes the only thing you can do is heft your chosen weapon and charge, no matter what the odds.
All in all, I’m very impressed with this debut – Sam has a great eye for detail and how much of it he needed to insert; his characterization was excellent (though I do want more from Dreadaeleon) and his action-scenes awesome. He succeeded effortlessly, in my opinion, in taking the oft-tried band-of-adventurers-on-a-quest plot and injecting it with fresh ideas and a thoughtful plot; it’s clear that Book 2 (Black Halo, the last I’ve heard) will open up a bit in terms of what Sam has introduced during the course of Tome. 🙂
I’m definitely looking forward to more from him! One thing is for sure – Sam Sykes has arrived, and Fantasy will probably feel his arrival for some time to come.
8 / 10
Tome of the Undergates is already available so head over to your closest bookstore and get your copy, or order online here: Amazon UK, Amazon US and Kindle.
And click here to head over to Sam’s official website for much, much more. 🙂
Definitely looking forward to Black Halo!