Tome of the Undergates: a book review

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Adventurer. The term has long been synonymous with cutthroat, murderer, savage, zealot, and heathen. And Lenk, an errant young man with only a sword and a decidedly unpleasant voice in his head, counts all five among his best and only associates. Loathed by society and spurned by all merciful gods, he and his band are recruited for only the vilest of jobs.

Denaos, a lecherous thug; Asper, the cursed priestess; Dreadaeleon, the pubescent wizard; Gariath, the psychotic dragonman; and Kataria, the savage shict who farts in her sleep, have all followed Lenk out of necessity. But as their companionship increases, so too does their enmity for each other. Thrown together by necessity, motivated by their distrust for each other, it falls to Lenk to keep them from murdering each other long enough to allow something more horrible the pleasure of killing them.

When an esteemed clergyman hires them to track down a missing book stolen by a zealous foulness risen from the depths of the ocean, intent on using the tome to raise its abyssal matron from her hell-bound prison, Lenk finds his skills put to the test. Faced with titanic, fishlike beasts, psychotic purple warrior women, and the ferocity of an ocean that loathes him as much as his own people do, the greatest threat may yet be the company he keeps.

Full of razor-sharp wit and characters who leap off the page (and into trouble) and plunge 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.

I first encountered this book after stumbling upon Sam Sykes’ Twitter page through a retweet of writerly wisdom. After perusing a bit, I discovered that the wisdom he could share was lost between bouts of animal photos and cruel but hilarious jabs at his friends. I came for the wisdom, stayed for the pigs.

Tome of the Undergates which I hilariously and disturbingly typo’d as Time of the Underage once follows the story of Lenk and his band of competent but surly adventurers as they do whatever it takes to make a bit of money. The book starts out as the ship they travel on is accosted by pirates – pirates who chat to their imminent victims like they’re about to sit for tea. If that wasn’t charming enough, Lenk then starts to become acquainted with a rather bloodthirsty voice in his head, and men who resemble pasty frogs decide it’s high time they joined in the fun. It’s a hot mess that ends up sending Lenk & Co on a merry quest chasing demons and frogmen, making hasty alliances with green-haired sirens, and discovering themselves along the way.

Pros

Everything. I enjoyed this book too much maybe that’s a con? But if I have to delve into specifics, I will, for the sake of making everyone else go out and buy this book.

The characters are real and ridiculous. From Dreadaeleon’s charming immaturity, to Kataria’s savage comebacks, the reader feels like they’re really getting to know these people for who they really are. They way they speak to each other is like they’re old friends – but old friends who only remain friends because of that past history. Sam writes their interactions so brilliantly that you feel like you’re directly there beside them, being splattered with blood – whether its theirs or their enemies really depends on which part of the book you’re at. And there’s just enough wry humour to offset how serious their quest really is. The frequent additions about how people soil their pants when they get in a fight appeals to the five year old in me, while the twenty year old me is enjoying the appallingly descriptive evisceration and slaughter. I’m partial to the kind of hero Lenk is, in any case my own Sage is similar, but has no voices, as he’s the kind who isn’t exalted or bowed to. He’s a dirt in the eyes of society, but rises to the status of champion because of his own greed. The added spark of magic was fun, too, as I’m a sucker for all things magic, but the descriptions and consequences were extra fascinating; it isn’t a free for all like magic can sometimes be in fantasy, but has major repercussions, which Dreadaeleon is unfortunately experiencing.

I spent the majority of my day yesterday reading, and immediately ordered the next two in the series this morning. I can usually wait a bit with sequels, but the few days it will take for them to get here is too long.

Cons

Uh. I didn’t really not like anything. At least not that I can think of at this moment.

Well, I guess this happened.

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The cover bends and tears easily. Which kind of sucks, because it makes it look like I mistreat my books. Not like that’s Sam’s fault in any way, though.

All in all

I really enjoyed Tome of the Undergates, and I would really like it if the others could hurry up and be in my hands already. Anyone who likes fantasy, magic, bloodthirsty demons, bloodthirsty savages, bloodthirsty voices, or even just pirates who are polite when they’re trying to chop your head off, then this book is for you. Even if you don’t like any of those things, maybe go read it. kthx.

Tome of the Undergates gets four of five stars. Because oh god go read this book.

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