Science fiction and fantasy
Tome of the Undergates
by Sam Sykes
Throw in a rogue, a priest, a paladin-type and a quest for a book and we have the makings of a rollicking role-playing game. With its abundance of frenzied battles and fights that the characters should not normally be able to survive, this story owes a lot to the traditions of video game fantasy. However it rises far above the clichés of that form thanks to the characters, who are surprisingly engaging. Lenk is an ordinary-looking guy, short and wiry and not at all the sort of man you might expect to wield a sword. He seems educated for an adventurer But there's a voice in his head urging him to do crazy things, and there are hints of a dark past that set him on this self-destructive course. In the face of demons and magic and an array of strange warriors he has to balance love, insanity and ambition against the overwhelming need to survive. He's always questioning his decision to continue, when anyone sane should simply turn and run.
Lenk and his friends have plenty of reasons to want to tear each other apart as well as powerful motivations for staying together, so there's a constant seething tension amongst them. The trouble is, the same qualities that make them interesting also push them to the edge of credibility. Their relationships are fascinating, but sometimes their group bond seems very unlikely.
There is the sense that Sam Sykes is being playful with the sword 'n' sorcery genre with all the exaggerated violence, lurid monsters and sharp wit of this tale. However it isn't a parody. When we least anticipate it, after a round of leaping and hacking and hanging from masts shooting the enemy full of righteous justice, Sykes is liable to bowl us over with passages of astonishing maturity and poignancy.
Tome of the Undergates is a corking, high-spirited read; but no less than I would expect from a guy who wrestles bears in his lunch hour.
23rd August 2010
If you like this, try:Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Revenge is on the agenda in this standalone novel set in the same world as the First Law trilogy.
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
In the first episode of The First Law series some very different characters fight for truth, survival, or simply to look good.
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