Review: Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons’ Gate Book One) by Sam Sykes

Tome of the Undergates

Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons’ Gate Book One) by Sam Sykes (9781616142421): 2010 (Pyr)


For me, the term has always had a romantic connotation. Swashbuckler. Explorer. Hero. But in Sam Sykes’ exciting and rambunctious series, the word is synonymous with cutthroat, murderer, and associated only with those who would take on the vilest of jobs. They are a step below even mercenaries and sell-swords. Adventurers are scum of the earth–and the protagonists of Sykes’ book are hard-pressed to prove their reputations as otherwise.

There’s Lenk, their leader, a talented swordsman who hears a deadly voice in his head spurring him on to kill. Then there’s Kataria, a barbaric schict who farts in her sleep (and doesn’t smell very good otherwise) who adventures in order to kill as many humans as she can. The rogue, Denaos, is everything the reputation of the adventurer encompasses–cowardly, murderous, and drunkenly carousing. Gariath, the haughty dragonman, is enigmatic and violent, as prone to injure himself as the humans in his path. Asper, the cursed priestess, tries to do good but finds her faith in humanity waning as she follows her companions into danger time and time again. Finally, there’s Dreadaeleon the wizard, who follows knowledge for its own sake and whose magic can prove dangerous to both his target and to innocent bystanders.

This ragtag group are all on a quest to find the Aeons’ Gate for their patron, a priest by the name of Miron Evenhands. But while onboard a ship bound for their next destination, they are attacked by pirates who target Evenhands–or, more precisely, a tome in his possession. When the tome is ultimately taken by a demon allied with the pirates, the adventurers agree to chase it–and the demon–down. Of course, the fate of the world hangs in the balance–as well as a thousand pieces of gold.

Imagine if Joe Abercrombie wrote RPG fiction and you’ll get a feel for this novel. Deeply gritty with a sense of the absurd and a through-line of humor, the prose is highly enjoyable. The characters are somehow likeable, despite their many flaws. These are definitely not characters you want to be or to be around, yet you continue to want to read about them. It’s clear that the author is having a great deal of fun with his story and that comes through in the reading. It’s contagious.

The plot is a pretty straightforward adventure story. The events of the novel are set up by a long sea battle that takes up a good third of the book. Still, there are monsters, sirens, a strange warrior race, demons, all manner of good stuff in here. It is definitely not light on the action.

All in all, Tome was an excellent opening for a series that I want to read. I’ll be looking for the next book in the series, Black Halo. Highly recommended.

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Top Distractions of 2014

Well, it’s a new year here at the Serial Distractions Beard Straightening and Yak-Poking Emporium ™ and that means we look back at what we did with an eye to what we can do in the future.

Top Posts

Of the 5 most viewed posts for 2014, only the fifth was actually written in 2014. The rest were written in previous years. WordPress assures me this means my writing has staying power. I think this means I need to be writing more relevant posts. The most viewed post was Moon Over Wisconsin: Science Fiction and Big Ideas a piece I wrote back in 2010.

Views and Visitors

My blog was viewed 2197 times in 2014. Not too shabby for my little darkened corner of the internet. This is up from 1540 in 2013. We had 1033 visitors in 2013 as opposed to a whopping 1595 in 2014. This still isn’t as good as in previous years, but we seem to be picking up from the slump that was 2013.

Top Distraction

Content-wise, I didn’t write very many reviews this year. That is definitely something I need to fix in 2015. That being said, my stand-out, Top Distraction of 2015 is easy to pick this year:

Cold in July by Joe R. Lansdale

This book has everything I love by one of my favorite authors.

I hope your 2015 is going well so far and look forward to spending it with you with some great books this year.

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Review: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

Blue BlazesThe Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig (9780857663351) Angry Robot (2013)

Mookie Pearl is a thug. When the Organization is in need of some muscle, Mookie has it in spades. When the Boss needs some kneecaps busted, Mookie’s happy to oblige. And when the goblins in the Underworld get restless, then it’s Mookie that the Organization sends in to settle them back down again. A great slab of a man with a bowling ball head and ham-hocks for hands, Mookie is a bruiser in both the criminal and supernatural underworlds and a force to be reckoned with. But when forces conspire to rock the natural order of things in the Organization–forces that may be led by his estranged daughter, Nora–Mookie is forced to go both underground and Underground to defeat them and stay alive.

Wendig has created a unique character and mythology for this unusual urban fantasy. Instead of the usual crop of werewolves, witches, and vampires, we have goblins (or “gobbos”) and underground civilizations and the walking dead (but not zombies–just, the dead). Mookie is a different kind of hero. He’s not a loveable lug–he’s more complicated than that. But he’s identifiable and likeable and, most importantly, someone who you want to go on this journey with.

And what a journey it is. As usual with Wendig, the plot is a roller-coaster ride of wild characters and pulp violence peppered with profane dialogue. There are roller derby street gangs, creepy snake-people assassins, assault four-wheelers, eldritch cults, and charcuterie. Satisfying in every way.

And yet…

And yet, I still came away unsatisfied. Not quite sated. I have no objective complaints about the plot, the writing, the overall grim tone of the novel, nothing. But still–something lacked. Something didn’t quite click with me. Not like Blackbirds or Double Dead did.

Don’t mistake me. I still want to see what’s in store for Mookie. This is a book I can still wholeheartedly recommend to others. But it didn’t “wow” me like his previous work has.

Still, if you’re looking for something different in urban fantasy, definitely give The Blue Blazes a read. Wendig’s unique voice and Mookie are well worth your time.

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“Gauntlet” reviewed in SFcrowsnest

On Spec Spring 2014My short story “Gauntlet” (appearing in On Spec #96 Spring 2014) got some praise over at SFcrowsnest:

“This enjoyable, well-crafted ripping yarn might have been stretched into a short novel with a few more sub-plots and could even make a decent B-movie of the straight-to-dvd sort.”

Check out the review of the full issue here.

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Review: Premonitions by Jamie Schultz

PremonitionsPremonitions by Jamie Schultz (9780451467447) : 2014 (Roc)

Karyn Ames runs a tight crew of thieves whose specialty is purloining items of the occult. There’s Anna, her right-hand–solid and dependable, her best friend since high school. Nail is the muscle, tough as his name and equipped with military discipline and training. Tommy is the occult expert–squirrely, but he knows his stuff. And Karyn herself has a peculiar talent. She can see the glimpses of the future in visions that superimpose themselves over the present. Thus, she can sometimes see dangerous situations and the double-cross before they come. But sometimes the visions grow too much to bear, with possible futures intruding on the present so much that the two become interchangeable. Then Karyn needs to take “blind”, a rare, highly expensive drug, to keep the visions at bay. Thus, the life of lucrative crime…

Now Karyn’s team is working for Enoch Sobell, a criminal overlord with a reputation for exclusivity: once you work for him once, you work for no one else. But with a two million dollar pay off, this clause may be worth it for Karyn’s crew. Soon, however, the job goes south and everyone–including the unflappable Mr. Sobell–find themselves in over their heads and desperate to find a way to neutralize a certain object before its too late.

Premonitions is both a heist novel and an urban fantasy with enough twists and turns to satisfy lovers of both genres. The plot is fast-paced and tight and the characters are well-drawn and interesting. In fact, Enoch Sobell’s backstory is probably worthy of a prequel or two. The author hits all the right stops, but this is by no means a “paint-by-the-numbers” book. It simply stands out as being a well-executed example of genre. A sequel is in the works and I, for one, am looking forward to it. Schultz is an author to watch.

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