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.