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I was aware of this book when it came out, and the fervour over it, comparisons to Abercrombie flying around.  I purposefully didn't pick up Tome of the Undergates for that very reason; I'm not a fan of Abercrombie - and from Sykes' novel, I don't see any reason to believe he is (or isn't) either.

Tome of the Undergates has a fantastic, wonderful, D&D (or other RPG) influenced cast; we have Lenk, the fighter with a conscience; Dreadaeleon, the young (and immature) wizard; Kataria, the shict (think Warhammer Fantasy wood-elf); Denaos, the sneaky backstabbing rogue; and Gariath, the psychotic dragon-man.  The fact that this sounds like an adventuring party is no coincidence; but the characters are far, far more beautiful and developed than that makes them sound; they've got personalities beyond their traditional adventurer characteristics, they've all got pain and loss in their past, they're all well-developed and deeply divided and argumentative, with their own drives pulling them together and apart.  The group dynamics are fantastic on top of the individual characters, are much more subtle as the novel drives on.

The plot is also quite D&D-style; fighting demons in order to prevent them summoning an elder god who will destroy the world, with their cultist minions putting up a fight.  If this sounds like a relatively straightforward plot, it is, without really many twists (though there are one or two - Sykes doesn't throw us a straightforward story) and there's points where the expected events are diverted, often because of the twisted and self-hating dynamic of our group of adventurers.  There's also a set of subplots about the characters and their development which is handled well and makes the characters much more than the sum of their parts, with their histories brought (with varying levels of detail and precision) to the fore and explored.

Overall, Sykes' book is a novel about adventuring with a dim view of adventurers; it's well written, amusing, heart-stopping on numerous occasions, and Tome of the Undergates is a fantastic fantasy novel.  I would recommend it highly, especially for D&D players, who'll get more of the in-jokes.


reading, books
Daniel Franklin


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