Sam Sykes

Book 1, Aeons’ Gate

Gollancz (2010)

ISBN: 978-0-575-09029-3

Reviewed by Mitenae, April 2010

Lenk and his associates Dreadaeleon, Apser, Kataria, Gariath and Denaos are adventurers hired by the Lord Emissary, Miron Evenhands. But while at sea they are stalked by pirates and the tome of the undergates is stolen by Frogmen on behalf of the Mother Deep, forcing Miron to hire them once more to retrieve the tome. Only Lenk and his associates find themselves in a three-way battle facing off with Frogmen and Longfaces.

Whenever I see a book (or film) touted as being the next big thing, as Gollancz is doing with this book, the first question I ask is: What’s wrong with it? because inevitably, there are always problems with the story. Every time. And there are problems with this book but the largest of them all is that Sam Sykes does not yet have the storytelling skills to execute his story. All of the other problems link back to this.

The story opens with a very extended action scene, one that occurs for about two hundred pages. As far as beginnings go, it isn’t that good. Although it launches you straight into the middle of things, it does not take the time to do the critical setting up and hooking in of the reader.

The characters take far too long to be established and defined from one another. It is only in the last half of the book that you being to learn about their backstory and get a sense of who they are. All of this should have been done in the first fifty pages. It didn’t help that the snarky attitude towards humans by the inhumans was repeated far too often.

Overall, the world Sykes has created is interesting but he does not establish the world at the beginning to give  a sense of place and it became difficult to imagine the setting until very late in the story. Although he includes a lot of, often frilly, details, these weren’t enough.

The action scenes lack the tension, pace and drive that they so clearly need. Instead, Sykes reverts to frilly language (otherwise known as adjectivitis), inappropriate commentary and banter between characters when  the reader is more concerned with what is happening. These action scenes fail to achieve their goal and aren’t helped by the dialogue.

Although the dialogue improves by the end of the book, at the beginning it is overly dramatic to the point where I found myself laughing and groaning for all the wrong reasons. Whilst perfectly placed in a high comedy, in a fantasy it felt completely inappropriate.

Ultimately this story is incapable of living up to the hype surrounding it. It is overwritten, lacks tension, uses far too much frilly language and is in need of a good rewrite. But for all this, I like his humour and I can see what he was trying to achieve. In time, once Sam Sykes has improved his storytelling skills, found the right world and cast of characters, his sense of humour and voice will create a great story, one worthy of this sort of hype.