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"Holy freaking bottle rockets, people! This book ROCKS!"
-Elitist Book Reviews, on Tome of the Undergates
"Sam Sykes does blood and noise in the liveliest tradition of contemporary fantasy, with all the brash vigor of youth, and with a sly, penetrating sensitivity all his own. Not many writers can give you fireworks and subtlety at the same time like he can."
-Scott Lynch, author of The Lies of Locke Lamora
"If you like your fantasy dark and twisted . . . The Aeons' Gate is a series tailor-made for you."
"Recommend[ed] for people who enjoy fantasy with some dark humor, violence, and chaos."
-Night Owl Reviews (four stars)
"I do not wish Sam Sykes dead."
-John Scalzi, author of Redshirts
"Epic, crude, dark, silly, scary, violent, and surprisingly tender."
-Rob Will Review
In the span of a breath, colour and sound died on the wind.
The green of the ocean, the flutter of sails, the tang of salt in the air vanished from Lenk's senses. The world faded into darkness, leaving only the tall, leather-skinned man before him and the sword clutched in his hands.
The man loosed a silent howl and leapt forward. Lenk's sword rose just as his foe's curved blade came crashing down.
They met in a kiss of sparks. Life returned to Lenk's senses in the groan of the grinding blades. He was aware of many things at once: the man's towering size, the sound of curses boiling out of tattooed lips, the odour of sweat and the blood staining the wood under their feet.
The man uttered something through a yellow-toothed smile; Lenk watched every writhing twitch of his mouth, hearing no words behind them. No time to wonder. He saw the man's free hand clutching a smaller, crueller blade, whipping up to seek his ribs.
The steel embrace shattered. Lenk leapt backward, feeling his boots slide along the red-tinged salt beneath him. His heels struck something fleshy and solid and unmoving; his backpedal halted.
Don't look, he urged himself, not yet.
He had eyes for nothing but his foe's larger blade as it came hurtling down upon him. Lenk darted away, watched the cutlass bite into the slick timbers and embed itself. He saw the twitch of the man's eye-the realisation of his mistake and the instant in which futile hope existed.
And then died.
Lenk lunged, sword up and down in a flashing arc. His senses returned with painful slowness; he could hear the echo of the man's shriek, feel the sticky life spatter across his face, taste the tang of copper on his lips. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes, the man knelt before his own severed arm, shifting a wide-eyed stare from the leaking appendage to the young man standing over him.
Lenk's sword flashed again, biting deeply into meat and sliding out again. Only when its tip lowered, steady, to the timbers, only when his opponent collapsed, unmoving, did he allow himself to take in the sight.
The pirate's eyes were quivering pudding: stark white against the leather of his flesh. They looked stolen, wearing an expression that belonged to a smaller, more fearful man. Lenk met his foe's gaze, seeing his own blue stare reflected in the whites until the light behind them sputtered out in the span of a sole, ragged breath.
He drew a lock of silver hair from his eyes, ran his hand down his face, wiping the sweat and substance from his brow. His fingers came back to him trembling and stained.
Lenk drew in a breath.
In that breath, the battle had ended. The roar of the pirates' retreat and the hesitant, hasty battle cries of sailors had faded on the wind. The steel that had flashed under the light of a shameless staring sun now lay on the ground in limp hands. The stench ebbed on the breeze, filled the sails overhead and beckoned the hungry gulls to follow.
The dead remained.
They were everywhere, having ceased to be men. Now they were litter, so many obstacles of drained flesh and broken bones lying motionless on the deck. Pirates lay here and there, amongst the sailors they had taken with them. Some embraced their foes with rigor-stiffening limbs. Most lay on their backs, eyes turned to Gods that had no answers for the questions that had died on their lips.
His thought seemed an understatement, perhaps insultingly so, but he had seen many bodies in his life, many not half as peacefully gone. He had drawn back trembling hands many times before, flicked blood from his sword many times before, as he did now. And he was certain that the stale breath he drew would not be the last to be scented with death.
"Astounding congratulations should be proffered for so ruby a sport, good sir!"
Lenk whirled about at the voice, blade up. The pirate standing upon the railing of the Riptide, however, seemed less than impressed, if the banana-coloured grin on his face was any indication. He extended a long, tattooed limb and made an elaborate bow.
"It is the sole pleasure of the Linkmaster's crew, myself included, to look forward to offering a suitable retort for," the pirate paused to gesture to the human litter, "our less fortunate complements, of suitable fury and adequately accompanying disembowelment."
"Uh," Lenk said, blinking, "what?"
Had he time and wit enough about him to decipher the tattooed man's expression, he would, he assured himself, have come up with a more suitable retort.
"Do hold that thought, kind sir. I shall return anon to carve it out."
Like some particularly eloquent hairless ape, the pirate fell to all fours and scampered nimbly across a chain swaying over the gap of quickly shifting sea between the two ships. He was but one of many, Lenk noted, as the remaining tattooed survivors fled back over the railings of their own vessel.
"Cragsmen," the young man muttered, spitting on the deck at the sight of the inked masses.
Their leviathan ship shared their love of decoration, it seemed. Its title was painted in bold, violent crimson upon a black hull, sharp as a knife: Linkmaster. And in equally threatening display were crude scrawlings of ships of various sizes beneath the title, each one with a triumphant red cross drawn through it.
Save one that bore a peculiar resemblance to the Riptide's triple masts.
"Eager little bastards," he muttered, narrowing his eyes. "They've already picked out a spot for us."
He blinked. That realisation carried a heavy weight, one that struck him suddenly. He had thought that the pirates were chance raiders and the Riptide nothing more than an unlucky victim. This particular drawing, apparently painted days before, suggested something else.
"Khetashe," Lenk cursed under his breath, "they've been waiting for us."
"Were they?" someone grunted from behind him, a voice that seemed to think it should be feminine but wasn't quite convinced.
He turned about and immediately regretted doing so. A pair of slender hands in fingerless leather gloves reached down to grip an arrow's shaft jutting from a man's chest. He should have been used to the sound of arrowheads being wrenched out of flesh, he knew, but he couldn't help cringing.
Somehow, one never got all the way used to Kataria.
"Because if this is an ambush," the pale creature said as she inspected the bloody arrow, "it's a rather pitiful excuse for one." She caught his uncomfortable stare and offered an equally unpleasant grin as she tapped her chin with the missile's head. "But then, humans have never been very good at this sort of thing, have they?"
Her ears were always the first thing he noticed about Kataria: long, pointed spears of pale flesh peeking out from locks of dirty blonde hair, three deep notches running the length of each as they twitched and trembled like beings unto themselves. Those ears, as long as the feathers laced in her hair, were certainly the most prominent markers of her shictish heritage.
The immense, fur-wrapped bow she carried on her back, as well as the short-cut leathers she wore about what only barely constituted a bosom, leaving her muscular midsection exposed, were also indicative of her savage custom.
"You looked as surprised as any to find them aboard," Lenk replied. With a sudden awareness, he cast a glance about the deck. "So did Denaos, come to think of it. Where did he go?"
"Well ..." She tapped the missile's fletching against her chin as she inspected the deck. "I suppose if you just find the trail of urine and follow it, you'll eventually reach him."
"Whereas one need only follow your stench to find you?" he asked, daring a little smirk.
"Correction," she replied, unfazed, "one need only look for the clear winner." She pushed a stray lock of hair behind the leather band about her brow, glanced at the corpse at Lenk's feet. "What's that? Your first one today?"
"Well, well, well." Her smile was as unpleasant as the red-painted arrows she held before her, her canines as prominent and sharp as their glistening heads. "I win."
"This isn't a game, you know."
"You only say that because you're losing." She replaced the bloodied missiles in the quiver on her back. "What's it matter to you, anyway? They're dead. We're not. Seems a pretty favourable situation to me."
"That last one snuck up on me." He kicked the body. "Nearly gutted me. I told you to watch my back."
"First, when we came up here." He counted off on his fingers. "Next, when everyone started screaming, 'Pirates! Pirates!' And then, when I became distinctly aware of the possibility of someone shoving steel into my kidneys. Any of these sound familiar?"
"Vaguely," she said, scratching her backside. "I mean, not the actual words, but I do recall the whining." She offered a broader smile to cut off his retort. "You tell me lots of things: "Watch my back, watch his back, put an arrow in his back." Watch backs. Shoot humans. I got the idea."
"I said shoot Cragsmen." Upon seeing her unregistering blink, he sighed and kicked the corpse again. "These things! The pirates! Don't shoot our humans!"
"I haven't," she replied with a smirk. "Yet."
"Are you planning to start?" he asked.
"If I run out of the other kind, maybe."
Lenk looked out over the railing and sighed.
No chance of that happening anytime soon.
The crew of the Linkmaster stood at the railings of their vessel, poised over the clanking chain bridges with barely restrained eagerness. And yet, Lenk noted with a narrowing of his eyes, restrained all the same. Their leering, eager faces outnumbered the Riptide's panicked expressions, their cutlasses shone brighter than any staff or club their victims had managed to cobble together.
And yet, all the same, they remained on their ship, content to throw at the Riptide nothing more than hungry stares and the occasional declaration of what they planned to do with Kataria, no matter what upper assets she might lack. The phrase "segregate those weeping dandelions 'twixt a furious hammer" was shouted more than once.
Any other day, he would have taken the time to ponder the meaning behind that. At that moment, another question consumed his thoughts.
"What are they waiting for?"
"Right now?" Kataria growled, flattened ears suggesting she heard quite clearly their intentions and divined their meaning. "Possibly for me to put an arrow in their gullets."
"They could easily overrun us," he muttered. "Why wouldn't they attack now, while they still have the advantage?"
Largely, he told himself, that we're going to die and you're going to be the cause. His thoughts throbbed painfully in the back of his head. They're waiting for something, I know it, and when they finally decide to attack, all I've got is a lunatic shict to fight them. Where are the others? Where's Dreadaeleon? Where's Denaos? Why do I even keep them around? I could do this. I could survive this if they were gone.
If she were ...
He felt her stare upon him as surely as if she'd shot him. From the corner of his own eye, he could see hers staring at him. No, he thought, studying. Studying with an unnerving steadiness that exceeded even the unpleasantness of her long-vanished smile.
His skin twitched under her gaze, he shifted, turned a shoulder to her.
Stop staring at me.
She canted her head to one side. "What?"
Any response he might have had degenerated into a sudden cry of surprise, one lost amidst countless others, as the deck shifted violently beneath him, sending him hurtling to one knee. He was rendered deaf by the roar of waves as the Riptide rent the sea beneath it with the force of its turn, but even the ocean could not drown out the furious howl from the Riptide's helm.
"More men!" the voice screeched. "Get more men to the railing! What are you doing, you thrice-fondled sons of six-legged whores from hell? Get those chains off!"
Not an eye could help turning to the ship's wheel, and the slim, dark figure behind it. A bald beacon, Captain Argaol's hairless head shone with sweat as his muscles strained to guide his bride of wood and sails away from her pursuer. Eyes white and wide in furious snarl, he turned a scowl onto Lenk.
"What in Zamanthras's name are you blasphemers being paid for?" He thrust a finger toward the railings. "Get. Them. OFF!"
Several bodies pushed past Lenk, hatchets in hand as they rushed the chains biting into the Riptide's hull. At this, a lilting voice cut across the gap of the sea, sharp as a blade to Lenk's ears as he pulled himself to his feet.
"I say, kind Captain, that hardly seems the proper way to address the gentlemen in your employ, does it?" The helmsman of the Linkmaster taunted with little effort as he guided the black vessel to keep pace with its prey. "Truly, sirrah, perhaps you could benefit from a tongue more silver than brass?"
"Stuff your metaphors in your eyes and burn them, Cragscum!" Argaol split his roar in twain, hurling the rest of his fury at his crew below. "Faster! Work faster, you hairless monkeys! Get the chains off!"
"Do we help?" Kataria asked, looking from the chains to Lenk. "I mean, aren't you a monkey?"
"Monkeys lack a sense of business etiquette," Lenk replied. "Argaol isn't the one who pays us." His eyes drifted down, along with his frown, to the dull iron fingers peeking over the edge of the Riptide's hull. "Besides, no amount of screaming is going to smash that thing loose."
Her eyes followed his, and so did her lips, at the sight of the massive metal claw. A "mother claw," some sailors had shrieked upon seeing it: a massive bridge of links, each the size of a housecat, ending in six massive talons that clung to its victim ship like an overconfident drunkard.
"Were slander but one key upon a ring of victory, good Captain, I dare suggest you'd not be in such delicate circumstance," the Linkmaster's helmsman called from across the gap. "Alas, a lack of manners more frequently begets sharp devices embedded in kidneys. If I might be so brash as to suggest surrender as a means of keeping your internal organs free of metallic intrusion?"
The mother claw had since lived up to its title, resisting any attempt to dislodge it. What swords could be cobbled together had been broken upon it. The sailors that might have been able to dislodge it when the Cragsmen attacked were also the first to be cut down or grievously wounded. All attempts to tear away from its embrace had proved useless.
Not that it seems to stop Argaol from trying, Lenk noted.
"You might," the captain roared to his rival, "but only if I might suggest shoving said suggestion square up your-"
The vulgarity was lost in the wooden groan of the Riptide as Argaol pulled the wheel sharply, sending his ship cutting through salt like a scythe. The mother chain wailed in metal panic, going taut and pulling the Linkmaster back alongside its prey. A collective roar of surprise went up from the crew as they were sent sprawling. Lenk's own was a muffled grunt, as Kataria's modest weight was hurled against him.
His breath was struck from him and his senses with it. When they returned to him, he was conscious of many things at once: the sticky deck beneath him, the calls of angry gulls above him and the groan of sailors clambering to their feet.
His breath seeped into his nostrils slowly, carrying with it a new scent that overwhelmed the stench of decay. He tasted her sweat on his tongue, smelled blood that wept from the few scratches on her torso, and felt the warmth of her slick flesh pressed against him, seeping through his stained tunic and into his skin like a contagion.
He opened his eyes and found hers boring into his. He saw his own slack jaw reflected in their green depths, unable to look away.
"Hardly worthy of praise, Captain," the Linkmaster's helmsman called out, drawing their attentions. "Might one suggest even the faintest caress of Lady Reason would e'er do your plight well?"
"So ..." Kataria said, screwing up her face in befuddlement, "do they all talk like that?"
"Cragsmen are lunatics," he muttered in reply. "Their mothers drink ink when they're still in the womb, so every one of them comes out tattooed and out of his skull."
"Khetashe, I don't know," he grunted, shoving her off and clambering to his feet. "The point is that, in a few moments when they finally decide to board again, they're going to run us over, cut us open and shove our intestines up our noses!" He glanced her over. "Well, I mean, they'll kill me, at least. You, they said they'd like to-"
Excerpted from Tome of the undergates by Sam Sykes Copyright © 2010 by Sam Sykes. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted January 20, 2012
A first book, and it shows. But this never should have been published. It takes the author close to 500 pages to get to the point. I wanted this book to be good, I wanted it to be something worthy of my time. About 200 pages in I almost gave up, but kept going, thinking it would get better. It didn't.
The author spends a great deal of time describing various bodily functions, and seems to take an orgasmic joy in the description of violence.
The characters do not grow, and barely distinguish themselves. Lets see, you have gruff jerk with silver hair, gruff jerk with platinum hair and oft-mentioned small breasts, dumb gruff jerk who is either an assassin or a thief, gormless wizard who's a jerk, and gruff jerk with scales, and gruff jerk with breasts and a holy symbol.
Just when there's an inkling of something interesting in the characters, the author jerks the rug out from under you, and moves on to more descriptions of urination or gore.
The story could've been told in two chapters.
In short, the impression I came away with was that somebody took notes during a high-school dungeons and dragons game, grabbed a thesaurus and an MP3 of a dead alewives sketch, and decided to write a gritty fantasy.
This story did have potential, and could've benefited from a major re-write. Sadly it fell short and nothing was resolved in anticipation of a sequel. A sequel this reader will not bother with.
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Posted January 1, 2013
SpiritRane: A friend of mind lent me this book because I was interested to see how the son of my favorite writer (Diana Gabledon of the Outlander series) wrote. Well I have to say for a first boik it was a grand try, l am hoping as this series moves along the charactors get more definded than other more baseless stuff. I can see discribing things but some is a bit much. I would have liked to read more on how the players got to where they did in their lives. I am looking forward to the next chapter for this young writer to see if his writing grows with depth and perserverance. It is so hard to write a review on a Nook. Blessed be.
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Posted August 31, 2010
They are a band loathed and feared by everyone else. They take only jobs that no one else even considers as that is the only work they can get. These mercenaries are not a band of brothers (and sisters) in arms as they detest one another. Their leader by default is Lenk the swordsman whose prime job is to prevent Denaos the thug, Asper the priestess, Dreadaelon the wizard, Gariath the dragonman, and Kataria the shict from killing each other especially when they are on the job.
Their current assignment is to protect a Priest while searching for the stolen by an oceanic malevolence Tome of the Undergates as they sail on the Riptide. Cragsmen of the vessel Linkmaster attack their vessel, but the six defeat the pirates though thy are incredibly outnumbered. However that is a forerunner as soon the sextet will learn what their greed means as they are caught in the crosshairs of a war in which the hell beneath the sea wants to dominate the world.
This is an entertaining seafaring fantasy filled with plenty of adventures. The story line is loaded with action as the six fight adversaries including each other. The back stories of each are well written and interesting though their tales slow down the pace of the oceanic fantasy and in spite of their diversity reads somewhat interchangeable. Still fans will enjoy the opening Tome of the Undergates.
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Posted April 12, 2012
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