Tome of the Undergates

This is yet another book I heard of through the Writing Excuses podcast.  Sam Sykes was a guest on the podcast a couple months back and they had an interesting discussion of sensory writing.  After listening to that podcast I picked up Sam’s first book – Tome of the Undergates – a while ago and just now read through it.  There were some flashes of very good writing in the book, but as a whole it didn’t work out for me.

Book Stats

486 pages


First book of The Aeons’ Gate series


There are 6 main characters in the book, and one interesting thing that the book does is start after the characters have all met.  The characters are all adventurers or mercenaries of one type or another, and at the beginning of the book they find themselves escorting a priest on a journey where they find themselves on a ship about to be attacked by pirates.  White it was interesting that the book started this way, I think it ultimately made the characters seem a little flat.  Because you don’t know anything about their backgrounds until much later in the book, they come across as stereotypes of the fantasy genre.  There were some moments where the characters were interesting, but to me they were too few and far between to be effective.


A fairly standard pseudo-medieval fantasy world, albeit one inhabited by several different species that you encounter throughout the book.


The characters are all escorting Miron, a priest who has a powerful book in his possession.  Naturally, the boat that they’re on is attacked by pirates (who are also accompanied by frog men, one of the kinds of demonic opponents they fight throughout the book) who end up stealing the book.  From that point on, the book follows their quest to recover the book and return it to Miron, in exchange for a hefty sum of gold of course.


This was a different sort of fantasy book from the ones I typically read.  Rather than focusing on an epic sense of scope and following the adventurers over the course of a long adventure, the book takes place over the span of 4 or 5 days.  I’d probably label the book as more of a heroic fantasy than epic.

The problem with this is that the book just didn’t work for me.  The characters felt very flat, and the entirety of the book seemed to focus on their fighting, which doesn’t work very well in a book.  One of the thoughts that I had while reading the book is that it would probably make a very good movie, because it’s so visually oriented.  Books don’t generally do visually oriented stories very well, they do much better with stories driven either by character emotion or by philosophical ideas.  There are a few sections of the book where Sykes tries to focus more on character emotions – specifically he sets up a couple of potential love interests – but I didn’t think they were handled very well.  There are a couple of other scenes throughout the book that show a lot of potential depth, specifically in the last 40 pages of the book both Gariath (the dragonman) and Asper (the healer/priestess) had scenes that were very intriguing and showed a lot of depth to their characters.  Unfortunately for every scene that succeeded like this, there was another scene that felt like it tried to do this but came across as a ham-fisted train wreck.

Overall Grade

There were flashes of a great story in this book, unfortunately they’re mired in questionable plotting and poor characterization.


Leave a comment


  1. I read this back when it came out, and it didn’t work for me either. It read like a D&D gaming campaign, which is fine, and probably would have made fans of D&D gaming very happy, but I recall it being advertised as epic fantasy, which it most certainly wasn’t. the characters fell flat for me too, but I’m known for being a real stickler when it comes to characterization.

    • There were moments that showed potential, like I said, the part at the very end of the book with Gariath was wonderful and bodes well for his character in the future books. Similarly the section of the book where Asper’s curse is actually discussed a little was fantastic, but those are two good scenes out of a nearly 500 page book, not quite enough for me.

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