As seen on Stumptown Books
I've had bad luck choosing my books lately. I hate to put another negative review out there but if I don't like the book...well that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Unfortunately, Tome of the Undergates
probably should have gone in my "abandoned" pile, but I persevered, hoping it would get better. It never did.
I love the basic idea that Mr. Sykes went with here - adventurers are jerks that are just out for themselves. After thinking about that, I decided I agreed completely. It is one of the harder problems to overcome in the fantasy genre: how do you make your characters decide they need to go on an epic quest? Gallivanting off in the world out of the goodness of their heart is hard to swallow, as is randomly joining up with a party just because the character wants to see the world. Role playing games glaze over this fact a lot, because it is easier to just walk into a village, get some quests, stab some pirates, goblins or what have you, and get your reward. It is rare a player actually feels an emotional resonance with the people in the game, whether it be Skyrim, World of Warcraft, or your friendly neighborhood Dungeons and Dragons campaign. Whatever you're doing in those games, you're doing it for yourself. So to take the idea that adventurers are fantasy's assholes is a great idea, in theory. To back it up, however, is going to be much more difficult, because assholes simply aren't going to last long in a group entirely made up of other assholes. It's not going to be fun to read about, and it's not going to be realistic, unless you can really pull out some awesome character development. Tome of the Undergates
introduces us to a typical fantasy group. There's the fighter, the barbarian, the cleric, the wizard, the rogue, and the ranger. This is our asshole fantasy adventuring party, of which not a single person is endearing. They constantly threaten to kill each other. After a while, I was beginning to hope it would happen, as that might have been more interesting. Why the hell do they decide to stick together? I know that the main "quest" of the novel, if it gets completed, will mean a thousand gold pieces will rain down upon our intrepid protagonist's heads. The whole idea falls short for me. We know they're adventurers, and that means they're jerks, and only out for themselves and that gold. That is literally the only reason they stick together, and it's simply not good enough. Why they even began the journey never became clear, and the reason for continuing on in each others loathsome presence wasn't a good one. Character development was at a minimum, with more energy going into quippy come backs than any sort of growth. All the inter-relationships are shallow and explained in the first 50 pages, and they never go anywhere from there.
Over at The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review
(an awesome blog by the way) is a great interview with Sam Sykes
. The question that I had on my mind after finishing Tome of the Undergates
was asked here - how much Dungeons and Dragons have you played? The novel seems like a campaign gone awry. He puts an end to rumors by saying his Dungeons and Dragons experience is minimal at best. After learning this, I decided he probably would have benefited from having played more of the game. A good dungeon master is extremely hard to come by, and it is a bittersweet and unforgiving job. A good balance of role play and fighting, with perhaps the occasional riddle or puzzle thrown in, is only easy in theory. Put that theory onto Tome of the Undergates
and this is no campaign I would want to be in. The opening sequence of the novel is a 120-page action sequence, followed by 200 pages of "role play" (in this case, that means traveling, talking to your party members, and getting ready for action, but not actually getting to it), closing with another 150 pages of action. That is what you would call a bad dungeon master. The pacing was completely off; I kept getting bored with action and then getting bored with role play. This isn't to say that there's not conversations in the middle of the action, but they all felt out of place. Like our party members seriously had time to sit and discuss religion and politics while fighting for their lives.
Another seemingly small choice that had me in gaped mouth horror was the amount of casual references to raping. Within just the first 100 pages I had already noted several allusions to rape. Have some disgusting quotes!
Page 22: "'See if I
were attacking a ship bearing a half-clad, half-mad barbarian that at least resembled
a woman wearing breeches tighter than the skin on an overfed hog, I would most certainly want to know how many men I needed to take her with no more holes in her than I could realistically use.'"
Page 23: "'I can think of at least one muscle of his that you'll find unpleasant when he comes over'"
Page 30: "'Obviously, we were triumphant. If we hadn't, you'd like have at least a dozen tattooed hands up your skirt by now.'"
or page 51: "'If you had your way, we'd all sit around praying to some weak round-ear god for an answer while they sodomised us with steel!'"
What the FUCK. In what universe is that a good idea? We get it, you're trying to tell us that your characters are tasteless. You know what's NEVER EVER FUNNY? RAPE. IT IS NEVER FUNNY. EVER
. Joking about rape was a substitute for character development, and that is the most ridiculous statement I have ever made in a review. If that is true for any novel, it needs to be on the do-not-touch-with-10-foot-pole list. And here we are, with Tome of the Undergates
This book didn't have much to go on and it got even less as the story, such as it was, progressed. I heaved a huge sigh of relief when I finished it. Hopefully I won't have to read a book that talks about orifices or bodily functions quite so vociferously ever again.