Black Halo by Sam Sykes
Sam Sykes’ first book Tome of the Undergates belongs to a select group of debut novels that takes familiar fantastical tropes and transforms them into something completely new. Knitting together great characterisation with bloodthirsty adventure and shameless humour, Sykes’ debut made itself a tough act to follow.
The sequel, Black Halo, sees our band of socially-challenged rogues stranded and separated on a tropical island with only tubers to eat and their consciences for company. A pleasant change of tack from Tome’s seafaring antics, this instalment sees the motley crew at the mercy of one-eyed lizardmen, purple warrior women, various deep sea monsters, and most pertinently, themselves.
To say we’re given some intimate time with Sykes’ stars here would be a monumental understatement. The author holds nothing back, laying all their demons (literally and metaphorically) to bear. It’s a privilege to see the anti-heroes humanised (or shictisied and Rhegasied respectively) and the unearthing of their deepest insecurities, identity issues and conflicting opinions on life and death is a truly exhilarating experience.
Like with Tome, they are the main attraction, and, whilst not engaged in the obligatory mauling, gut-spilling and bloodletting, they fight their own, very personal, battles: Lenk struggles to keep a hold on his sanity; Gariath is confronted with the ghost of his grandfather; Denaos’ drinking hits new heights; Asper’s faith continues to degenerate at a dangerous velocity; Kataria fluctuates between wanting to kiss Lenk and kill him and Dreadaeleon fights to maintain his precarious control of his flammable urine.
Every character is as interested this time as the first, though it’s the silver-haired, sword-swinging Lenk who edges out in front of the others. For the first time in his life he envisions a future not birthed through bloodshed, and the clash of his dreams with reality is heartrending to witness as he is ultimately forced along an all too familiar path (now with a homicidal female with in tow!).
A number of new characters also make an entrance here though it’s the ‘Librarian’ (a job title that has little to do with books) Bralston who causes the biggest stir. Introduced early on as a sensitive and dutiful wizard of the Venarium, he then disappears for a large chunk of the novel before returning towards the end for the big finale. An intriguing and strangely sympathetic character, it’s a shame he doesn’t feature more prominently.
Almost everyone’s sanity takes a beating here, and at times this includes the reader’s. The protagonists’ continued discussions with themselves, their spectral companions and/or the various flora and fauna gets monotonous and often feels confusing.
Love (and lust), faith, and death play are huge part in Black Halo, commanding much of the narrative’s stage. Sykes dissection of death is truly marvellous; proving as thorough an examination of it as Jesse Bullington’s The Enterprise of Death. Though the characters deal it out so deftly, it also consumes them to the core, enabling some insightful and occasionally quite profound prose.
The author’s unique grip on the gory continues to tighten here with plenty of gruesome battle scenes. Hacking, slashing and severing their way onto the pages, the netherlings wreak as much havoc as possible, littering the story with corpses in a superbly imaginative display of death dealing.
The book’s weaknesses lie primarily in its structure, with the extended periods of procrastination on the island holding back the plot progression and the heavy emphasis on characterisation slowing down the overall pace of the read. A more frequent injection of sanity into the crazed island environment would’ve lessened the mental load that accumulates on the reader as the pages turn.
That being said, Sykes’ wry humour is as prevalent as ever and Halo offers much for fans by way of world building and character progression. While there are significant developments in the individuals’ alliances and relationships, the inherent distrust and paranoia that’s so fundamental to their addictive dynamic remains intact.
It was always going to be difficult to out-do Tome of the Undergates, but Black Halo proves to be an absorbing, exciting and often poignant tale of feudal friendships that won’t fail to haul you in hook, line and sinker.
This Black Halo book review was written by Alice Wybrew
All reviews for: Aeons Gate
Tome of the Undergates
Aeons Gate: Book 1
Lenk and his band of murderous misfits are loathed by society, spurned by all merciful gods, and motivated only by their distrust of each other. Hired to track down a stole...
Aeons Gate: Book 2
The Tome of the Undergates has been recovered, and the gates of hell remain closed. Lenk and his five companions set sail to bring the accursed relic away from the demonic ...
Have you read Black Halo?
We've found that while readers like to know what we think of a book they find additional reader reviews a massive help in deciding if it is the right book for them. So if you have a spare moment, please tell us your thoughts by writing a reader's review. Thank you.
Black Halo reader reviews
7.6/10 from 1 reviews
There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?
Write a reader review
Thank you for taking the time to write a review on this book, it really makes a difference and helps readers to find their perfect book.
More recommended reading in this genre
Beren and Luthien
Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts and presented for the first time as a continuous and standalone story, the epic tale of Beren and Lúthien wil...
The Story of Kullervo
The world first publication of a previously unknown work of fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the powerful story of a doomed young man who is sold into slavery and who...
Death Angel's Shadow
Karl Edward Wagner
Kane is battling the prophet of an ancient cult of evil and confronting the demons of darkness on his journeys. He faces death duels in strange swamps, assassin's attac...
Timion the Black has exhausted his options. Reckless, despicable, Timion’s own band of mercenary men turn against him, leaving him for dead in a back alleyway. Fate d...
The Sword of Truth Series
Richard Cypher holds the fate of three nations in his hands, he must learn the Wizard's First Rule to achieve his goals. The heart hounds are stalking the humans, blood...
Karl Edward Wagner
Kane - indestructible swordsman, invincible sorcerer, immortal wanderer through strange worlds. Efrel, Empress of Pellin, seeks vengeance on the King of Thovnos and chooses...
The Children Of Hurin
Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts and presented for the first time as a fully continuous and standalone story, this illustrated paperback of the epic ...
Steven L Shrewsbury
Deliverance will come... A great flood once wiped clean the earth, destroying everything upon it. Before the deluge, in a time now forgotten, the world was a place of warri...
The Goblin Corps
Morthul, the dreaded Charnel King, has failed. Centuries of plotting from the heart of the Iron Keep - all for naught. Foiled at the last by the bumbling efforts of a laugh...
The Brotherhood of Dwarves series
Roskin, heir to the throne of a remote, peaceful kingdom of dwarves, craves excitement and adventure. Outside his own kingdom, in search of fortune and glory, he finds a mu...
A Threat of Shadows
Do some choices change us too much for us to ever change back? There was a time when Alaric was a Keeper, one of the men entrusted with counseling the queen, protecting the...
In the first section of Sauron Defeated Christopher Tolkien completes his fascinating study of The Lord of the Rings. Beginning with Sam’s rescue of Frodo from the To...
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun contains 800 narrative verses adapted from Old Norse by Tolkien when he was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University during the 1920s. ...
It is the twilight of mankind. Depleted by generations of war with a dark race, the human kingdoms and their ancient alliance stand on the brink of extinction. The outlands...
The Fallen Herald
Simon P Edwards
Thorn and Alazla are promising students and have little more on their minds than enjoying life, that is, until Thorn witnesses the murder of an Avatar, herald to one of the...
Looking for more suggestions? Try these pages:
Best of 2016
The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
Set 'In Britain's land beyond the seas' during the Age of Chivalry, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun tells of a childless Breton Lord and Lady (the 'Aotrou' an...
A Threat of Shadows
Do some choices change us too much for us to ever change back? There was a time when Alaric was a Keeper, one of the men entrusted with counseling the queen, protecting the pe...
Books of the Month
A selection of books - old and new alike - that were a joy to read.
Paris was supposed to save Hallie. Now... well, let’s just say Paris has other ideas. There’s a strange woman called The Chronometrist who will not leave her alone. Garbled warnings from bizarre creatures keep her up at night. And there’s a time portal in the keg room of the bar where she works. Soon, Hallie is tumbling through...
A corrupted city. A dark dream of power. Luke is a prisoner, condemned for a murder he didn’t commit. Abi is a fugitive, desperate to free him before magic breaks his...
The Fifth Empire of Man
Rob J Hayes
The Pirate Isles are united under Drake Morrass’ flag, but the war has only just begun. There’s still a long way to go before he’s able to call himself Ki...
Ian C Esslemont
After the disappointments of Li Heng, Dancer and Kellanved wash up on a small insignificant island named Malaz. Immediately, of course, Kellanved plans to take it over. To ...
Age of Swords
Michael J Sullivan
Raithe, the God Killer, may have started the rebellion by killing a Fhrey, but long-standing enmities dividing the Rhunes make it all but impossible to unite against the co...
A Time of Dread
The Ben-Elim, a race of warrior angels, once vanquished a mighty demon horde. Now they rule the Banished lands. But their dominion is brutally enforced and their ancient en...
The Last Dog on Earth
Adrian J Walker
Every dog has its day... And for Lineker, a happy go lucky mongrel from Peckham, the day the world ends is his: finally a chance to prove to his owner just how loyal he can...