Book Review: Black Halo

Black Halo (Aeons' Gate, #2)Black Halo by Sam Sykes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book two of the Aeon’s Gate trilogy picks up mere moments after the end of Tome of the Undergates with the intrepid Lenk recording recent events in his journal. The Tome of the Undergates has been recovered, and yet the gates of hell remain closed. Lenk and his five companions set sail to bring the accursed relic away from the demonic reach of Ulbecetonth, the Kraken Queen. But after weeks at sea, tensions amidst the adventurers are rising. Their troubles are only beginning when their ship crashes upon an island made of the bones left behind from a war long dead.

And it appears that bloodthirsty alien warrior women, fanatical beasts from the deep, and heretic-hunting wizards are the least of their concerns. Haunted by their pasts, plagued by their gods, tormented by their own people, and gripped by madness personal and peculiar, their greatest foes may yet be themselves.

Critics of the first book lamented that the characters were too thinly sketched, the bulk of the book being taken up by some longer than usual action scenes. In this second volume, Sykes flips that expectation on us. We delve deeper into each of the characters, getting more tantalizing glints of their depth and background as they recover on the island of the dead. To be sure, while the first book was a book of struggling, this second volume gives us a better understanding on why each of our characters – and I don’t just mean our protagonists – are struggling and what it is they are trying to achieve. Which in the case of our (un)lucky band of adventurers is largely what they are struggling to run away from.

The problem, of course, is that we spend most of the book introspecting the characters, their flaws, backgrounds, motives, and favorite past times that we never quite make any headway in the story. In fact, the only real progress in the books is delivered by two new characters that are external to the adventurer party, one a librarian (don’t snicker, librarians can kick your butt) on a mission to step any who use magic without paying the price (Oh Netherlings…), and the other who is commonly known as the Moth, a vassal of the Deep Shriek sent out to release the Father. The story advances under the stewardship of these two characters, but they have scenes too far and few between to give the rest of the novel momentum.

And this is why the second volume of a series usually drags. The first volume hit us with such force and speed, the second volume had a bar set higher than it could reasonably achieve.

And yet I will still recommend this book to you. It was a well written and fine addition to the series, with all the Shict loving you can handle. Hopefully in volume three, now that we understand what compels most of the POV characters in such detail already, we will return to the tour de force that was book one, but with a better understanding and appreciation of what is driving Lenk and his merry band.

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