In his first book, Tome of the Undergates, Sam Sykes proved he was a versatile author. He wrote some intense, realistic battles and mixed them with some of the most peaceful, beautiful passages I’ve seen in such a violent book. Interspersed with all of this was some fantastic humor that I’ve come to associate with Sykes.
In Black Halo, he takes everything he proved himself capable of in Tome of the Undergates and perfects it. The humor is more biting and the plot is paced perfectly. The reader will notice a lot of growth in the author between the first and second books of this series, and that’s really saying something, considering how impressive a debut Tome of the Undergates was.
Perhaps most impressively is how Sykes has so carefully decided to expand his world. Tome of the Undergates mostly takes place on a ship. Now Sykes shows what the rest of the world contains and just how imaginative he is. He adds new characters, new cultures and peoples, and expands the magic system. You never know what you are going to face from page to page, and that’s a true delight. Sykes’ world isn’t your standard fantasy European-esque influenced fare; it’s fresh and unique.
Perhaps the only drawback to Black Halo is its distinct middle-of-the-series feel. The plot trots on in its own way, but it feels like the main focus is on expanding the world and the characters’ relationships. Sykes further develops his characters as well, specifically in the case of Lenk, who is intriguing with his questionable sanity. While these character explorations and developments are absolutely fascinating, they do seem to distract from moving the main plot forward until the last bit of the book.
One thing that I admire about Sykes is how versatile he is (I know, I’ve said that before). While he can be incredibly brutal, he doesn’t shy away from the more intimate explorations of his characters and their relationships. Sykes uses his versatility well to further his plot and character development and he manages to do both masterfully.
Despite the middle-of-the-series feel, Black Halo expands the world, explores the depths of its characters, introduces new people and cultures and welcomes new plot twists. Sykes writing style is also more mature with pacing that only comes with time and practice. Black Halo, despite its small flaws, is a great continuation to a unique, memorable, and worthy series.