Review of BLACK HALO by Sam Sykes

Sam Sykes’ Aeon’s Gate series continues to vex me.

The first book, TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, dragged heavily through the middle parts, but then picked things up in the last 100 pages. I was disappointed in it largely due to the effusive and glowing praise the book had received from others, but was willing to read the next book in the series because A, I’d already bought it, and B, the ending gave me hope.

But BLACK HALO continued to suffer through many of the same issues I had with TOME.

First off, the characters are all terribly immature, so I have a hard time rooting for them, and when the action dies down in the middle parts of the book, all we’re left with is 400 pages of adolescent characters whining about how hard they have it and speaking to apparitions that aren’t really there. In this book, Lenk, our main protagonist, speaks to two different voices in his head, which can get awfully confusing since we still don’t know why Lenk hears the voices or who the voices are. Gariath, hears the voice of a dead ancestor, and wanders around talking to it throughout the book. Asper can’t figure out why God doesn’t treat her better, and wanders around the island complaining about it. Denaos sees the ghost of a woman he killed several years ago (this island if freaking loaded with ghosts!). Dreadaleon mostly stews over the fact that Asper doesn’t love him. Katarina wanders around around the island (but thanksfully doesn’t see or hear apparitions) trying to decide whether or not to kill Lenk, since her people are supposed to kill every human they see. Inexplicably, she doesn’t whine over whether or not to kill the other humans — in fact, she mostly ignores their existence.

There’s an occasional fight scene mixed in, but it’s mostly just an occasionally interrupted stream of each character’s melodramatic whining, and Sykes hams it up as much as he can. Sample line:

She stared off into the forest as though looking anywhere else would kill her. Perhaps it would.

Really?

The copy editing mistakes (where and were are two different words, folks) don’t help matters. But then at the end, there’s a moment where (see?) I almost want to read the next book. Lenk finally realizes that Kataria will probably kill him if given the opportunity, and under the guidance of the dual voices, he decides he’s going to recover the Tome they’ve lost and kill anyone in his path, finally becoming the total badass I’d actually want to read about. It’s as though Sykes has finally realized that this isn’t a love story between Lenk and Kataria, it’s a bloody adventure book that to this point has spent far too much time with its characters wandering blindly around an island.

But I’ve already been fooled by one of Sykes’ solid endings to an unspectacular book. I won’t be following him down the rabbit hole again.

Review of THE SANDMAN: FABLES & REFLECTIONS by Neil Gaiman

I’ve discovered that my favorite Sandman comics aren’t the ones that focus on Morpheus — though I continue to enjoy the scenes with the titular hero — but the ones in which Gaiman takes advantage of the format and the clear freedom his publishers granted him to tell stories that instead focus on the human condition and the part dreams play in our everyday lives and the choices we make. In these stories, the Lord of Dreams is often little more than a supporting character, and at other times he doesn’t show up at all.

My favorite story in this collection, the sixth in the Sandman saga, is “The Hunt,” in which an old man tells his granddaughter a story of their people’s history. Morpheus doesn’t show up until late in the story, after the main character of the story has refused to sell a lost dream item to Lucien. It’s a story about our dreams and how they change, and how sometimes the dreams we think we have aren’t at all what we really want or need. It’s when Gaiman is telling these types of stories — stories that go beyond the characters — that he’s at his most effective.

Gaiman borrows a bunch of real historical figures in this collection, including the Emperor of America, Marco Polo, Caius Octavius, Haroun al Raschid and Mark Twain. It’s an eclectic bunch, but I especially liked the story about the Emperor of America and his “madness.”

“A Parliament of Rooks,” featuring Eve, Cain and Abel, is also among the best in the collection. I keep pointing to different stories that I like, and as I flip through the pages again, I keep finding more little pieces that I want to re-read. That seems like as good a recommendation as I can provide.

THE MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Arthur Conan Doyle

I’m starting to become quite the fan of these Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

The plotting is obviously the best part of these stories, but along the way Doyle has quietly created a pair of characters in Holmes and Watson who have incrementally revealed themselves to the reader, to the point that you don’t really recognize the characterization that has been developed.

I recently saw Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows in the movie theatre, and while you can see a lot of the pieces from the book that were used in the movie, I found that — as is so often the case — I like the book’s characterization far better than the movie. The movie is funnier, but Sherlock is clearly more annoying on the big screen than he is within Doyle’s pages. Doyle’s Sherlock is a more realistic version — a man so absorbed in his own thoughts that he has difficulty paying attention to what is going on around him unless it interests him somehow.

The relationship between Sherlock and Watson has slowly become one of the strengths of the series, and is perhaps at its best at the end of “The Final Problem,” when we see how Watson is affected by the attack upon Sherlock. To be honest, this story disappointed me a bit, because whereas the stories had been so creatively plotted in the past, this seemed a bit lazy in contrast. Everyone in the world could see that Dr. Watson was being drawn away from Sherlock so Moriarty could attack him, and since the fight took place on a ledge next to a powerful waterfall, it’s also incredibly uninspired to have the duo fall into the water to their apparent deaths. In this regard, the most interesting aspect of the story isn’t the story itself, it’s the introduction to THE COMPLETE SHERLOCK HOLMES by Christopher and Barbara Roden, where they recall that Doyle was growing tired of writing the Sherlock short stories, at one point quoting an outrageous price in the hopes that they would stop asking. Instead, the magazine met that price and Doyle had to continue writing the stories, which unsurprisingly took a lot of time and energy to plot — as much as a regular novel, Doyle said. In this “The Final Problem” we saw how Doyle chose to try and avoid writing more Sherlock stories, although we also know how futile this effort was, as I’m still only about halfway through this compendium.

For that, I’m quite glad.