The adventurers led by Lenk have managed to retrieve the Tome and are attempting to return it to their current boss, Miron - but life is never simple. An attack by a gigantic sea serpent - an Akaneed - leaves the adventurers split up and stranded on the island Teji. Lenk, Kataria, Dreadaleon, Denaos, Asper and Gariath first have to decide whether they even WANT to meet up again! What follows is a rollercoaster ride of fighting, sneaking, magic and a few hallucinations involving talking monkeys - there might even be a little romance as well... - as the band of not-so-merry adventurers try to win the tome back, learn a little about the netherlings and Ulbecetonth, and learn a lot about themselves.
I have been waiting to get my hands on Black Halo for AGES, having thoroughly enjoyed Tome of the Undergates. I'd had a few quibbles about that book, but Tome was the debut novel of Sykes, and I figured those problems would be ironed out as Sykes grew into his trade as a novellist. Is Black Halo better than Tome? Yes, in a lot of ways - in fact, in most of the ways that Sykes was criticised about in reviews following the release of Tome! In some ways, it is still a little shaky - but again, never enough to spoil my overall enjoyment.
First of all, I really appreciated the splitting up of the gang for a portion of Black Halo. That really worked for me. For one thing, it kept me turning those pages because I wanted to a) get back to finding out what was going on with each of them since Sykes employed some rather pesky and effective cliffhangers and b) see the adventurers as a glorious dysfunctional team again. In addition, since they weren't snarling at each other, there was a lot of revealing of inner thoughts as they pondered the nature of life, the universe and everything which helped to continue the character development that Sykes hinted at in the last third of Tome.
Secondly, Sykes is possibly the most breathlessly imaginative author working right now. Seriously. I say this because I literally never know upon turning the page what I will encounter - from various lizardmen, to purple women, to giant sea serpents, to fiery pee, to roaches that expel defensively from their anus.... Yep... And I guess therein lies the main problem. Sykes is genuinely not afraid to follow the thought 'Wouldn't it be cool if...?' to its unnatural conclusion, but sometimes the ideas are wacky for the sake of it. I use as an example the heralds we encountered in Tome. In that novel they were rather freaky, fluffy seabirds that totally freaked me out - one of the best parts of Tome. In Black Halo they have morphed into truly odd birds with mouths where their foreheads should be. Which felt unnecessary!
In Black Halo Sykes shows us some more of the world he is building than just sea and islands, and his worldbuilding is rewarding if still a little sparse. He doesn't hold his reader's hands in info-dumping the nature of the world we're reading about - there are hints that the netherlings come from off-world, that there have been various titanic battles in the past, mentions of cult-like Jackals, and much more about the nature and rules of magic. This adds a richness and a depth that was absent at times in Tome of the Undergates.
As I mentioned in my review of Tome, Sykes demonstrates a skill with prose that is rather stunning at times. Oddly poetic, even in the midst of all the killing. That is very much present in Black Halo.
Oh, and there were a couple of scenes in Halo that I had been waiting for through the WHOLE of Tome - involving Lenk and Kataria! *cheeky hinting*
Okay, in conclusion - after my rather rambly discussion of Black Halo - this was a very fun book to read, with some surprising depth. The humour prevents it being at all po-faced - which other author would include scenes involving a monkey discussing philosophical ideas or trees with latent desires for peace? Or a conversation about the nature of hallucinations by three men wearing just loincloths? For those slightly disappointed in Tome of the Undergates, I think you'll find what you're looking for in Black Halo. For those who loved the first - hold on to your pants, you're in for a wild ride!