Bravest Challenge: Sam Sykes vs. The Internet

As a brief note before we begin: we should have fixed the contact form for those of you still interested in the ARC Giveaway, but if it doesn’t work you can email me at  The contest goes to the end of August and all you have to do is email me one good reason why you deserve an ARC of Tome of the Undergates.

Now, then…

If I have one complaint for reviewers, it’s that they occasionally tend to find their comfort zones and settle into them.  As such, they start getting a little predictable.  We start seeing certain blogs going into routines: they review the same books, they give the same scores and no one’s learning anything.

First, there is inspiration.

Then, there is stagnation.

And finally…there is THE BRAVEST CHALLENGE.

Twelve bloggers from around the net have agreed to partake in this glorious and violent fury of a contest, accepting a book that I have chosen for them, knowing their habits well enough to think that such a thing will genuinely give them a challenge or at least an aneurysm.  Either way, should be fun to watch!

Victory is defined as having successfully read the book and completed a fair-as-possible review of the book, which they will put on their site.  All winners will receive a RAGING ROTHFUSS trophy!

Failure is defined as having not made it through the book and/or going completely ape on the review.  All losers receive the WEEKS OF SHAME trophy!

Our challengers await below…


The Book Smugglers vs. Robert Newcomb’s The Fifth Sorceress

Ana and Thea have the distinct honor of being two of the more socially conscious reviewers out there, highly concerned with issues of racism and sexism present in the world of fantasy and YA.  The Fifth Sorceress is a book whose greatest criticism is that it tends to steer toward some pretty distinct anti-female themes.  But are these real or imagined?  The Book Smugglers are determined to find out!


Floor to Ceiling Books vs. Gene Wolfe’s Shadow and Claw

This one should prove to be quite an interesting point.  Gene Wolfe is considered to be one of the fathers of fantasy, his stuff being cited alongside Tolkien’s as the greatest in the world.  This tends to synch up quite nicely with Amanda’s quest to read the various masterworks series.  As yet, she’s mostly reviewed newer stuff and, as we all know, she is a gentle creature with sensitive feelings.  Can she withstand a book that is proudly called “difficult” and possibly rough?  WE SHALL SEE!


LEC Book Reviews vs. David Bilsborough’s The Wanderer’s Tale

Louis is a guy who enjoys a lot of things: fast action, deep plot, characterization out the wazoo.  Why not pit him against a book that experienced harsh criticism against all three?  I never read The Wanderer’s Tale, but it’s said that it’s very Tolkien-inspired.  Perhaps Louis, with his shiny new fantasies, will succumb to its ancient influence?


Lurv A La Mode vs. Andy Remic’s Kell’s Legend

Personally, I happened to like Kell’s Legend a whole lot.  It had everything I enjoy in a fantasy: flawed characters, gritty action and M-M-MEGAVIOLENCE.  It is fact that reading Kell’s Legend will cause you to grow a beard, which resulted in several lawsuits which Remic won by cutting off the plaintiffs’ heads.  Kenda Montgomery, of the New Jersey Montgomerys, however, is a gentle soul who enjoys her paranormal romances and fantasy heroines.  Can she survive the pure testosterone of Kell’s Legend?


Graeme’s Fantasy Book Reviews vs. Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule

Believe it or not, there was a time when Goodkind was a leading name in fantasy and you could utter his name without Westeros burning you at the stake, and the man still has many fans who will swear by his books.  Even those who no longer follow him claim that his first book, Wizard’s First Rule, is still an excellent story.  Graeme actually requested this one.  He’s never read any of Goodkind’s work and I saw this as a good experiment in Reputation vs. Quality.  Can Graeme, ignoring the venom that will undoubtedly be heaped upon him, find quality in this story?


Kamvision vs. Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief

My knowledge of Hannu is limited to the fact that he was a string physicist and has a handshake like a vise grip.  My knowledge of his book is limited to the fact that it is HARDCORE SCIENCE FICTION, something that I full well know Jason will have difficulty with.  This is emotion versus knowledge!  Physics versus Scrutiny!  HANNU VS. JASON.


Temple Library Reviews vs. Bernard Cornwell’s Agincourt

This one isn’t fantasy, of course.  However, the circumstances were just too good to pass up.  Harry Markov came to me and asked if he could get in on the Bravest Challenge.  “Well,” I said, “what do you have trouble with?”  “Not much,” he replied.  “I like just about anything that isn’t dry…or historical…or a war story.”  BAM!  Cornwell’d!


A Dribble of Ink vs. M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City

If you happened to wander over to Westeros the past few days, you might have noticed a hardcore episode of Blogger Fight Club going on over M. John Harrison.  Long rumored to be the anti-fantasy fantasy, it seemed right up Aidan Moher’s alley, who is genuinely interested in broadening his horizons.  Seeing as The Pastel City is one of his more accessible novels, we watch with great interest as Aidan sees if he can swallow the stuff.


Neth Space vs. Mercedes Lackey’s Arrows of the Queen

Ken, as we all know, is the epitome of the dignified fantasy reviewer: his tastes are refined, his mind is honed to a razor’s edge and his eyes are scrutinizing enough to pick parasites off krill.  I’ve never read Arrows of the Queen (though I do like some of Lackey’s other stuff), but an associate of mine who wishes to remain nameless described it as: “Telepathic ponies that are your special BFF!!!! Oh-so-spunky and rebellious heroine!  It’s every 12-year-old girl’s fantasy!”  Have fun, Ken.


Mad Hatter Review vs. R.A. Salvatore’s Homeland (and possibly The Orc King)

Like many kids growing up on fantasy, I loved Drizzt.  As I grew, the distinct lack of moral ambiguity and general lack of motive tended to wear on me until I stopped reading him.  Still, the drow that launched a thousand knock-offs holds a special place in my heart.  But is that place deserved?  Michael is here to find out.  I know two things about Michael: he likes moral ambiguity and he’s never read “tie-in” fiction.  I’m recommending Homeland as the quintessential Drizzt novel, explaining origins and basically everything that makes him who he is.  Given that the Drizzt novels are fairly quick reads, though, I’m also putting in a possible recommendation for The Orc King, which is generally where a lot of people agree that Salvatore lost his stride.  Good hunting!


The Yeti Stomper vs. M. John Harrison’s Viriconium

If The Pastel City is considered to be the escargot of fantasy, hard to digest but a genuine delicacy, then Viriconium is the deadly pufferfish, delicious but capable of killing a man who bites it improperly.  And Patrick is just the man with death wish enough to try it.


You, The Reader vs. EVERYONE

Yes, my adoring public, I issue you the EVERYMAN’S BRAVEST CHALLENGE.  I don’t know your tastes, so I can’t recommend anything specifically, of course.  But my challenge is a lot simpler than that: find a book that you put down, for any reason, and try to finish it.  Email me with your results (whether you finished it and were surprised at how good it was or whether it wound up sucking anyway) and I’ll post them on the blog.

These should go through toward Christmas, with various bloggers balancing their schedules to fit these in, so keep watching this space for who succeeds and who is sharkmeat!

21 Responses to “Bravest Challenge: Sam Sykes vs. The Internet”

  1. Dan Goodman

    Three words!
    MADE. OF. EPIC. Interesting to see how this will turn out!

  2. Mieneke

    Oh these are awesome picks Sam! I’ll be very interested to see what they think of their respective books. I’m gonna play along as Round #12 and read LeGuin’s Earthsea. I know it’s a classic but when I started I read about 25 pages and then put it aside, though I can’t remember why exactly, so I’m gonna try again 🙂

  3. E. M. Edwards

    I accept.

    And I’ll do you one better, Sam – in taking up your slightly soiled Bravest Challenge hurled to the unwashed, faceless masses – I, the Everyman will review YOUR novel, The Tome of the Undergates. I had planned to pass on it, as it seemed not my cup of tea. But taste in tea be damned and I along with it, I can’t pass up such a display of foolhardy bravado without meeting it with one of my own.

    Will *you* accept? I’ll be fair but furious and in doing so I’ll only put more money in your pants (er trousers) for buying burritos the size of small/large infants or for dog grooming.

    Where not the deadly iridescent sands of Arizona between us, I’d cheerfully wander out there personally to slap you across your fearsome cheeks with a fresh cephalopod. However, you’re much too far inland for it to be fresh, so this I suppose, must suffice.

    Have at!


  4. The Evil Hat

    Mr. Sykes – I take your challenge! When I leave my house on saturday, Cugel’s Saga will have returned to my suitcase. Was I right in deciding it wasn’t for me last year? Dunno, but I will prevail this time. I am, at the least, reasonably determined.

    The real question, though, is: are YOU, Mr. Sykes, challenging yourself? After all, how can you recommend books to others and yet be sure that you’re not, yourself, stagnating? What have you put down, and are you going to pick it back up?

    • sam

      As fair a point as any, I’d say.

      Hm…perhaps it’s time to return to Glen Cook.

  5. E. M. Edwards

    To show that I suspect I’m conforming to both the letter and the spirit of your challenge, let me note the following:

    The only thing I hate more than elves – and books about them – are cat people. The only thin I hate more than cat people, are of course dragon-men.

    I am not a fan of Quest adventures or any books ever written about D&D adventures turned into novel-shaped collections of paper and ink.

    Lastly, but not least, I am put off by bickering or low-brow, toilet humour.

    However, I’m fully prepared to have all my previous convictions on these subjects, dramatically overturned by a masterful storyteller.

    Sigh. Well, the squid’s already flow, so let the fun begin.


    • sam

      Hah. I suspect you’re taking the information from certain reviews who made it a point to not read the book.

      Well, sir, there are no elves in the book. There is a girl with pointy ears and a bow who has a very hard time seeing the value of human life, of course. I don’t know where the cat thing comes from.

      Needless to say, it should be a challenge for you, but let’s see where it goes.

      • E. M. Edwards

        I know Sam, I do understand how reviews can provide a very skewed sense of a book, filtered as they are through the reviewer’s unique viewpoint.

        Do take (all except the fresh cephalopod part) my blatherings and typos with a hefty grain of salt. It’s your house, and I’m not trying to step all over it by saying for a moment, that you are not a wonderful writer with a very worthwhile book.

        However, in honesty, from the description of the book and a few online reviews, I wasn’t planning on reading it. At least, not anytime in the foreseeable future – because it didn’t seem to be the sort of book I would normally choose. But I think your point (and I assume that’s the real heart of your challenge along with a clever way a la Mr. Mark “gentle web controversy is my middle name – not Charan as it has been widely and mistakenly reported” Newton, to generate comments, buzz, and in my case (cha-ching) sales – is to challenge us to read outside our comfort zones.

        And that, I’m all for and so tip my hat to you for supporting such a noble effort.

        I look forward to reviewing your book and reporting back to you (privately and politely – never fear, I’ve learned to mind my manners more these days even if such timidity goes against my less better nature).

        Best wishes and happier reading,


  6. E. M. Edwards

    Ed. – Things, not thin or thins.

    Not that I’d rush to scarf down a bunch of cat-thins, or elf-thins, or even dragon-men-thins. Not my bowl of snackfood anyway, but I meant to type “things.”


  7. KMont

    Wait – WAIT. the NEW JERSEY Montgomerys? Bwahahahahahaha! The Kentucky branch will have something to say about that.

    *feels chin area* I can feel the copy of Kell’s Legend that I ordered getting closer to me…in my chiny chin chin. That’s right, a psychic hair-growing chin. All thanks to a book I haven’t even read yet.


    Oh, RLLY? Ha!

  8. E. M. Edwards

    One Tome, fresh from the internet sea – swimming my way.


  9. Stephen Deas

    Oh fine then. I’ll go and read A Mercy.

  10. neth

    I’ll get you Sykes! One of these days, I’ll get you!

  11. Jared

    I’m quite pleased to see that “MEGAVIOLENCE” has entered the vernacular.

  12. Murf61

    What a great idea! And the books you have chosen for your selected bloggers should knock them right out of their comfort zones 🙂

    I await the reviews with baited breath…

    Maybe now is the time I should read books like The Name of the Wind, The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Blade Itself, all of which have been sitting in my TBR pile since their release.

  13. Raymond Wolfe

    Oh, it’s on. I guess I have to read Gardens of the Moon now, by Steven Erikson. That is one tough sonofabitch book to read, almost as frustrating as Thomas Covenant.

  14. Robin

    Excellent choices and sure to throw several people out of their comfort zones. I’ve read several books this year that have done exactly that. I can’t wait to find out if Ken will read “Arrows of the Queen.” One of my all time favorite books. 🙂

  15. BatGirl

    Great list of books, I’m adding some to my TBR list (which is already way long).

    In defense of Lackey- I did start reading her at about age 12 and loved her. She’s still one of my favorite authors. Because I connected with her so young, I’ll forgive a lot.

  16. little red

    this means i need to give “The Windup Girl” another shot. I couldn’t make it through 100 pages of it.

    on a happy note, MURF61, I, a complete stranger, say you need to bump name of the wind and locke lamora to the top of your TBR list, and pronto!

  17. Review | The Pastel City by M. John Harrison | A Dribble of Ink

    […] So, then, it was with obvious, pride-threathening trepidation that I accepted a challenge from Sam Sykes, author of Tome of the Undergates, to tackle Harrison’s work. Along with several others, I […]

  18. Bravest Challenge: Kell’s Legend | Lurv a la Mode

    […] to me by author Sam Sykes, who occasionally mumbles a word or two to me on Twitter. As part of his Bravest Challenge, the idea was to challenge several bloggers to read books outside their comfort zones. One of the […]

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