Author: Nicholas Eames
Released: February 21, 2017
Fantasy meets Classic Rock and turns it up to eleven! There, this review is essentially done. Nothing else really needs to be said. Now go get a copy of this book!
If that doesn’t satisfy you then <sigh> fine I’ll say a bit more…
Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.
Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help – the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.
IT’S TIME TO GET THE BAND BACK TOGETHER.
In his debut novel Nicholas Eames explores what it would look like if mercenary bands in a fantasy setting were treated like rock stars in our world. And boy does he ever deliver. From the moment you open to page one until you read the final line you’re taken on a reunion tour with a “band” of mercenaries who set out on the most important gig of their career. And as with any legendary touring band it’s a road trip for the ages.
Clay Cooper, one of the five members of the legendary merc band Saga (if you don’t count all the bards who died over the years…cuz the bards always seem to die) comes home one evening to find his old band mate Gabriel waiting on his doorstep. Gabe has come to beg Clay to help him get the band back together. He’s asked this before, always wanting to round up the guys and head off on some great new adventure which Clay has always turned down. But this time it’s different. This time Gabe needs them to help rescue his daughter who is besieged with her own band of mercs beyond the Heartwyld wilderness in the city of Castia by a horde of monsters who won’t leave anyone alive. Clay soon discovers he can’t refuse this request and together they set off to reunite the band one last time, on one last great adventure.
I absolutely loved the concept behind Kings Of The Wyld. In an interview included at the back of the book Eames is asked where he got the idea for the story and he says, “I thought, How cool would it be to read a book in which mercenary bands acted (and were treated like) rock stars?” The “bands” go on “tours,” they have managers who get them jobs (and aren’t always looking out for the band’s best interest), there are scores of adoring fans, they get drunk, party, and burn down the house (literally), and as time goes on the classic bands of the previous generation have given way to newer younger bands who have a different style, but just aren’t as good.
And the concept works perfectly. It isn’t just the language Eames uses in describing the bands and their history and following. It extends into so much of the narrative detail such as veiled references to the new generation of bands, describing them like the glamrock bands of the 80’s who followed the classic rock bands of the 60’s and 70’s; bands that had crazy hair, wore make-up, and were good, but not as good as the legends who preceded them. The weapons Saga utilizes are also symbolic of a rock band; Matrick wields two knives like a drummer and his sticks, Ganelon wields his great axe like a lead guitarist, and Clay with his great shield is on bass without whom the band would fall apart.
And to top it all off Eames completes the rock band theme by giving the book a soundtrack! Yeah you read that right, the book has a soundtrack with songs by The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, AC-DC, and many more. There are songs associated with the “imaginary opening credits,” most chapters, and even specific characters. According to Eames the songs were the inspiration behind certain chapters and characters as he was writing. Listening to each song before starting a new chapter definitely helped set a mood for the whole book in a way that just reading the text would not. You can check out the soundtrack at Eames’ website here.
But take away the rock band theme and Kings Of The Wyld is still a great fantasy adventure. It has what you’d expect – fighters, mages, rogues, and even bards (who die). It has monsters galore – I mean a ton of monsters, big ones (dragons) to little ones (monkey’s with flaming poo). It has a quest because what’s a good fantasy story without a quest? So yeah it’s got a lot of what you’d expect. But Eames does a lot with it. The quest isn’t the farm boy saving the world, instead it’s a bunch of tired, old, out of shape, middle aged guys saving the world with a little help from their friends (see what I did there?). The crap ton of monsters serves a purpose in the world building and plot beyond just existing as foes to be vanquished. And the characters, lead or otherwise are at the heart of the story as if the plot serves them as much as they serve it.
Those characters are written beautifully even if a rock/mercenary band wouldn’t want to be described that way. Eames takes care to continually paint his characters as what they are, middle aged and out of shape legends who are past their prime (with the exception of one that I don’t want to give too much away about). These aged mercs have beer bellies and run out of juice much faster than they would’ve in their twenties. This plays into their fighting ability and provides even more suspense than the usual fantasy novel where the heroes are in their prime.
But their age gives them a wisdom and depth that you don’t normally get to see in most fantasy heroes. They are on a quest to save a bandmate’s grown daughter. That plotline drives everything they do. They approach it not with the rash bravado of youth, but with the caring camaraderie of old friendships and family ties. And because of that the heart of this book isn’t really a rescue story; it’s one about friendship and what it means to be a good man and to do the right thing. This aspect of Eames’ main characters gives the story a deep, rich, well from which he continually draws forth some of the most touching and moving emotions I’ve read in a fantasy novel in a long time.
Now don’t let that fool you into thinking this is a sappy drama meant to get you in touch with your feelings. For one it’s more humorous than sentimental. In fact it’s funny as hell! There weren’t two pages that went by where I didn’t laugh out loud at least once. Coming from me that is pretty impressive because I don’t usually laugh at humor in books. I recognize it and laugh in my mind, but when a book actually makes me give sound to my chuckle that’s a big feat. And I laughed constantly.
But Kings Of The Wyld is more than emotion and humor. It’s well written fantasy with a martial air, because how can you have a novel about mercenary bands without great battles? The fight scenes are very well crafted and there are plenty of them to keep the hack and slash readers happy. The descriptive combat choreography was vivid and exciting with numerous surprises woven into the narrative to keep you guessing what might happen next, especially in the case of one slightly off his rocker mage with almost anything in his bag of tricks.
Eames also seems to have put a lot of thought into his world building. Kings Of The Wyld takes place on a massive continent with diverse kingdoms and peoples supported by a common ancient history that shapes the course of events in the present. Set in the middle of the continent like a vast inland sea separating the kingdoms of the east from the republic in the west looms the Heartwyld, a great ancient forest populated by every monster of your fantasy nightmares. Eames drops in enough snippets of culture and history throughout the book to keep the reader interested without dumping so much background that the narrative gets bogged down. This isn’t world building like George R. R. Martin’s Song Of Ice And Fire series, but it doesn’t need to be. Though Kings Of The Wyld takes the characters across the breadth of the continent the focus is still narrow, zeroed in on the small band of men and the immediate events surrounding them on their quest. It’s that narrow focus on these friends that makes it so relatable and endearing.
Some readers may find fault with the fact that all of the main characters are men. Indeed, all of the female characters are minor with the possible exception of Larkspur a humanoid with birdlike wings who is something of a badass. Larkspur turned out to be my favorite character outside of the band itself and I found myself wishing to read more of her. In truth I like Larkspur more than some of the core five characters. There is diversity among the characters however and one is homosexual though his sexuality is discussed more than it is really experienced.
Eames may be making up for the lack of a main female characters in his follow-up book Bloody Rose which is due out in April I believe. Book two of what will be known as the Band series will focus on Gabriel’s daughter Rose who may be more of an ass kicker than her old man. And that music theme is going to show up again according to Eames…
I’m not gonna lie, I’m really looking forward to an 80’s rock inspired Bloody Rose!
Let me just say there isn’t much I disliked about Kings Of The Wyld. In fact I can’t really think of anything at the moment. At first I thought it might be kind of gimmicky but believe me when I say it wasn’t. Eames has proven himself to be an author to keep an eye on and has gifted us with a thoroughly great and enjoyable read…one that I would recommend to anyone. Action packed, funny, and moving. Easily one of my favorite fantasy novels. Pick it up, you won’t regret it.