Author: Nicholas Eames
Publication Date: August 28, 2018
Pages: 512 (minus “extras”)
I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher.
Kings Of The Wyld was my favorite book of 2017. Hell it was my favorite fantasy book to come along in years. That meant I had really high expectations for Bloody Rose. In fact my expectations were so high that I’d decided it would be impossible Eames could meet them and produce something that would equal my love and excitement for KoTW. I was wrong. He freaking did it…and let me tell you…Bloody Rose is even better!
Bloody Rose is the second book in The Band series. While the author is correct that it can be read as a stand-alone, you’ll get much more enjoyment out of it if you’ve read KoTW first. I’m striving for a spoiler free review here but if you haven’t read KoTW there may be some spoilers just because it’s impossible not to have them when discussing a book two. You can find my KoTW review here.
“Live fast, die young.
Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.
When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.
It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side”
Eames’ writing style hasn’t changed much from KoTW. He’s a great story teller and his style pulls you in immediately. He writes for the lover of the fantasy genre and offers up a gift filled with action, humor, and all the sob inducing feels you could ask for.
Structurally Bloody Rose is a little different than KoTW. In KoTW the band goes off on a number of side-quests before setting its sights on the primary quest. In Bloody Rose there’s this overarching menace of the Brumal Horde bearing down on civilization and all the mercs in the land are heading off to stop it, but Fable (that’s Rose’s band) has another job in another direction and is seemingly the only one not going to fight it. That isn’t really a spoiler because it is presented very early in the book and it becomes key to the story and an element of increasing tension throughout. Call it a side-quest, or call it a detour but it makes Bloody Rose a little more linear of a story. More linear doesn’t mean less complex in terms of plot development however, and the repercussions play out as the story progresses.
Eames’ action scenes are great and at times have a cinematic feel to them. I caught myself reading and sometimes when coming up for air realized the scene had been playing out in slow-motion in my mind like a movie doing so for dramatic effect. Other times the action flies by and leaves you a little breathless. There are fights against “monsters” of all types, big and small, living and dead, humans and non-humans, and all of them are sure to appease that craving you have for action in a fantasy novel.
While I love a well written fight scene what made KoTW stand out for me last year was the full range of pathos it evoked. By pathos I don’t mean just sadness as some think of it, but joy, sadness, and everything in between. What I’m trying say is it had all the feels. If you read my review of Kings I mention how I laughed out loud on almost every page, yet there were moments of deep feeling tinged with sadness. Bloody Rose had all the feels too, but with Rose I didn’t laugh as much. I did laugh, and sometimes they were belly laughs (Bloody Rose is full of humor) I just didn’t laugh as often as I did with KoTW. What I did do more often was cry. And oh my God did I cry. There were pages where I’d have little tears trying their hardest to escape the corner of my eyes and then there was a three chapter spread where the tears fell like waterfalls. Three chapters. Pretty much non-stop. Just building and building, water leaking over the dam, then spilling over, until the whole thing burst and the floodgates opened. I even cursed Eames out on Twitter for it (in a nice way). He laughed at me and basically said “no pain, no gain.” I haven’t had this kind of emotional response to a book in ages. It’s a testament to the characters Eames has created in this fantasy world of his and his ability to craft not just an entire narrative, but individual paragraphs and sentences expressing thoughts and emotions that will linger much longer than the time it takes to turn the page. This excerpt is the one that did me in the most and has become my new favorite in all of fantasy…
“She never sang about what happened beyond that threshold, nor spoke of it to anyone who wasn’t present themself. What was obvious, though, to those who knew her before and after that morning, was the woman who emerged was distinctly changed from the girl who entered.
Her smiles were shorter. Her laugh was louder. She became distracted at times, and would stare at nothing with a look of shattered sorrow that passed like a cloud the moment someone spoke her name.
She loved less quickly, but more fiercely, and made certain those she cared for knew it well.
Sometimes she wept when it snowed.”
Damn…I’m crying again.
The pacing in Bloody Rose is on point. It starts off slow and builds until the finish. Most importantly the pacing really keeps with the narrative flow. Early on it’s slow as the POV character Tam is introduced to the reader and comes into contact with Fable. The pace slowly increases as they begin their journey and gathers steam as the band travels toward it’s first destination where there’s a contract to fulfill. That first arc climaxes in an epic fight scene that leaves you wondering how Eames plans on topping it for the finale. Things slow down for a moment letting the characters and readers catch their breath before Eames has us all barreling down the road to a fight for the ages while drowning us in our emotions. It’s so well done.
Pacing is something to be appreciated at both the micro and macro level. There’s a few things I want to note on that juxtaposition that Eames does well in Bloody Rose. First the micro…there’s one chapter titled “Seventeen Seconds.” That’s what you get…17 seconds of in-book narrative battle scene, and wow is it written well. Here Eames slows the story down (one of those slow-mo moments I mentioned above); it all happens in just a few moments time and you’ll get whiplash if you’re not careful. Second, Eames takes his time letting you get to know the characters and themes he’s presenting early on so you can really sit with them before the pacing picks up until that first major story arc is over and he slows it down again. It’s at this point you get that punch in the gut. He’s allowed you to fall in love with what he’s created and then he brings the pain of love and loss while driving toward that final climax. Which brings me to point third…that final climax. If you want an epic fight to finish off a story you’re gonna get it with Bloody Rose. Sixty-One pages and seven chapters of action that builds and builds until it’s dramatic end.
I really enjoyed the characters in KoTW but if you press me on it I’d say only two were favs, Clay and Moog; Clay because he was so well written as an unassuming mainstay of a hero, and Moog because…well Moog!
But in Bloody Rose I fell in love with them all…every one of the main characters (and some of the minor ones). I think it’s because all of them are larger than life in their world but when you get to know them have major flaws. It’s how Eames explores the origins of these flaws that really brings them home however and makes them come to life.
The POV characters is Tam Hashford. Interestingly she’s not the protaganist. That is Rose. But we experience the narrative through her eyes which is fitting because she’s the bard, the one member of the band who is supposed to tell their story to the world (great plot device btw). Tam is the daughter of former members of a band whose mother was killed by monsters (as is the norm for bards in Eame’s world) which makes you wonder if she’ll make it to the end.
Bloody Rose is the story’s protagonist. She’s the leader of Fable and daughter of Golden Gabe, famed leader of Saga from KoTW. It was Rose that Gabe and his bandmates set out to rescue in that book. Rose has a chip on her shoulder, some large shoes to fill, and wants to step out of her father’s shadow.
Freecloud is one of the last of the Druin’s, the almost mythical immortal race of creatures who once ruled the world with humans as their subjects and slaves. Feecloud isn’t like his forebears and cares for humans, and Rose in particular in ways his ancestors never did.
Brune is a Vargyr or shaman/shapeshifter from the north.
Cura is a sorcress/summoner known as an inkwitch.
Rodrick is the band’s bookie. He’s also a satyr which makes life complicated for a “monster” among humans.
I hesitate to say more about any of them, especially the last two for fear of giving away key parts of their story too soon, because you’ll want to experience those as they’re revealed. What I WILL say is how much I loved all of them. Quite often in a fantasy story where there’s a group going on a quest I’ll only really attach to one, maybe two characters of the group. But in Bloody Rose I fell in love with all of them, all for different reasons. I loved with them and felt their sorrows, pulled for them and grew angry with them. And reading through Tam’s eyes I felt like I was her going along for the ride of a lifetime with a band for the ages.
There’s also a whole cast of characters who return from KoTW. Every time one appeared I gave a little silent shout of joy at the memory.
I want to say a couple other things about what Eames did with his characters that I haven’t seen much in fantasy, or at least fantasy written by men. First is that Tam is a lesbian. That’s important but not the thing I’m getting at. The big thing is that Eames didn’t make her sexuality the thing that defined her most in the story. She was a character who happened to be lesbian. It was mentioned, there were some plot points around it, but it wasn’t thrown in your face over and over for dramatic reasons. Instead it was just a normal part of who she was not some abnormality that needed to be brought up every other chapter.
Second was a very brief description of women on the periods (whose cycles had merged). It wasn’t used to make women seem weak or inferior or in any way less than their male counterparts. Rather it was acknowledged as part of who a woman is, and the fact that sometimes it’s an inconvenience that has to be dealt with as a part of normal life.
The world-building in Bloody Rose is fantastic. It builds upon KoTW and takes the reader into new parts of the world not explored before. In Bloody Rose a lot of time is spent in the north of Grandual and up in the Brumal Wastes. There’s also an extended stay in the City of Conthas. In doing so more of the myth, legend, and history of the broader world is explored, all lending itself to the resolution of not just Bloody Rose, but aspects of KoTW as well. Like with the pacing mentioned above Eames expands on his world building at the macro and micro levels, adding layers of depth to the story in rich and meaningful ways. I don’t want to give away any details so I’ll stop there.
Themes and Other Whatnot
Oh my where to start?
First, Eames picks up where he left off with the rock band themes. Where KoTW took the 70’s classic rock themes of bands going on tour and playing gigs, he continues this in Bloody Rose, only now a generation has passed and we find ourselves in the 80’s. There’s tons of 80’s rock references throughout the story from songs, to band names, and rock genre’s (each member of Fable for instance represents a different type of 80’s rock).
Beyond the music however there are a crap-ton of movie, game, and pop-culture references from the 80’s. I managed to pick up nods to Ghostbusters, and Jaws just to name a couple.
But it isn’t just fun 80’s references that make the book enjoyable. There’s also a number of deeper themes that carry their own weight throughout. One is the recurring question of what makes a monster? Are the monsters just the wild creatures humans must fight to save their civilization, or are humans monsters to the monsters? As one character put it, “now we are the things that go bump in the night.” It forces the reader to ask of ourselves and our own enemies who the bad guy really is.
There’s also a strong emphasis on family and friends and the bonds they share. The pain and heartbreak of family, moving out from the shadow of our parents, generational conflict, friends becoming a new kind of family, the struggle to deal and cope with the baggage, and the healing and growth that can come from it all.
I really can’t express how much I truly loved Bloody Rose. It’s one of my favorite fantasy reads of all time, and my favorite to come along in years. Yes it edges out KoTW and that’s a huge statement. If you want a great fantasy read full of action and adventure, humor and sadness (lots of sobbing sadness) this is the book for you. Those emotions won’t be as strong if you haven’t read KoTW first, but damn they are powerful. Take my word for it, pick up this book and take a walk on the Wyld Side.