Publisher: Orbit Books
Page Count: 502
Release Date: February 21st, 2017
Series: THE BAND, Book 1
Rating: 5/5 Stars – Loved It
Twenty years ago, Clay Cooper was in a band – a mercenary band that is. Saga was one of the greats, touring the most dangerous parts of the five kingdoms and slaying all kinds of beasts, earning them the nickname Kings of the Wyld. But as all bands that don’t die young do, the group eventually split up, and Clay returned to his home town, settled down, got married and started a family. And he might have remained there until his dying days, except his old bandmate Gabriel turns up on his doorstep one day. Gabriel, it turns out, also started a family – but his daughter has turned out to be really, really good at mercenary work. She’s adopted the nickname Bloody Rose and joined a band, and gone to fight back the Horde that’s gathered outside the distant city of Castia. Problem is, the Horde is much stronger than anyone anticipated, and the assembled armies and mercenary bands were thoroughly trounced. Any surviving mercs have retreated inside the city and are now under siege. Gabriel is convinced Rose is still alive, and he’s determined to trek across the city and rescue her. His plan hinges on one thing: getting the band back together.
KINGS OF THE WYLD is one of those books that manages to contain the rare trifecta: humor, action, and heart. A book riffing on the high fantasy genre by mashing it up with ’70s music references could so easily have leaned into the first two and overlooked the third, but KINGS OF THE WYLD manages to keep the tone centered between all three, in large part thanks to the POV character, Clay Cooper. Clay is, as one person puts it, “a good man.” He is not perfect, and he’s certainly got a violent streak, but at this point in his life, he’s doing his best to do the right thing. Sometimes that means helping a friend rescue their daughter against overwhelming odds, and sometimes that means just listening to someone else vent their frustrations. Clay is the quiet center at the heart of the storm, always last to strike, but when he finally does, watch out.
If Clay is the quiet center, then the rest of the group is the chaotic storm. Gabriel, once the glorious “front man” of the group, is a man trying to recapture the fire of his youth after life has kicked him up and down the street for the last few decades. There’s Moog, an absent-minded wizard who is as likely to accidentally turn your sword into a snake as he is blast the enemy to oblivion. Matrick, once a suave thief, now stumbles about with a paunch, but is no less deadly with his dual daggers. And Ganelon…well, honestly, Ganelon hasn’t changed much over the years, a born killer of few words who you basically point at the bad guys and stand back. They’re all disasters in their own ways, exacerbated by the fact that they are well past their fighting prime, but united in the fact that they’re a band, and that means they have each other’s backs. It’s little surprise that this book truly starts clicking once the band is fully assembled, and the antics can begin in earnest.
As someone who sometimes gets bored when books devolve into a string of episodic “and then this thing attacked, and then THAT thing attacked,” I was pleased to see Eames continuously keeping the adventure fresh and engaging. The humor helps out a lot with this, as the deadpan delivery of Clay’s third person narration just begs the audience to join in the joke and acknowledge the absurdity of every situation. On top of that, Eames is a master of the smashcut. He’s perfectly fine with teasing out the beginning of a situation, then jumping ahead to the (sometimes bewildering) aftermath. Case in point, at one juncture, a character ominously sets down a tankard after receiving one insult too many, and in the next paragraph, the group is standing outside the charred remains of the tavern. Eames balances these jumps with more detailed adventures, keeping the story moving in a delightful fashion.
There is so much more I love in this book that I haven’t even begun to touch on. The colorful cast of side characters Saga encounters on their journey, from Lady Jain to Kit the Revenant. (Petition for Lady Jain to get a spinoff novella that tells us what she was up to in between the times she ran across Saga.). The battles that take place everywhere from a skyship during a storm to an ice bridge over a deadly chasm. The fact that the author built a medieval world without the inherent sexism, where women frequently take up the mercenary lifestyle and nobody blinks twice. And those continuous comparisons to the rock n’ roll lifestyle that the author makes work almost every time, without feeling forced.
After all of that, KINGS OF THE WYLD opts for a quiet ending, one that crawls into your heart and fills it with a warm glow. Sure, Saga gets a show-stopping final battle, but the epilogue? That’s the reminder of what truly matters at the end of the day. It’s what makes this book special and one I’ll remember for a long time. Without a doubt I’ll be back to this world soon – and this time, it’s time for Bloody Rose to get up to some trouble.