“Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best — the meanest, dirtiest, most feared 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. His daughter Rose is trapped in a city besieged by an enemy one hundred thousand strong and hungry for blood. Rescuing Rose is 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 for one last tour across the Wyld.”
This is a book that friends have been recommending to me for some time, and it wasn’t hard to tell why. It’s a really wonderful thing when a novel achieves basically everything it set out to do – while I love epic fantasy, sometimes I crave a yarn that is a little less ambitious – something where I don’t have to bust out a wall full of notes and strings to keep track of what the fuck is going on and who everyone is. You know the ones:
That’s not to say that Eames hasn’t written something pretty damn special, because it’s great. Kings of the Wyld is a story that can be enjoyed by all, but my instinct is that he wrote it specifically for slightly older fantasy veterans who will literally fucking kill themselves if they have to read one more farm-boy-is-the-chosen-one coming of age story. Here what we have is a bunch of tired, grizzled old bastards who used to be a pretty big deal getting back together out of necessity. In this world, bands of mercenaries are like rock stars, and our protagonists used to be the very biggest. And that past tense is very important – since the members of SAGA retired to settle down, raise kids, etc. a whole new generation of Merc bands have risen up, and our boys aren’t quite what they used to be. They’re mostly old, or curmudgeonly, or fat, or drunk, or some combination of those things.
So one thing I was expecting was a boatload of classic rock references, and I was surprised to find that while they were frequent, they didn’t do much to draw attention to themselves. If you’re a fan of classic rock you’ll love it, they’re great fun – if you’re not, you probably won’t even notice the majority of them and it’s fun as hell regardless. Rather than a gimmick (which is what I was anticipating, and I’m pleased to have been dead wrong), it’s a part of the story’s character – and while the main plot is very simple, it’s extremely well written. Clay and Gabriel set out to collect the remaining members of the band on their way to rescue Gabriel’s daughter. They have a bunch of encounters and a few spanners thrown in the works along the way, but ultimately it doesn’t really get much more complicated than that. I see people asking for straightforward adventures like this all the time, so if you’re one such person I strongly advise checking it out.
While the plot is simple, the characterization is anything but. Eames has done a tremendous job of making his characters feel real, each one lovable but with feelings and motivations and a strong voice of their own. There’s comedy for sure, Clay’s grumpy and sarcastic nature taking center stage, but there’s also tragedy. Moog is possibly the funniest character, but his backstory is heartbreaking and he is heavily driven by it. The banter is impressive, hilariously funny without ever feeling contrived, and very much rooted in deep fraternal love. And there are moments of poignancy that occasionally knocked me for six. Add to this some wonderful side characters and sparkling dialogue and I’d say that this is the novel’s greatest strength.
There’s some good solid worldbuilding throughout, though it isn’t the main focus of the novel and serves more as a backdrop to the fun than a reason to read it. The prose is light and pleasing, and the pacing hits that sweet spot of trundling along at a nice clip without any major lulls. I’d be hard pressed to think of anyone who wouldn’t find it an entirely likeable and pleasant read – my feeling is that those who don’t enjoy it will have perhaps bought into the hype a little too hard or built up some expectations that weren’t met.
For the rest of you, shine on you crazy diamonds. 😉
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Book of the Month