“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.”
So far 2018 seems to be the year of amazing second books, and I’m thrilled to be able to say that Bloody Rose is no exception. Earlier this year I read Kings of the Wyld and found myself surprised at its depth – I had expected an enjoyable romp and was delighted to find that, while it certainly was everything it was advertised to be, there was much more lurking beneath the surface. Themes of growing older, slowing down, family, and deep fraternal bonds were all present in a story that spoke to a generation of fantasy veterans and newbies alike. The classic rock Eames invoked for his tale was a part of its character, a love letter to the youths of the 60s and 70s who were forced to grow up and found that they didn’t much care for it. It may come as no surprise then, that Bloody Rose is a similar tribute to the next generation.
After the events at Castia, Rose is determined to make a name for herself as the front man of Fable, independent of her father’s towering reputation. Tam is living a quiet life as a barmaid, wistfully watching the world pass her by. When the opportunity presents itself she jumps at the chance to join Fable and the heroes she so admires, and after a heart wrenching fight with her father she heads out to seek fame and glory. However, she quickly finds that fame and glory aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be, and that the legends she grew up hearing and the truth have something of a tenuous relationship.
The members of Fable are all, to put it mildly, a bit fucked up. Rose relies heavily on a drug known as Lion’s Leaf to give her an edge in arena fights, which she believes makes her more entertaining for the crowds. Brune, a shaman/shapeshifter, has been denied something deeply important to him by his father. Cura, an inkwitch with a spiky temperament, is haunted by her childhood and this is reflected in the horrific creatures she summons to fight for her. In fact, the entire band is dealing with some issue or other relating to their parents, be it cruelty, control, or neglect. Themes of trauma, addiction, attempted suicide, coping mechanisms and self-medication are all touched on here. We experience the story through Tam’s eyes, and at the same time we witness her losing her sense of innocence and wonder. Her growing discomfort at the arena fights and the treatment of “monsters” is especially poignant. It’s certainly heavier and darker than its predecessor in this respect, and we’re invited to question who the real monsters are.
With that said, don’t let the dark themes lead you to believe that this isn’t one hell of a ride. Eames is on form, the dialogue is laugh-out-loud funny and his fight scenes are exciting and cinematic. The highs balance out the lows beautifully, and the prose is somehow able to swing us between delirious joy and desolation in a matter of paragraphs. The 80s and 90s pop culture references come thick and fast, and there’s a sense of childish glee that comes with spotting the more subtle ones (and some amused groans that come along with the obvious ones). The worldbuilding massively expands on the groundwork laid down in Kings of the Wyld, and there are some cameos that were a delight to read. While I wouldn’t compare the sense of humor directly to Pratchett’s, I think that the man himself would have approved of the seamless way in which Eames marries the lighthearted with his commentary on real human issues. I found myself caught off guard and tearful numerous times, but there was one passage in particular that will stick with me for its honesty and stark beauty.
“Sometimes she wept when it snowed.” 😭
Bloody Rose is an amazing adventure – at its beating heart are a group of broken people who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for, but who manage to find it in one another nonetheless. After the roaring success of Kings of the Wyld, I’m sure Eames had some fears that it would be difficult to meet the expectations of his fans and the massive amount of hype surrounding this series. I think it’s safe to say that, like Rose herself, this second entry stands in no-one’s shadow.
My sincere thanks to Nazia at Orbit and Nicholas Eames for the ARC of Bloody Rose.
Bingo Squares 2018
- Reviewed on r/Fantasy
- Published in 2018
- Protagonist is an Artist, Writer or Musician