Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Book Review - KINGS of the WYLD by Nicholas Eames

Your favorite band has broken up, maybe they changed lead singers. For me that was Iron Maiden when Bruce Dickinson stepped away is front man for Maiden 1993. When news broke in 1999 that he would be returning, I was excited, and a little nervous. What emerged was a great album (Brave New World) and a tour to support it that would be great. Enough about me and my favorite band, on to Nicholas Eames’s rocking and thrashing debut novel, Kings of the Wyld. That is essentially what Nicholas Eames seems to be attempting to capture with his debut novel Kings of the Wyld, the first installment of the series he’s calling The Band.

Cover Art by Richard Anderson

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.

Clay Cooper is living a harmonious life with his wife and daughter, his violent past as a member of Saga behind him. Of course, when his former bandmate Gabriel the Golden comes asking – begging – for help in finding his own lost daughter, Clay realizes he can’t say no.

What follows is a rip-roaring tour of the land as Clay and Gabriel get the band back together: wizard Moog afflicted with Rot; warrior-born Ganelorn who was turned to stone; and Matrick; the overweight and somewhat emasculated/henpecked king. Moog is the most willing and easiest former band member to get “back on stage and tour,” while Ganelorn and Matrick prove rather difficult for their own reasons. Once that business is over, you’d think it would be simple to find Gabriel’s daughter Rose.

Well, you’d be wrong.

On the way to freeing Ganelorn from his year’s-long stone prison, they piss off the man responsible. In re-recruiting Matrick, Saga pissed off his unreasonable wife to the point where the only way to get him out of his castle was to fake his death. Matty’s wife sends a bounty-hunter, Larkspur, to reclaim the “fallen” king, which makes the quest to save Gabe’s daughter even They also clash with Lastleaf, the last ‘druin’ who is looking to reclaim Castia for his near-extinct people. The druin are the elder race who are long-lived, pointy-eared and powerful. Think elves with attitude.

The leader of the Band is considered “the Frontman,” the big man wields an Axe and “bands” of mercenaries are hired for gigs either to vanquish a problem or perform/compete in arenas. The bard of the band has a tendency to die, much like the drummer of Spinal Tap and the way around that by novel's end is quite ingenious. A large region is called Coverdale. If “Golden Gabriel” doesn’t bring to mind a lead singer, then you haven’t seen Almost Famous. Moog’s deceased husband is named Fredrick, in homage to Freddy Mercury of Queen. Mattrick Skulldrummer’s weapons of choice are a pair of knives which he furiously wields in battle, not unlike a drummer furiously bashing drums with his drumstick. Hell, the tagline “The Boys are Back In Town” is the title of a rock classic from the 1970s by Thin Lizzy. I think I’ve only touched the surface of the many allusions and references throughout the novel.

Owlbear art by Scott McCauley

Briefly, then, we’ve got a break-neck adventure novel that reads like the most well-crafted RPG session turned into novel form with unassuming and assured skill. Kings of the Wyld is deeper than that, though. Clay is our point man for the novel and the range of emotions Eames shows through his mind is genuine and bordering on profound. Sure, this is a rollicking fantasy novel with awesome monsters, zombies…er rather an “unkillable” character, owlbears (!), fantasy races, and wizards, but Eames has Some Things to Say. Through Clay - whose “weapon of choice”, a shield, says a lot about his character - there’s an intriguing internal struggle about overcoming baser instincts. appreciating what is front of you, revisiting the past, and the bonds of friendship that can strengthen into bonds of family. One of Saga’s members, Moog the wizard is gay, and it just is. No big deal over it and all the bandmates accept it. What little they say about it, and many other characters, is more powerful than making an overtly big deal about it.

Heavy Metal/Hard Rock and Fantasy have long been intertwined, just look at some album covers from the 1970s and 1980s from bands like Iron Maiden, Manowar, or Ronnie James Dio (whose first band was called Elf) to more recent bands like Blind Guardian or Rhapsody. You’d think there’d be a novel like Kings of the Wyld years ago. You’d be wrong and sure a band of mercenaries and a world described in Rock/Heavy Metal metaphors is a neat hook, Eames has such great humor and storytelling chops that the novel rises above even that great idea.

This book slipped down Mount ToBeRead a bit last year, but I saw quite a few folks talking about it on twitter over the past few months which pushed me to pick it up and read it, I am extremely glad I did and can’t wait to get my hands on the second in the series The Bloody Rose later this summer.

Nicholas Eame’s Web site is well worth a visit especially the page featuring the fantastic artwork depicting characters and creatures of the world.

The book has struck a chord over the last year since it published, having already inspired its own TVTropes page.

Bottom line, you want to get a floor-seat to the Kings of the Wyld so you can experience Clay, Gabe, Ganelorn, Matty, and Moog (and new addition, Kit), perform in all their Rock Glory.