- Kings of the Wyld (The Band #1).
- NIcholas Eames.
- 492 pages.
- Fantasy / Epic / Grimdark / Just Pure Awesome.
- My Rating: 5 stars out of 5.
GLORY NEVER GETS OLD.
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.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Kings of the Wyld is the debut book from Nicholas Eames. Saga were once the greatest band in the world, famous legends and heroes of the Wyld, they were that damn good but that was many years ago, the band have since disbanded, the group gone their separate ways, issues, age, time and life in its various guises have a caught up with them all. But now, way past their prime Gabriel needs his bands help to rescue his daughter Rose from the massive and marauding Heartwyld Horde of nightmare monsters surrounding and besieging the city of Castia.
The book itself and the story on the surface is straightforward and simple, find the members of the band, get them to agree to help, reuniting Saga and then head off across the Wyld to rescue Rose but when you read the book and look deeper, it’s the story of Saga, a band who are like brothers and it’s the relationship between the four band mates that is at the centre of Kings of the Wyld, they all have their own strengths and weaknesses individually but together you get to see why they were once deemed legends. It’s your belief in the fivesome that is Saga that more than anything pulls you into Eames book, you need to find out if the band can relieve the glory days and one last time be the legends that they once were.
I’m not one for spoilers and I won’t recount to you how Gabriel gets the band back together, where would be the fun in that? A book is a journey that you need to take for yourself and not have someone tell you all the details. Suffice to say it’s thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable with each band mates recruitment being an adventure and escapade of its own. What I will offer you instead is an insight into the characters and weapons that form Saga.
Clay ‘Slowhand’ Cooper, now has a steady job, it’s a quite life and he has found happiness with his wife Ginny and their daughter Tally. After agreeing to help Gabriel they are his driving force throughout Kings of the Wyld, to make sure that he survives and get back to both Ginny and Tally and it’s the thought that if it was Tally that needed rescuing then nothing would stop Clay from trying that makes him agree to help his old band mate, it’s the strength of a father’s love for their child. Clay is a very likeable character, you can’t help but feel for and like him, he’s simply a normal sort of guy, honest, past his prime with no airs and graces, just trying his best, he’s the type of character you find yourself rooting for without even realising it.
The truth, he knew, was that the world needed his kind of monster. It was a brutal place. It was unfair. And Clay Cooper, such as he was, was quite simply the right kind of wrong.
Clay’s weapon from his Saga days is the shield Blackheart. I know what you’re all thinking, sigh, a shield, how boring! And I’d agree with you, you don’t think of them as legendary weapons of import, they aren’t swords or axes or even a bow, a shield is something that is a means to an end, it’s used merely for protection, nothing more. But Eames does the impossible and makes Blackheart and its usage interesting, there’s a story behind the shield and the shield itself is an integral part of how Clay fights, incorporating Blackheart into combat, the shield is perfect for clay and they make an awesome duo.
Gabriel ‘Golden Gabe’ was Saga’s frontman, his glory days are well behind him, he is broken-hearted and downcast, life since Saga hasn’t been kind to Gabe and with Rose trapped against impossible odds he’s left with one last chance to make things right. Gabriel wallows for about half the book, he’s in turmoil about rescuing Rose and if Saga can even succeed. Eames portrays Gabe as a shadow of his former self with only the occasional hint of the steely resolve, charisma, attitude and martial prowess that made Golden Gabe a legend. It’s this wallowing that makes you feel for Gabe and watching when Eames finally pulls the trigger and we get to see Gabe slowly transform from despairing to determined is a standout moment as the old Golden Gabe gets to shine once again.
Gabriel’s weapon is his druin sword Vellichor. Gifted to him by a druin back in Saga’s glory days he is the only human to have a druin forged weapon and it’s a pretty badass sword to, no matter the type of weapon it needs a great name and Vellichor fits the bill.
Arcandius Moog, Moog was Saga’s wizard and before you are even introduced to Moog you know the type of character you are going to get thanks to Eames when you read that Moog has been peddling his wares with a cure for an ailment called: Magic Moog’s Magnificent Phallic Phylactery, it will certainly help ‘stiffen’ your resolve amongst other things! That name on its own tells you all you need to know about Moog! He is an entertainingly wonderful character and addition to Saga though and you can’t help but smile at his crazy antics and even crazier schemes to get the band out of trouble!
Moog doesn’t have any named weapons, he’s a wizard after all and has a bunch of weird, wonderful and wacky wizarding implements to call upon when needed.
Mattrick Skulldrummer, back in the day Matty was Saga’s rogue and thief but has since gone to seed, his hair is thinning, he has grown a hefty paunch and is accustomed to living like a King, gorging himself on alcohol and food. When his old band mates come calling his recruitment is another quality adventure and Matty himself is another great character and his bond with Moog is akin to Gabriel’s and Clay’s in that they are like brothers.
Matty’s weapons are his duo of deadly knives, his jewel hilted ladies Roxy and Grace and he wields them with deathly precision making himself a formidable opponent.
The final member of Saga is Ganelon, his recruitment back into the band is the most action centric and features the Maxithon, a huge floating arena where we get to see our first real glimpse of the legends that are Saga as a completed band. Ganelon is a huge hulking Southerner and was Saga’s muscle, he’s menacing and quiet but has his moments, in particular one conversation he has with Clay quite late into the book about sticks in your mind.
Ganelon’s weapon of choice is his rune etched axe Syrinx, it’s a brutal weapon and makes Ganelon an already ruinous foe without a weapon even more fearsome as he goes about his axe shredding with lethal precision.
One of the running themes in Kings of the Wyld is the influence of music (hence the occasional musical references that you will find within this review). If you notice on the cover, the book’s title ‘Kings of the Wyld’ is written in a font that wouldn’t be out-of-place on the cover of a 1980’s hair metal album. Instead of mercenary companies, you have bands, the bands don’t have commanders or leaders but instead have a frontman, you have bookers who book the bands to gigs and not the more standard fare of contracts, the newer bands perform in arenas and on arena tours with support bands and then a more popular and famous band headlining. It’s only a little thing but it’s incorporated well by Eames, is refreshing and as a music fan myself is pretty damn cool.
If you look closely at Saga, you can see the aspects of an actual ‘band’ within the band. Gabriel is the frontman (singer). Ganelon uses an axe as his weapon (axe being another name for guitar, guitarist). Mattrick uses a duo of knives that he has a habit of twirling and occasionally fumbling (he could be the drummer if you replaced the knives with drumsticks). Moog would have to be the keyboard player. And, Clay uses a shield, a boring but important weapon (he’s Saga’s equivalent of a bassist, an integral part of the band but with a weapon/instrument that is often derided as boring and unimportant but helps forms the core).
While the story centres around Saga there is a whole host of secondary characters strewn throughout the adventure that all play a role, some more prominent and pivotal than others, but a role even if it’s only some comedic relief and deserving of mention are, Kit the Unkillable, a polite and eloquent revenant. The Ettin, Gregor and his other head Dane. Larkspur, the alluring but deadly daeva bounty hunter. Another old band in Vanguard and it’s members, Barret, Ashe, Piglet and the Arachnian Tiamax. Taino, a troll witch doctor who will have you chuckling with how he speaks. And, Lady Jain and the Silk Arrows even if at first they are a bane to Saga, each time they appeared was a pleasure.
Along with the cast of main and secondary characters there is also a vast array of creatures found in Kings of the Wyld. The Heartwyld Horde itself contains a myriad assortment of fantastical monsters and denizens, chimera, wyvern, dragon, giants, cyclops, harpies, Infernal, gorgon, feral swarm of cannibals, rask, direwolves, bloodboars centaurs, lizard-folk, kobolds, owlbears, wyrms, rot sylphs, orcs, plague hawks and even a minotaur amongst other monstrosities named by Eames, a real eclectic miasmic menagerie.
Then we come to the main villain of Kings of the Wyld and the reason behind the Heartwyld Horde surrounding Castia, The Duke of Endland, The Heathen, the druin, Lastleaf. Now this is where Eames turns things on their head, all the monstrosities in Kings of the Wyld are nightmare visions come to life and yet with the big bad, Eames gives druins, bunny ears! Yes, sinister and menacing Lastleaf has fluffy rabbit ears!
Druins are an ancient race who can live millenia, Lastleaf is one of the only remaining survivors of the druin dominion and is intent on bringing about its rebirth. Even with his cute rabbit ears, Lastleaf and his three carrots, sorry swords, yes, he’s that much of a badass that he has a trio of blades (one or even two just won’t do) sheathed on his back and ready to use is a threatening, baleful and ominous choice as the villain, he isn’t just a typical two-dimensional stereotype either, Eames writes him as a fully fleshed out character with back story and reasons behind his hatred. Slight spoiler, no, he doesn’t want to reap vengeance because he was picked on as a child and someone once bullied and teased him about his fluffy bunny ears!
The world building in Kings of the Wyld is high quality with the lands of Grandual, it’s inclusive locations and the massive and sprawling Heartwyld forest between Saga and the city of Castia. Eames has constructed a world that feels both vast and rich. Offering you enough history to fully immerse you, without ever over indulging in useless information that interrupts the flow of the book.
The writing and pacing are both excellent in Kings of the Wyld with no filler to be found. Eames weaves a fast paced often frenetic tale taking you from one location and outlandish escapade to the next. A couple of times the events that take place are slightly incredulous, stretching the bounds of plausibility but not every battle is won with skill and sometimes all it takes is a little luck.
There’s also some musical easter eggs scattered across the length of the book and when it’s added to the mix, the sentiment works really well and though sparse, the poignant moments are like melodic interludes offering you emotion on the scale of waving your lighters in the air balladry. The humour is also on par, both the in your face loud and brash jokes and the more subtle little nods and hints that also make you smile.
“I know the whole ‘gorgons turning men to stone’ thing is a myth,” he said quietly, “but I’m hard as a rock right now.”
The characterisation throughout Kings of the Wyld is great, Saga, particularly Gabriel and Clay who are at the core of the book are deep and layered characters and the band on a whole are a group that you really get behind and pull for. The camaraderie and brotherhood shown between them is tremendous, at times each character is given their own virtuoso chance to shine but it’s when they all come together that they really rock out.
Gabriel is the frontman of Saga and while the story revolves around him getting the band back together and attempting to rescue his daughter, Clay Cooper is with him from the beginning of the book and as much as Kings of the Wyld is the story of how Saga reunited to try to save Rose the book for me is also Clay’s tale.
“This day,” said Gabriel, “this moment, is when you step out from the shadow of the past. Today you make your name. Today your legend is born. Come tomorrow, every tale the bards tell will belong to you, because today we save the world!”
A conclusion that is fitting, fulfilling and has the emotional pull that just feels right. With the chance for the younger bands to take centre stage and headline the sequel and hopefully the possibility from Eames of some prequel novellas in the future regaling us with some of the legendary adventures and crazy exploits of Saga from days gone by.
Eames builds Kings of the Wyld up to a soaring crescendo with a breathtaking final track, culminating in one epic battle that cranks the volume all the way ‘up to eleven!’
Kings of the Wyld is an action movie with heart in the guise of a fantasy book and is an outstanding debut from Eames. Quality writing and pacing throughout, core characters you care about, crazy scenarios, action, action and more action with plenty of humour and a side helping of emotion all make Kings of the Wyld one hellacious and entertainingly wyld ride!
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