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Review of Kings of the Wyld

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Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

partial cover image from Kings of the Wyld, art by Richard Anderson.

partial cover image from Kings of the Wyld, art by Richard Anderson.

Decades ago the men of Saga were the most famous band of adventurers in Grandual and the surrounding lands. Since the band broke up and went their separate ways, the whole adventuring scene changed. Rose, the daughter of Golden Gabe of Saga fame, has followed in her father’s footsteps, leading her into almost certain death in Castia, a city besieged by a horde of uncountable monsters. Desperate for help, Gabe begs his friend and fellow adventurer Clay Cooper to help him reunite the band and launch a nearly hopeless rescue mission for Rose and everyone else surrounded in the city of Castia. Against his better judgment, Clay agrees, and they set out to enlist the remaining members of their defunct crew for one last adventure, only this time for the sake of others rather than personal glory.

The main premise of the is to create a hybrid of fantasy fiction with a rock band documentary. Smashing together The Hobbit, This is Spinal Tap, a Conan anthology, and The Blues Brothers would produce something almost exactly like Kings of the Wyld. The idea of adventuring bands operating like rock bands with huge egos, hype-man bards, groupies, manipulative managers, and excesses of sex, drug, alcohol, and partying is fun and inventive take on the genre. The effect is amusing and often humorous as tropes combine and reinforce each other in clever ways. There are also plenty of pop cultural references for metahumor, such as the line, “Something tells me the cake was a lie” (164). All of these efforts are tied together and given marginal direction by the overarching plot to save Rose and everyone else in Castia.

Author Nicholas Eames and some of his novels.  Photo of the author by Kristine Cofsky.

Author Nicholas Eames and some of his novels. Photo of the author by Kristine Cofsky.

Battle of the Bands

The humor and lightness will work against the novel for some readers. It’s difficult to believe anything of terrible or lasting effect will happen to any of the heroes. They complain about being old and slow, but that certainly doesn’t significantly hinder their combat ability. Whatever personal rancor they had in the past also disappears whenever they need to pull together to accomplish anything. As a result, it’s difficult to buy into the novel when the tone dips toward something dark or more serious. There’s some talk about whether its unethical to fight monsters in the wilderness, but there’s not much follow-through on this theme, leaving it limping far behind Sapkowski’s Witcher series in this department. There are moments where Kings of the Wyld attempts bleakness or catharsis. When the novel gestures at the idea that maybe the villains had their reasons too, Clay thinks, “We’re each what the past has made us” (486). This moment isn’t at earned, though, because there’s hardly any build toward it, nor are the villain’s actions particularly justifiable in this context. These attempts pale in comparison to similar leanings in Joe Abercrombie’s work, such as The Heroes or Red Country, where multiple perspective show how characters view and justify their actions, and themes concerning regret are woven into every aspect of the story from the start.

Similarly, Clay sometimes questions whether he’s a man or a monster for what he’s done, but this angst has no weight. Nearly everything readers see Clay do shows him to be an upstanding man, and none of the violence he engages in is malicious or sadistic. It is clear right away to the audience that he’s a decent man, and in case there were doubts, one of his friends states to Clay, “You’re honest, and brave, and too damn loyal for your own good. Hell, you’re just about the best man I’ve ever known” (286). Clay’s concerns may seem real to him, but they ring hollow to the audience and to other characters in the novel. Eames is at his strongest when he’s writing about his characters adventuring and having fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

The middle section of the novel doesn’t exactly drag, but it seems oddly aimless. Gabe and Clay constantly bring up the need to save Rose and Castia from a monstrous invasion, but there are some lengthy stretches where those concerns don’t seem to be foremost in the characters’ concerns or the plot takes detours in the Wyld that seem too long or don’t add much to the story.

These Go to Eleven

Anyone looking for a heroic, sword and sorcery fantasy adventure with a fun, rock and roll spirit will want to read Kings of the Wyld. Its flaws are fairly minor in the course of the novel, and it moves along at a brisk pace with clear writing that makes it easy to keep on going.

Source

Eames, Nicholas. Kings of The Wyld. Orbit, 2017.

© 2020 Seth Tomko

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