There’s been a lot of trying moments in 2020 and so, when I was eyeing up KINGS OF THE WYLD, it was with the intention of losing myself in some pure escapism for a while. You know, just a really fun fantasy romp with an adventuring band fighting monsters and a bunch of humour. Basically a Dungeons & Dragons session in book form. It delivered all of that in droves and was exactly what I needed. What I didn’t expect though, was just how much this book would also pull on my heart strings; it easily holds the record for quickest book to make me cry and then probably another record for the sheer amount of times it made me cry after that.
If you’re not familiar with KINGS OF THE WYLD it takes a very familiar premise and puts a really enjoyable twist on it. We’re all familiar with the ‘adventuring party’ in fantasy. The Fighter, The Wizard, The Thief etc, and that’s where the book has its roots. Clay Cooper was once a member of the best band this side of the Heartwyld, but he’s since settled down, got a bit older and is ready to leave that life behind. That is until his old band mate and ‘front man’ Golden Gabe turns up at his doorstep with news that his daughter is trapped in Castia, a city besieged by a horde of monsters, and asks for Clay’s help to get the band back together to set out and rescue her.
It’s a very simple premise and Eames brings it to life with such joy. In his world adventuring bands are treated like rockstars, and I mean literally. They have legions of adoring fans who follow their exploits, youngsters who want to emulate them and managers who book them gigs to slay monsters. Each member of Clay’s band even plays a role similar to a band lineup. Gabe is the good-looking front man; Clay the dependable and rock steady bassist, the backbone of the group, drummer Matrick with his two knives; Ganelon the axe-wielding guitarist; and Moog the wizard, who I’m gonna put on keyboard. Think washed-up dad rock band getting together for one last tour. It’s such a blast!
So there’s a bit of to and fro about whether Clay will actually come out of retirement to help Gabe, but it’s hardly a spoiler to say he eventually agrees (in a very teary-eyed moment), and so the first part of the book is centred around getting the band back together. I’m a sucker for any story where ‘getting the band together’ is a thing, but it was a particular delight in KINGS OF THE WYLD, because that’s very literally what they do, before heading across the Heartwyld to break the siege of Castia and rescue Gabe’s daughter. And in the process they get into all kinds of trouble, adventures are had, plans are made and go awry, they meet friends old and new (as well as some enemies old and and new), including making friends with a wonderful two-headed ettin called Gregor and Dane, who are perhaps the most beautifully wonderful and sad fantasy characters I’ve read in a long while. Of course I’m tearing up again thinking about them, didn’t I say this book pulled on the heartstrings?
It’s so funny as well. It’s a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously (and it’s honestly quite impressive how well Eames gets the balance right between the humour and the emotional moments); there are dick jokes and scatterbrained wizards and hilarious robberies and the villains have rabbit ears that they get pretty tetchy about sometimes. At times I found some of the humour a little bit crude for my tastes but there are so many genuine laugh-out-loud moments that made this book such fun to read.
One thing I will say is that I think the overall representation of women leaves a bit to be desired. There are women in the story, but a lot of them are pretty worn out stereotypes. Clay’s wife Ginny doesn’t have much to her personality beyond being a housewife, Gabes ex-wife is the gold-digger, Matrick’s wife is the unfaithful conniving, power-hungry harpy and Ganelon’s entire backstory revolves around the fact that his lover was sexually assaulted and so he brought his wrath down on those responsible. And ya know, rape as a plot device for men to be called to action never sits well with me.
So there is that, but the overall story was super fun and emotional and well worth the read. I can’t wait to dive into the sequel, Bloody Rose, and once you’ve read this first book you’ll probably have some inclination about whose story that tells 😉
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