Sometimes it is the oddest things that draw you to a new book, and in this case it was the tag line The Boys are Back in Town. It made me think of Thin Lizzy (intentionally) and so I took a closer look at Kings of the Wyld, and the play on words to imply a rock band was clearly intentional, as is the line “It’s time to get the band back together.”
The book is about a mercenary band called Saga, which broke up more than a decade earlier, when it was the greatest band in the land. One of the members, former lead man Golden Gabe shows up at another band member Clay Cooper’s front door needing his aid in saving Gabe’s daughter, in part by reuniting their band. Lots of danger is involved, band has not talked in years, long hopeless trek; everything you would expect, at least on the surface. They gather the other members, Magic Moog, Matty Skulldrummer and Ganelon. All have aged and no longer have quite the reflexes, stamina and waistline that they once had. Aside from Ganelon who had been turned to stone, that is.
Now the mercenary bands are not like those seen in most fantasy novels. First off they are small, usually five members or so, some larger. They also do not align with nations going to war. Rather they use ‘Bookers” to get gigs cleaning out monsters from location after location. They also have a bard that can chronicle their deeds and immortalize them in song. Oddly, Saga’s bards all die. Sound familiar?
Bands have changed in the years since Saga retired. No longer playing small jobs in the sticks they now play major arenas in the larger towns. Bands often use makeup and precede performances with flashy displays. They often fight caged monsters rather than venture into the forest to fight them.
The book has the most varied animal bestiary than any I can remember. The country that they live in has a huge forest called the Heartwyld bisecting it that is home to all of the monsters. Sometimes bands tour the forest gaining glory and looking for artifacts from an almost vanished civilization. There are many that I recognize, with trolls, ogres, giants, imps, kobolds, ettins, and others but also many I had never heard of before.
There is a strong rock theme that permeates the entire book. Lyrics and partial lyrics are used, band names sound a lot like modern bands and other names carefully placed to imply songs or bands. There is a ship called Dark Star, Cooper’s nickname is Slowhand, a Syd Barrett, Neil the Young and many more inhabit the pages. However Eames never overplays it. If you were completely unaware of Rock you would most likely not even notice. It is just an interesting and often funny undercurrent to the book. One of Saga’s members is named Ganelon, which I am sure is a tip of the hat to the character by that name in The Song of Roland.
There was so much that I enjoyed about this book. Good characters and a wide variety of them. Very clear cut personalities and different reasons for their activities. The monsters were not all mindless hordes. You find that an Ettin can be kind and thoughtful and that cannibals like sweets. The humor is omnipresence but done with a nice light touch, often exemplified in the magic. Magic does not always work, and sometimes in strange ways. Another item that I liked was a good map. So often it looks like they asked a third grader to make a map with very vague landmasses and city locations.
I often get the feeling when reading both Sci-fi and Fantasy that the authors take the subject a bit too seriously; The Kings of the Wyld is the opposite. It uses clichés but smiles and laughs at them rather than pretend that it is the first time some type of event has happened in that type of literature. This is obviously the first in a series, hence the Band #1 subtitle, and it looks like the subsequent books will focus on solo careers of the members, and most likely involve the children of the existing members. Well them and the possible rebirth of a demi-goddess who quite likely is insane and might not like the role the band has played in the destruction of her family.
I found this to be a great debut novel. It was not the greatest Fantasy novel I have ever read, or the funniest take on a genre but it was by far the greatest combination of the two that I can think of. I am really looking forward to seeing what direction Eames takes the future books.