About the Novel
A retired group of legendary warriors must get the band back together for one last seemingly impossible mission in this rousing debut epic fantasy.
Glory never gets old.
Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned 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–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.
This was one of those books that came at just the right time for me. I’ve owned the paperback for a good 7-8 months, and it unfortunately spent the majority of that time in Bookcase Hell. I’m sure you a few of you have been in similar situations before…
You hear a lot about a book, and so you buy it. The months go by, and the reviews pile up. “It’s brilliant,” someone says, “and entirely unique. The best book I’ve read in ages”. Yet you don’t pick it up. “I’ll get to it later,” you say, and still the months pass you by. Eventually, the time comes. Maybe you’ve seen a particularly positive review, or you’ve spotted the spine glaring at you from its cell on the bookcase. Whatever the reason, you pick it up, you read it, and you curse yourself for a fool.
It is brilliant, it is entirely unique, and it is definitely the best book you’ve read in ages.
I’ve said it previously on Twitter, but Kings of the Wyld is one of those rare books that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There doesn’t always have to be a good, justifiable reason for some of the events in the story, those events are there because they are fun. I think that’s part of the reason why I fell in love with it.
The basic concept of the book is a re-imagining of a DnD style world, where mercenaries are equivalent to rock stars. Clay Cooper is a retired member of the most famous mercenary band of all time—Saga. After Saga frontman Gabriel’s daughter finds her life at risk, Clay and Gabe try to get the band back together. There’s a drunken king with a knack for knives; a bumbling old gay wizard; and a vicious force of nature who has spent over a decade frozen in stone. Together they fight to get Gabe’s daughter back, and try to show that the soft, showy bands of the present can’t match up to the legends of the past.
I had a hard time determining how to score this book for plot. It’s a pretty straightforward read, almost like a level of a video game where the main objective is “Save Gabe’s Daughter”. There are a few small twists and turns along the way, but not very many of these relate directly to the main plot.
While the “main objective” looms overhead for the duration of the novel, this is very much a character-centered story. It focuses more on the relationships between these five close friends, and many of the sub-plots feel like little mini-missions that exist for the purpose of letting the characters show off their personalities.
One of the main criticisms I’ve seen is that things can sometimes seem a little too easy for the band. Well… I can’t disagree. There will be vicious battles with many injuries sustained, and then those same injuries will be written off in the next chapter. If this is something that will bother you, be aware of it before jumping into the book.
Me, though? I loved it. As I said above, I adore books that don’t take themselves too seriously. Kings of the Wyld will never, ever, sacrifice fun just so that something will make more sense. In the current literary climate of pseudo-science and ultra-realism, this is ridiculously refreshing. You get the feeling that if a character had his legs chopped off at the waist, Eames would put that character on wheels to squeeze out a few more jokes in the next chapter.
As I said, it was difficult for me to score the plot. From an enjoyment standpoint, I’d have given it a 5 regardless of simplicity and silliness. But in an attempt to keep these scores a bit more objective and consistent, and acknowledging the flaws that will irritate some readers, it gets the following score.
Plot Score: 3.5/5
The story is told from the perspective of Clay Cooper, though in the third person. Eames manages to find the fine line between descriptive, metaphorical prose and humour, and he walks this line like a tightrope throughout the length of the novel, sometimes leaning to one side or the other. Time will tell if he will fall to his death in future novels, but for now he makes it work. The quote below is one of my favourite examples of this:
Look here at a warrior born, a scion of power and poverty whose purpose is manifold: to shatter shackles, to murder monarchs, and to demonstrate that even the forces of good must sometimes enlist the service of big, bad motherfuckers.
The dialogue deserves a shout-out, too. The banter between the members of the band is hilarious, and keeps you turning the pages when the action is winding down.
Prose Score: 4/5
Words can’t really describe just how much I loved the characters. The supporting cast is great, and I enjoyed the villain, but it’s the members of the band who steal the show.
I was going to write a short description of each of them. In fact, I wrote and re-wrote these descriptions several times before realizing that I couldn’t do them justice. I realized too that to describe them as individuals doesn’t paint the whole picture. Yes, each of them has their own distinct personality. But these characters are better as a whole.
It’s the relationships between them that give this novel its heart. To say “they were all best friends” doesn’t begin to scratch the surface. Each pair within the group has their own relationship. Not all of the friendships are equivalent. Hell, some of them don’t even really like each other. Exploring each of these dynamics was a pleasure, and I loved every second I spent with these characters.
Character Score: 5/5
The setting in Kings of the Wyld was incredibly fun to explore, and its lore and history was both fun and interesting to read about. In one of the few negative reviews I’ve read, the reviewer stated that the book read like a fan fiction because it used “every single fantasy creature and trope known to man”. Well… I actually agree with that to some extent, except that I would say Kings of the Wyld read like a love letter to fantasy.
All those tropes, all those creatures, and all those books, video games, tabletops, comic books, and movies that they came from… Kings of the Wyld seems to pay tribute to them all. It may poke fun at them from time to time, but it’s more of a good natured jest from a friend than a scathing criticism. Whereas some books in the genre are shying away from the genre’s past in favour of more “gritty” and “realistic” worlds, Kings of the Wyld rejoices in the ridiculousness of it all.
The music references are on point, too. We have not-so-thinly-veiled references to Elvis and Neil Young, along with many others—a lot of which I’m sure went over my head. I’ve seen some people hesitant to pick up the book since they weren’t sure if they would understand these music references, but as someone who only managed to pick up on the most obvious, it didn’t damage my enjoyment of the book at all.
Setting Score: 5/5
I feel like there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how happy I am to have read this book. As much as I enjoy those serious stories where the science checks out and everything has a plausible explanation, sometimes it’s good to remember that we’re reading a genre with a heavy focus on magic. At some point you’re allowed to say “Fuck it!” and have fun with it.
Pratchett and Adams are both gone, and there’ll never be any SFF authors that will ever replace them. Terry’s death didn’t just leave a gap in the fantasy genre, it left a fucking chasm. But that doesn’t mean that comedic fantasy had to die with him. Amongst all the grimdark, the pseudo-scientific, and the ultra-realistic… There’s still room for the blatantly ridiculous.
Kings of the Wyld is a brilliant book, and I sincerely hope that we see more books like it.
Books with heart, soul, and laughter.
Books that aren’t scared to say “fuck it” and do something just because it’s funny, or because it’s fun.