This book had a lot to live up to as the follow up to Kings of the Wyld. Taking place 6 years after the events of that novel, this book follows a young girl named Tam who is obsessed with the Bands who travel from arena to arena fighting monsters for entertainment. Let start with the excerpt right away:
“A band of fabled mercenaries, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, tour a wild fantasy landscape, battling monsters in arenas in front of thousands of adoring fans, but a secret and dangerous gig ushers them to the frozen north, and the band is never one to waste a shot at glory . . . even if it means almost certain death.
Live fast, die young.
Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.
When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.
It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.”
First and foremost, this book has a completely different feel from the previous entry in this series, and that’s not a bad thing. In the 6 years following the events of Kings of the Wyld, the world has drastically changed. Mercenary Bands are now very much like Rock Stars, with screaming fans and groupies, and taking tours along an Arena Circuit from town to town, killing monsters while fans watch, and then having insane parties afterwards.
The story can best be broken up into 3 sections really. The first 40% is the final tour of the band Fable, led by the daughter of Golden Gabe himself, Bloody Rose. Tam, our main character in this entry, becomes Fable’s bard, tasked with following along in their footsteps and chronicling their adventures in song. The band consists of Blood Rose and her lover Freecloud, Brune the Shaman, Cura the Inkwitch, and their booker (manager) Rodrick. Tam herself is a likeable character, clearly a girl who wants to see the world and one who, like many, idolizes the Bands and what they do. The characters are well written, and enjoyable, but not quite as likable for me as the first group. Brune for me is my favorite however.
This “tour” section of the book, where we get to know the characters, is my favorite part. Eames has been on record as saying his inspiration was “What if adventuring parties were like rockstars” and this section embodies that ideal. This is sex, drugs, and glorious combat on an insane scale. They even have Argosies, which are basically touring vans. No joke, it’s hilarious. Also, the band names that pop up during this section are clearly references to 80’s music like the Duran Brothers, The White Snakes, the Men with Helmets, the Iron Maiden, and so on. You can clearly tell where Eames got his influence in this book way more than the previous one.
The next 30% is the Bands last actual job. You see, Fable actually takes dangerous contracts, unlike the vast majority of the bands now. Rather than just plying their trade on the Arena Circuit, they make an effort to take on contracts to deal with actual threats in the wilds. This makes Fable unique when compared to their contemporaries. While the idea behind the last contract is interesting, with Fable going after a mythical creature that no one else believes exists, the pace here slows down a bit too much for my liking. The first section was a blistering pace almost the entire time, and then suddenly it’s like Eames slammed on the brakes and decided to take it slow and steady. We get a TON of backstory and character development here, which I loved, showing how each member of Fable is broken in some way. Each of them bears scars and issues from their pasts, even Tam. However, this part of the book really felt like pure setup for the final 30% of the novel, and while there was a nice twist here that tied the events of this novel together with the first, it still felt a bit too slow and plodding for my liking. Even if the set piece that takes place here is absolutely amazing.
The final 30% is a roller coaster of emotions. The pace picks back up and rockets towards the finale, and the book redeems itself well here. The final battle that takes place is just as much a crazypantsnanners clusterfuck as the final battle in the first one, and again Eames shows his skill with writing by wasting nothing here. Every moment is described perfectly, letting you visualize exactly what is happening. Also the ending is perfectly bittersweet, and I loved it. It tied up the story of the two books nice and neat.
My only real issue is with that middle 30%. It dragged at times, and as much as I enjoyed Bloody Rose and would recommend it to fans of the first (I mean, the stories ARE connected, even if it doesn’t seem that way at first) I would not rate this as highly as Kings of the Wyld. Much like Rose, this book lives in the shadow of what came before. I give this a 4/5 and if you liked Kings, read this. It is well worth your time. You can purchase this on Amazon HERE. I would not however read this without reading the first, as some events and references would lose their impact.