This has to be the best fantasy novel I have read in a very long time. I found this book by sheer accident, looking up “Best of Fantasy 2018” lists for new stuff to read. What I actually found was its sequel “Bloody Rose” which I am currently reading as I write this. The praise I found heaped on that book caused me to go looking for the first, and here we are.
Kings of the Wyld is very much a “One Last Job” type of story. It details the final adventure of a band of mercenaries called Saga, a group that is held in high esteem, that bards sing about, that legends are written about. However, Saga has long been disbanded, something like 19 years at the start of the book, and they are all old men who have moved on with their lives. Let’s start with the excerpt as always.
“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.”
Our main character is Clay Cooper, and can I just say how NICE it is to see my name (Clay) used for a good guy for a change? In almost every form of media I have run into, if someone is named Clay / Clayton they are always villains! Every stinking time! Further, the way Clay Cooper is described resonated with me. A big mountain of a man, slow and steady, who cares deeply for his family and worries he will never live up to the standards he believes a good person should be. And inside he holds a monster, a terror he tries to keep under control. And during fights that monster comes out and it’s a sight to behold in the novel.
The plot of the book is one where Gabriel, aka Golden Gabe, the frontman of Saga turns up on Clay’s doorstep one evening, begging for aid. Turns out that Gabe’s daughter Rose has run off to form her own Mercenary band and fight against an horde of monsters at a far city called Castia. And that battle is not going well. Gabe, feeling horrible for getting into a fight with his daughter and causing her to run away, begs Clay for assistance with getting Saga back together, crossing a dangerous wilderness called the Heartwyld, and rescuing his daughter from an impossible situation.
The story is told from Clay’s perspective mostly, and as we meet the other members of Saga, we learn about the history this fabled band had, the things they accomplished and the way people hold them as true heroes. But we also learn that they are all by and large broken men, whose lives after the band broke up were not always the best. Matrick, former rogue turned king has found his life to be very hectic since marrying a princess. Moog the Wizard lost his husband to a disease from the Wyld called the Rot, and seeks to find a cure for it to prove that it can be beaten. Ganleon, well I don’t want to ruin his reveal but he is a troubled man by and large. Clay just wants to get things done and get home, away from adventure, and worries that he will die away from his love and his child. And Gabe, of course, is both a beaten down former shell of himself and a man driven to save the one good thing in his life.
The characters are by far the best part of this story. Each one has their moments to shine, their personalities showing in everything they do. My personal favorite is Moog, who is driven to near obsession to prove that this horrible disease that took his husband away can be beaten. Clay is my second favorite, and he is unique in that he fights primarily with a badass shield called Blackheart. Even the supporting cast around Saga are awesome, and we learn a great deal about the world they inhabit and the way things have changed since they last adventured. This book reads like an amazing dungeons and dragons campaign quite frankly, some of the set piece events that occur made me think of a DM sitting there going “Ok that is an absolute crazypantsnanners idea, let’s try it!” and somehow the party makes the roll every time.
The pacing of the story is near perfect as well. Every moment, every scene, either expands the world, characters, or moves the story forward. Its rich in detail but it never gets bogged down in it. There is also a surprising amount of humor here, frequently between the characters, and it helps make it feel like they are old friends getting back together for one last party before their lives drift away again. Oh and our villain is actually likeable! In fact, I found myself agreeing with him at times, and I understood how he must have felt living the life he had to in order to survive.
The writing is excellent as well in a technical sense. Action scenes move forward with a blistering pace, everyone again getting their moment to shine, both the heroes and the villains. The world building is amazing and if Eames ever put out a Setting Book for say dungeons and dragons I would be hard pressed to avoid purchasing it. Hell I purchased the sequel and started reading it the INSTANT I finished this one, so hungry was I for more of this world.
Finally, the ending sequence of this book is absolutely batshit insane in the best way possible. It tied up everything for the story of Saga, and left some mysteries and events open for the Sequel. Suffice to say, the only complaint I have with this novel is that it ended. I wanted to learn more about Saga, I want to see how they got together, their early history, the events that made them the men they were in this world.
Hopefully Eames goes back and does a prequel sometime showing just that. I will be there for it, for sure. This gets a solid 5/5 on Amazon and Goodreads from me, and if you are a fan of fantasy you owe it to yourself to enter the Wyld, and ride with Saga. You will NOT be disappointed. I promise you.