I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but I added it to my wishlist and friend came through and got me a copy. It had been reviewed favourably and it sounded like my kind of thing. And when I finally sat down to read it I instantly fell in love with Eames’ writing style and characters.
The book is set in a fantasy world filled with magic and monsters, but steps away from the usual traps of sword and sorcery by injecting a hefty dose of humour and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. In this world the heroes are mercenaries who take care of monster problems, these mercs often work in groups called bands, and they are the rock stars of the world, with excess, showmanship and groupies all thrown in.
Nineteen years ago one of the greatest bands was Saga, known as the Kings of the Wyld for their heroics within the Wyld, a dense, dangerous forest filled with beasts, plants and weather that can kill. But eventually the group went their separate ways and grew old. Clay Cooper, one of the band lives a simple life as a city watchman with his family and hopes to open an inn, having put aside his violent past. One day his former bandmate Gabriel arrives at his door pleading for help, his daughter, Rose, has followed in his footsteps and has become a mercenary, but is now in grave danger. Having signed up to fight a monstrous horde she is now one of the survivors besieged in a far off city, Outside the gates is gathered the largest monster army ever seen, and between them and the rest of the world is the Wyld. Sooner or later food will run out, or the enemy will breach the walls. There is no escape from death.
Reluctantly Clay joins Gabriel and they set off, hoping to get the band back together and go rescue Rose. But the band are scattered and living different lives. Their wizard is obsessed with finding a cure for the disease that killed his husband, one of their group has gone from thief to warrior to king, having married a princess they rescued on an earlier adventure, and the final, and deadliest, member is imprisoned and may be harbouring a grudge against his old friends.
Can they reunite Saga? If they do can five ageing fighters really hope to cross the peril filled woods? And what difference can five make against an army?
This book is amazing, with Eames having a real knack for creating a collection of charming rogues and a vibrant, interesting world for them to live in. Told from the perspective of Clay we see the world through the eyes of a minor player, a regular guy swept up into a greater event and forced to return to the violence he struggled to leave behind. Clay is the sensible heart of the group, violent but fiercely loyal and stubborn. Often equipped with nothing more than his trusty shield he relies on a combination of brute force, dumb luck and his wits in the face of constant peril.
The fight scenes have a real sense of adventure and fun, often accompanied by Clay’s humorous observations. And there’s a nice subversion of some of the genre conventions, with the fights being chaotic, haphazard affairs and a distinct lack of noble posturing.
The beasts are savage, the enemies menacing and the whole book fizzes with energy, I flew through the pages and Eames never lets the pace sag. That’s not to say that he doesn’t inject emotions into the mix, with there being a touching side to the group, an old school, unspoken bond between them. Clay is shown to have greater depths than his stoic exterior suggests, and a keen observer of those around him. There’s also his fear of losing himself to his own inner monster and urge to do good, which make him a likeable and identifiable character, as surely everyone has negative aspects and urges they have to fight against.
The rock and roll aspect allows for plenty of little nods and gags. I liked that Clay is given the same nickname as Eric Clapton, although he is dubbed Slowhand because he never seems to land the first punch in any fight. And there’s a nice running gag about Saga’s ill-fated bards which reminded me of Spinal Tap’s poor luck with drummers.
The sword and sorcery genre can take itself too seriously at times, but Eames’ use of humour and fast paced action makes this a great entry to the genre and a hugely entertaining read. There are similarities with the works of other writers (George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett), but this is it’s own book and I really hope that we get more from him, especially if they feature more of Saga’s adventures.
Verdict: Eames creates a really involving world and group of characters, and tells a simple story in a hugely entertaining way. It’s rare for an author to nail humour, action and emotion quite so well, and I recommend this to anyone who likes their fantasy with a bit of humanity. Great fun. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.