“Clay pushed his body off him and mumbled another apology – because, enemy or not, when you hit a man in the nuts with a magic hammer the least you could say was sorry”.
Wow, I had an absolute blast while reading this book! In a world where being in a band of mercenaries is comparable to being a rock star, this story follows Clay Cooper, a former member of the famed mercenary group “Saga”, who is called out of retirement when his old friend Gabe shows up on his door step. Far from the fearless leader he once was, he pleads to Clay to help him get the old band back together one last time in an attempt to rescue his daughter Rose from inside the walls of a city on the brink of being overtaken by monsters. Full of extremely charismatic characters, thrilling action, hilarious dialogue and a whole lot of heart to boot, Nicholas Eames’ debut novel is one of the best modern fantasies I have read in a while, and I can’t wait to see what he gives us next!
I am a huge sucker for stories centered around a tight-knit groups of friends and the snarky banter they share along their journey, and in that respect this book did not disappoint at all. First off, I thought that Clay Cooper was a fantastic, and somewhat non-traditional, protagonist. Rather than being the glorious leader of his band as one might expect in a story such as this, he is instead a more grounded, humble and supportive character, and it was very refreshing to view this kind of story from that perspective. Sporting a heart of gold, a big-ass shield and an endearingly dry sense of humor, Clay was the perfect emotional rock for his friends as well as for us readers. Other stand out characters (for me) included the band’s eccentric wizard Moog and their rogue, turned king, turned rogue again, Matrick. The two brought just the right amount of light-hearted energy to this novel, which is not to say that the band’s other members Gabe and Ganelon were poorly written. I simply didn’t find their individual personalities to be quite as interesting, and it was instead in how their personalities played off of all the others that they really got to shine! Amongst all the laughs and heart-pounding action, I was caught off guard by how many moments of love and emotional vulnerability there were between these friends, and there was more than one occasion where I was nearly brought to the brink of tears.
While this book’s characters and story were all great, I think the thing that really elevated them was the style in which they were written. Much like how Clay was a non-traditional protagonist, the writing style of this novel was also decidedly non-traditional for this fantasy, swords and shields, sort of genre. Eames injects a very modern energy and vocabulary into his story, and I found it to be a very entertaining and refreshing departure from what fans of fantasy usually come to expect from these sorts of books. He also has a real knack to translating action on to the page. While sometimes I find that fight sequences in literature can quickly become muddled if not communicated with clarity and energy, this never seemed to be a problem for Eames. All of his action flowed smoothly and was present just enough to to keep things exciting without detracting from the story’s quieter moments.
I also really appreciated the pacing in this novel. No fuss, no muss, the reader was given the novel’s premise and the band was set on their quest by chapter 4 (page 25). If anything, this book reminded me a lot of a particularly well-written campaign of Dungeon & Dragons (and speaking as someone who plays D&D, I mean that in the best possible way). A rag-tag group of assholes (who will here-after be referred to as “heroes”) who all fill a specific tactical role are given a quest, and meet various quirky characters along the way as they desperately attempt not to die before reaching their destination? I can definitely see the similarities! However, if I had to nit-pick about anything with the pacing it would be that there were a couple of emotional story beats that felt slightly rushed, and might have benefited from just a bit more time devoted to them.
Also, this has nothing to do with the book itself, but did you guys know that Nicholas Eames made a playlist for his novel that corresponds with each chapter, featuring songs from the Rolling Stones, Final Fantasy Advent Children, and Janis Joplin (just to name a few)? Because I am only just discovering this, and it’s amazing. Here is the link if you want to check it out! : https://nicholaseames.com/soundtrack/
So trust me, you really don’t want to miss this book. It was a ridiculously fun adventure that I couldn’t put down and I feel confident in saying that Eames is one of the most talented new voices in the fantasy genre today. 4.5/5