“We slept beside them, fought beside them, bled beside them. We trusted them to watch backs and save our asses – which they did, time and time again. And somewhere out there, between one gig and the next, something changed. We woke up one day and realized that home was no longer behind us.”
I have to confess that when I first finished Nicholas Eames’ debut novel “Kings of the Wyld”, I was very disappointed when it was made clear that its’ sequel would not follow said book’s main band of heroes. I had become so attached to Clay Cooper and the other members of Saga that I was skeptical of whether or not Eames would be able to create an (almost) entirely new core cast that was just as likable and engaging as his first. Well… I have never been so happy to be so wrong. This novel managed to take every high standard that its’ predecessor had set and surpassed it. Tam Hashford, this story’s central protagonist, is unsatisfied with her quiet life serving drinks to the bands of mercenaries that pass through her pub, and yearns for an adventure of her own. Until one day the opportunity presents itself when the revered mercenary band “Fable”, lead by none other than Bloody Rose, comes into town and she manages to snag a spot as their bard. This novel does everything a good sequel should do: it takes all of the elements that made the original great (be it the plot, the characters, the themes, etc) and builds upon them while still forging its own identity, and I am truly blown away by how well Eames’ has managed to out-do himself.
I thought that Tam was an positively delightful main character, and in many ways may have even surpassed Clay Cooper (at least in how she functioned as a protagonist). Being as foreign to the ins-and-outs to life as a mercenary as we are, her character very effectively allowed the reader to take-in this thrilling new world and its’ rag-tag inhabitants along with her. Of course in the previous novel Clay had his moments of vulnerability too, but he had already “been around the block” to some extent when it came to this sort of life. With Tam, her growth felt so much more dramatic, and her inexperience only highlighted her courage even more when she was prepared to run head-first into danger time and time again to protect those she cared about… all the while sporting an endearing level of snark that I couldn’t help but love.
Which brings me to what I absolutely loved the most about this novel: the supporting cast of characters. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Saga in the previous novel, but there were definitely a couple of characters who weren’t quite as distinct or well developed as others, and I recall occasionally having issues differentiating them when first starting said book. Now let’s take a look at Fable’s roster in “Bloody Rose”: a gigantic twinglaive-wielding shaman who can transform into a bear, a summoner who uses her tattoos to create monsters made out of her own flesh, a ferocious redhead who dual-wields magical flaming scimitars, and her immortal rabbit-eared lover who somehow manages to be the most normal one of the bunch… oh, and of course their irritable satyr manager. Every single of these characters was so distinct and enjoyable in their own way and somehow, over the span of just one novel, Eames was able to give each of them a complete story arc with compelling character development and satisfying conclusions. There’s a considerable number of authors who can’t successfully achieve that over multiple-book series! I’d like to take a moment to give particular praise to my favorite character, Brune: the aforementioned shape-shifting bear man. I don’t have some deep insightful reason for him being my favorite… I just loved him. He was sweet, funny, sensitive and fiercely loyal to his friends. Much like in “Kings of the Wyld”, it was the bond between these band-members that served as the emotional core of this story, and it consistently ran me through the full gamut of emotions just as much as the first novel. Whether you’re crying from laughter or from one of this book’s many heart-wrenching moments, it’s probably for the best that you just keep a box of tissues within arm’s reach.
As to be expected, Eames’ writing is still consistently entertaining in it’s fusion of modern and classic styles in the fantasy genre, it’s flowing action, it’s perfect banter and it’s pacing. Not to sound like a broken record, but in “Kings of the Wyld”, Eames made it clear that he understands that as long as reader knows the core concept of the novel’s premise, than there’s no point in dilly-dallying in sending the heroes on their quest, and I was happy to see that that wisdom carried into this novel as well. Once the ball got rolling it truly didn’t stop until the end, making it nearly impossible to put it down.
Still riding the high of having just finished “Bloody Rose”, I am really kicking myself for having a spoiler-free format to my reviews, because all I want to do is gush about every shocking twist, every emotional gut-punch and every shining character moment in this novel. So please, do us both a favor and go read it. Another great thing about this novel is that while it is technically a sequel, it can definitely be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone without isolating individuals who may not have read it’s predecessor (although I find it hard to believe that anyone could read “Bloody Rose” and not be immediately clamoring for the book that came before it if they hadn’t read it already). Now it’s simply a matter of waiting patiently to see what Nicolas Eames gives us fantasy lovers next… but in the meantime, I will placing “Bloody Rose” on my highly coveted ‘favorites’ shelf where it has rightfully earned its’ place. (5/5)