Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames is Legend...wait for it...dary. So legendary, in fact, that The Boys are Back in Town by Thin Lizzy was on constant repeat in my head while reading it. Hell, I even thought about just reprinting the lyrics to the song and forgoing a proper review altogether. But cooler heads prevailed, and here I am sharing what is one of my favorite books now and is one of the most enjoyable experiences I had reading something in a long time.
Let me tell you about a little band named Saga and known for their deeds and misdeeds the land over. This band consists of five legendary mercenaries, thugs for hire who have slashed, bashed, magicked, and screwed their way across the empire of Grandual. And while this could have been a token machismo fest, it isn't. Eames humanized each character and added depth and breadth to them, which allowed them to be more than caricatures of who people wanted to emulate, and everyone wanted to be with.
“Among them is a renegade king, he who sired five royal heirs without ever unzipping his pants. A man to whom time has imparted great wisdom and an even greater waistline, whose thoughtless courage is rivalled only by his unquenchable thirst.
At his shoulder walks a sorcerer, a cosmic conversationalist. Enemy of the incurable rot, absent chairman of combustive sciences at the university in Oddsford, and the only living soul above the age of eight to believe in owlbears.
Look here at a warrior born, a scion of power and poverty whose purpose is manifold: to shatter shackles, to murder monarchs, and to demonstrate that even the forces of good must sometimes enlist the service of big, bad motherfuckers. His is an ancient soul destined to die young.
And now comes the quiet one, the gentle giant, he who fights his battles with a shield. Stout as the tree that counts its age in aeons, constant as the star that marks true north and shines most brightly on the darkest nights.
A step ahead of these four: our hero. He is the candle burnt down to the stump, the cutting blade grown dull with overuse. But see now the spark in his stride. Behold the glint of steel in his gaze. Who dares to stand between a man such as this and that which he holds dear? He will kill, if he must, to protect it. He will die, if that is what it takes.
“Go get the boss,” says one guardsman to another. “This bunch looks like trouble.”
And they do. They do look like trouble, at least until the wizard trips on the hem of his robe. He stumbles, cursing, and fouls the steps of the others as he falls face-first onto the mud-slick hillside.”
But that was 19 years ago. Their time in the sun has turned to shade. Time, that bitch of a mistress, has changed things for them. They have gotten greyer, older, slower, and in some cases wiser. But not really. They are warriors of old staring at middle age, wondering where the hell the last two decades went.
The story starts thus, Clay Cooper an ex-mercenary, now just a regular fellow with a family and responsibilities receives the inevitable knock upon his door. He opens it to find his ex-bandmate and brother in arms Gabriel. Gabriel is in a tizzy as his beloved daughter Rose has run off seeking fortune and fame, just like dear old Dad. The only problem is that she could be in grave danger, the kind of trouble that you don't come back from. Clay immediately says no. He doesn't do that thing anymore. But, with the realization that he would do this and more, including burning the world to cinders, to save his own daughter, he decides that he is in. Let gets the band back together.
Thus begins the tale of finding and coercing the bandmates to leave their comfy lives; one is currently a king. And embark on a quest that will take them across the empire and into the heart of a wyld forest full of poisonous spiders, giants, and an owlbear or two.
The full force of Eames's creativity shines on every page of this story. Honestly, I think under any other writer this story could have gone two ways. It could have been sullen and mean, decrying the effects of aging. Or it could have all the depth of an AC/DC concert. Fun yes, but fun for fun's sake and lacking any gravitas and having the depth of a thimble. Instead, we have brotherhood and not a fake, forced brotherhood. Real people, with real issues, are forced to take an in-depth look into the mirror at their past deeds and the pain they caused.
“What was it about fathers, Clay wondered, that compelled so many of them to test their children? To insist that a daughter, or a son, prove themselves worthy of a love their mother offered without condition?”
Also, there is grand silliness to the narrative that Eames crafted. Kings of the Wyld has serious themes, but it can't take itself too seriously. I mean, cmon, Kings of the Wyld is a band of brothers slaying everything that dares to cross their path. You have to find things funny, gallows humor, or otherwise. Also, the conversations, bantering, and ripping on each other is brilliant. They come off as friends or at least individuals with a deep common history. In any other circumstance, they would probably not be friends, but life and shared goals have brought them together. So because they are in this awful situation that they will probably not survive, it is entirely prudent that they poke fun at each other at every convenient moment.
“How do I look?” he asked.
Barret grinned. “Old.”
Moog glanced over appraisingly. “Tired.”
Gabriel snorted a laugh. “Fuck you guys.”
Each of the band members has a weapon of destruction, including Moog, the band's magician whose bag of tricks is literally a bag of tricks. Each weapon they wield has obtained its own legendary status. And much like the legendary warriors who wield these objects of destruction, they also play a part in the story. It is all very Dungeons and Dragons, but a very accessible Dungeons and Dragons for the masses that also involves the “fuck yeah” of 1980s metal bands. Eames made everything so fun and accessible. I think that even the greatest fantasy hater would enjoy this book and understand, at least for a few minutes, why people play Dungeons and Dragons and read fantasy.
This story is fantastical, Kings of the Wyld has all the right parts blended together by a brilliant storyteller that has you traveling with delight page to page. Bring me, Moog. Bring me, Gabriel. Bring me owlbears! This is a splendid book that I cannot recommend enough.
Let us destroy those in front of us and search for glory!