The Hive Reads… Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
Welcome to the fifth instalment of our ‘Hive Reads’ feature! (You can read the others here.) After settling on Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames as our May read, a bunch of us here at the Hive diligently noted down our thoughts whilst reading throughout the month. You can read the end result below! Though do beware: spoilers abound.
This month’s read is brought to you by the fabulous team of T. Eric Bakutis, T.O. Munro, Dorian Hart, Julia Kitvaria Sarene, T L Greylock, G.D. Penman, Beth Hindmarch, James Latimer, A.Z. Anthony and Laura M. Hughes.
Laura Hughes: Welcome, everyone, to the latest Hive Read! This time we’re getting stuck into Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames. As always, let’s begin with first impressions. What are everyone’s thoughts on the cover?
Julia Kitvaria Sarene: While I like the cover, the book is a lot more fun oriented than the cover made it seem. Plenty of humour, not so much “serious action scenes”.
Dorian Hart: I think the cover is all about the “rock band” conceit. The title is literally displayed using the “Heavy Metal” font, and the “band members” are arrayed in a classic album-cover arrangement. The image doesn’t say “humorous content in here,” but it does give a strong hint as to the book’s “schtick.”
T. Eric Bakutis: I think the cover rocks. It definitely works as a metal band cover, but also as the cover of a book I’d decide I want to read. It also looks like the concept art for a decent hack-and-slash RPG, which I appreciated.
G.D. Penman: The cover isn’t a great fit for the story, but I’m glad they leaned more towards the “grimdark” aesthetic than trying something humorous. I’d hate for people to pick this book up thinking it was like Pratchett when nothing could be further from the truth. The cover sets up the whole band schtick quite well without beating you over the head with it, which is also pretty representative of the book, which laid out that concept with something resembling subtlety.
A.Z. Anthony: The image, on its own, is pretty cool. That being said, I would not have chosen it myself (fully aware trad pub authors often have very little or no say in this). It’s a bit ambiguous as to what’s going on in the story. It does convey the “band” aspect, which isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t tell us much about the characters. Given, that’s no easy thing to achieve from a cover. Maybe a cover just needs to look cool, which this one most certainly does.
James Latimer: I mean, it’s Richard Anderson, who’s sorta the Holy Grail right now. ‘Nuff said.
Beth Hindmarch: I have to say I rather like the cover; just like the book itself I think it balances the whole “rock band” quirk with the more serious story-telling. There’s plenty on that cover (the font, the layout on the back, “the boys are back in town”) that alludes to the fun aspects. But the characters are depicted as quite world weary, down beaten, older warriors. Theirs is a story I absolutely want to know more about. Huge kudos to Richard Anderson for what he was able to portray.
Laura: Some really interesting thoughts here. Let’s move on to that which the cover is depicting: the characters. What are everyone’s opinions on Clay, Moog, Ganelon and the rest?
Eric: To start, we’ll have to discuss the band itself: Clay (who is obviously the bassist, supporting the others while never hogging the spotlight), Gabriel (he’s gotta be the lead singer, flashy and entirely dependent on the band to back him up), Matrick (the guy wields dual drumsticks – I mean knives – and his name is literally the Skulldrummer) and Moog, who has to be the keyboardist and also the guy who ends up randomly playing a cowbell or tambourine on one track out of the album. That means Ganelon is obviously the ego-driven lead guitarist (and, of course, has a beef with his bandmates after they broke up). That combined with the “I’m too old for this shit” band of adventurers reuniting for one last hurrah should sell anyone on this book, and it certainly sold me.
T.O. Munro: I love the characters in the band and the way they match up. The rock band metaphor is so great – it puts me in mind of the fake rockumentary “This is Spinal Tap” about a rock band on their last big tour. Even the frailty of Saga’s bards is like a reference to Spinal Tap’s drummers – who were also extremely short-lived.
Julia: While I liked the characters I didn’t fully click with any of them. I was interested and happy to follow them along, but I can’t say I wouldn’t have been bothered if any of them would have died. They were entertaining all right, but a bit “interchangeable” for me.
Laura: I kind of get what you’re saying. I feel like just as we’re beginning to connect with one, another is introduced, and the previous characters then get somewhat lost in the shuffle. It helped that Clay’s POV kept everything together, though, and Clay himself is a very sympathetic protagonist (or so I thought).
T.O.: I actually found them all refreshingly distinctive. The Magnificent Seven approach to re-building up the band one at a time certainly helped us get to know each character individually – but even without that they were very distinguishable.
Eric: I really liked the characters, and after reading the interview with Nicholas Eames at the end, I was pretty happy I got their roles (in the band) right. I’m also a fan of worlds where there’s more heroes than those you see on the page, and I loved that there were just so many badasses in addition to Saga and those who helped them out (like Vanguard, and Jain and the Silk Arrows).
Laura: Agreed, Eric! Jain and the Silk Arrows made me laugh a lot, and one particularly timely intervention of Vanguard actually gave me goosebumps.
T.O.: Of the fringe characters, I have a soft spot for Tiamax – for his exceptional insectoid otherness and also for my favourite innuendo (amongst many innuendos):
“I won’t sleep with you because you’re a fucking bug is why.”
“A bug with six hands, my dear. Think on it.”
T L Greylock (Taya): Haha, yes, Tiamax was a great deal of fun.
T.O.: And also – for reasons of my own – Dinantra: “Clay found her strikingly beautiful for a woman with a headful of snakes.” – A headful of snakes – what’s not to like? 😉
Laura: Yes, we all know about your particular fondness for medusas, T.O.. 😉 I thought of you when I read that scene, too!
If you ask me, though, Kings of the Wyld is all about Clay Cooper. What a hero!
A.Z.: What immediately struck me was Clay’s fighting style. I know there’re some heavy DnD vibes here, but I dug seeing a different fighting style. Also, I’m always a fan of shield bashing people in the face. Non-lethal? Check. Hurts like hell? Check. Looks cool? Check, check, check. That’s not particularly character-y, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to talk about. Oh, and also the kobold we meet early in the story. I was unreasonably sympathetic to that little guy. I wanted to see him do well and his story was only touched on briefly. Of course, that makes sense — this isn’t his story. All I’m saying is, can we get a happy ending for him via short story or novella?
Eric: For me, Clay was the perfect POV character – he was enough outside the main plot (rescuing Gabriel’s daughter, Rose) to provide a believable perspective on things, but close enough that he provided what felt like unique insight. I also like that Clay had the most to lose – unlike the other members of Saga, he alone had a relatively good life – a great relationship with his wife, a whip smart daughter, and a comfortable existence. The fact that he risked losing all that to help Gabriel rescue HIS daughter (at the risk of almost certain death) made me really like him and empathize with his worries. I also like that Ginny (Clay’s wife) supported him, and Clay only went with Gabe once they made the decision together. Their relationship felt healthy and real, even though Ginny isn’t in the book for much of it, and I appreciated the focus on a healthy, equal pairing between two people.
A.Z.: I have to agree with this sentiment, Eric. This struggle in the beginning felt painfully real to me. Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have blamed Clay had he decided to stay home.
T.O.: I liked the fathers and daughters theme: Gabe and Rose, Clay and Tally. There is a quote from Peter V .Brett’s The Daylight War – “You are my daughter. I would love you if you put out the sun.” – which sums up nicely that distinctive strength of paternal devotion to a daughter. But I also really liked the fact that neither Rose nor Tally are passive princesses waiting for dad to arrive on a white charger. Although we glimpse each of them but briefly, these are daughters with their own agency, which somehow throws the whole ‘aging heroes on a rescue mission’ into even sharper relief.
Neither Rose nor Tally are passive princesses waiting for dad to arrive on a white charger. Although we glimpse each of them but briefly, these are daughters with their own agency, which somehow throws the whole ‘aging heroes on a rescue mission’ into even sharper relief.
– T.O. Munro
Eric: I also liked that Clay almost didn’t go with Gabriel despite his wife’s agreement – now having a child myself (3 years old), I get that conflict. Clay wants to help his friend, but at the same time, he doesn’t want to leave his daughter an orphan or abandon his wife. So while Clay didn’t necessarily have the most to lose (that would likely be Gabriel, given Rose is all he has) he certainly had skin in the game, and that worked for me. I liked him more because I found myself questioning if I would go, in his place.
G.D.: The characters are both the book’s saving grace and where the problems start for me. I really enjoyed the conversations and the wit inherent to each of the different members of Saga. The dialogue between them is what kept me reading. Clay’s emotional journey has been done to death in a million action movies through the years, but his parent-child bond gave this book its best emotional beats. The chatter between the band members, even at inopportune moments, felt genuine and were probably the main reason that I enjoyed this book.
Clay’s emotional journey has been done to death in a million action movies through the years, but his parent-child bond gave this book its best emotional beats.
– G.D. Penman
That said, what is Eames’ problem with women? There is a real madonna/whore complex running through this story, and while there are a few outliers like Jain, most of the women exist solely as a prize or gender coded monster. The ice queen cuckoldress, the junkie ex, the overwhelming seductress turning men into slaves… I understand that Eames may be trying to evoke an aging rockstar theme, but it is a shame he did it at the expense of the female characters.
James: I definitely see that.
Eric: I wasn’t crazy about the way the book leaned a little too hard on the “crazy/irrational wife” trope. Though Ginny (Clay’s wife) is a wonderfully balanced character, the two other wives we meet are an absentee mother drug addict and a calculating, homicidal ice queen. While this is nicely counterbalanced by Jain and the Silk Arrows (the aforementioned polite thieves who are, seriously, just great) the once manly man who cowers before his irrational/angry wife is a trope I’d like to see go away forever. While this does provide opportunities for comedy and make it easy for Matrick and Gabriel to take off on the quest to save Rose (Gabe’s daughter), I wish the book had picked another way to send them off.
Laura: Yes, I had to admit that I found myself lamenting this at times myself. Hopefully the next book, Bloody Rose, will be a lot more female-centred and positive.
G.D.: I’m also not sure how the “making a reference to something is the same as making a joke” contagion infected this book, but whatever moments of humour I was able to derive from the dialogue were soon forgotten in the midst of smashed pumpkins and guitar names. By the end of the book they were more likely to draw a sigh than a laugh as they felt like someone repeatedly asking if you got the joke. Yes, they are in a “band.” We all got it.
Laura: A friend of mine, who is a musician, mentioned something similar, and said it pulled him out of the story. For me, though – who admittedly knows f*ck all about music and bands – the references went enough over my head that I barely even noticed them. Which was totally fine, as it turns out.
Beth: Wow, some conflicting opinions on the characters! Like T.O, I absolutely loved the father-children relationships; not only Clay and Gabe’s with their daughters but also Matrick and his brood. It was so refreshing to read male characters in this position of vulnerability, to see them as caring parents. It’s not something I’ve come across often in fantasy.
I absolutely loved the father-children relationships; not only Clay and Gabe’s with their daughters but also Matrick and his brood. It was so refreshing to read male characters in this position of vulnerability, to see them as caring parents. It’s not something I’ve come across often in fantasy.
– Beth Hindmarch
Taya: Agreed, specifically regarding Matrick. While the relationships Clay and Gabe have with their daughters are endearing, I found Matrick’s loyalty to these children that aren’t his hit a great sweet spot: both touching and quite humorous. But I do share, perhaps to a lesser extent, G.D.’s concern with the treatment of the female characters–beyond Jain, who was fantastic–especially in hindsight.
Beth: G.D. has opened my eyes quite a bit, as I hadn’t really thought about the female characters in that way. I liked that there wasn’t a “token woman” in the band, that instead we had Jain (the Kirby Sockrobber), highway woman with a heart of gold. I loved her a little bit. Lot. Whatever. I also liked the variation of representation in the “wives”; Ginny who has weathered through the hard times to get her family to where they are; Val who is maybe seeking oblivion from choices she regrets (she reminded me so much of Jenny from Forrest Gump in the Freebird scene); Lilith who played the “damsel in distress” as part of her political machinations…
I think Ganelon was a big surprise for me. I spent the whole book thinking he was going to do one thing, and he didn’t… Suffice to say I think grimdark has ruined all fantasy for me. I’ve become a paranoid, cynical reader. I absolutely cared about the characters and their plight; I feared for them, hoped for them.
I absolutely cared about the characters and their plight; I feared for them, hoped for them.
– Beth Hindmarch
Eric: In addition to twisting the fantasy tropes and putting the band overlay on it, there’s a veil of civility over many interactions in this book that’s honestly refreshing. It’s the opposite of grimdark. In one scene, the band respectfully buries the dead of the party that just attacked them (that’s just good sportsmanship) and even the thieves robbing them respect the band’s hard-won artifacts, compliment them on their bravery, and share their own breakfast with them before stealing it away. I love that this world is full of so many random warriors (some of which we only hear about by name) and that killing monsters is a mundane task (as it is in an MMO) rather than some divine calling. The book feels fully aware of fantasy tropes, and has a lot of fun with them.
James: All I have to add is that, at some point it seemed like there were too many characters. I like a tighter focus, so maybe it’s just me, but I feel like my main complaint with the book was the author trying to pull too many characters who should have remained in the background, defined only by their relationships with The Band, into their own little stories. Now, I know all characters are supposed to be 3D and fully-realised and all, but at some point they started to distract from the story and slow down the plot. I could have done with less of that other band that kept rescuing them, the Ettin, the cannibal, even to some extent the amnesiac harpy/succubus woman (though she was also awesome).
A lot of this (as well as the portrayal women as commented on above) is, I believe, a sign that he is a first-timer. Sebastien de Castell had similar issues with women in his debut, I think (characters, not as much, iirc).
In addition to twisting the fantasy tropes and putting the band overlay on it, there’s a veil of civility over many interactions in this book that’s honestly refreshing. It’s the opposite of grimdark.
– T. Eric Bakutis
Laura: Wow. As Beth pointed out, there are some really conflicting (and very well articulated) opinions on the characters here. Thanks for your thoughts, guys!
Moving on to the book’s structure and pacing: did Kings of the Wyld keep you turning the pages? Why/why not?
Julia: If this book works for you, it’s because you like the humour. The characters are touring through the wilds like metal bands, and people celebrate their victories. It’s all a bit absurd, but fun. While it didn’t fully work for me (I’m not a big concert fan though) as I just couldn’t take the story too serious and therefore never sat on the edge of my seat going “oh my what will happen next?”. I was chuckling quite a few times and don’t regret the time spent, but some of the (male) humour just went straight by me and had me rolling my eyes. (Like an assassin not being able to do his job as he tries to hide an erection behind a cushion. Haha… *rolls eyes*)
All in all it was a fun, fast read, but I won’t pick up a sequel.
If this book works for you, it’s because you like the humour. The characters are touring through the wilds like metal bands, and people celebrate their victories. It’s all a bit absurd, but fun.
– Julia Kitvaria Sarene
Beth: I agree with Julia about the knob gags, but I don’t feel the book used humour as a crutch or anything. I became invested in the characters themselves, which made me sit on the edge of my seat, terrified of the next betrayal.
Laura: While I wasn’t quite as invested in the characters as Beth, I also didn’t feel as distant from them as Julia. Though I have to disagree with you both about the knob gags. I love a good knob gag…
Eric: The pacing and humor (as well as the genuinely touching moments interspersed) absolutely worked for me. It’s the type of balance I strive for in my own work (Explosions! And feelings! And more explosions!) and while I did laugh out loud at many scenes, including those dealing with erectile dysfunction potions (I’ll admit, it’s guy humor) I also liked that there were some more somber moments as well. In particular, the characters of Gregor and Dane (the guest-starring ettin) really stuck with me, especially how the scene detailing their final fate was written.
T.O.: I thought the ettin(s?) was/were (both) lovely. Beautifully mournfully played.
Eric: I’ve seen others describe Kings of the Wyld as a comedy with surprising bits of heart, and I definitely felt that way in several scenes. Pacing wise, I was hooked all the way through. I liked the way the book built to increasing levels of danger and humor, and remained hooked until the end.
The pacing and humor (as well as the genuinely touching moments interspersed) absolutely worked for me. It’s the type of balance I strive for in my own work.
– T. Eric Bakutis
T.O.: I found it well paced, a good balance between pell-mell action and more leisurely reflection. I also liked the fact that – even though there is a sequel – this is a standalone novel with so many threads brought to a very satisfactory conclusion.
I found Kings of the Wyld well paced, a good balance between pell-mell action and more leisurely reflection. I also liked the fact that – even though there is a sequel – this is a standalone novel with so many threads brought to a very satisfactory conclusion.
– T.O. Munro
Its long journey out and truncated return reminded me of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings – there is always the Shire to come back to (hopefully). The fact that along the way a thief attempts to steal a stone from a sleeping dragon felt like an even greater nod in Bilbo’s direction.
Laura: Good spot, T.O.! I didn’t even pick up on that.
G.D: The book doesn’t have much in the way of structure. It genuinely feels more like someone writing out the exploits of their D&D party rather than a planned novel; it gives it a free-wheeling quality that I appreciate but it also means that there is very little in the way of payoff for any of the many things that are set up in the earlier acts. Even when things do pay off, they are disjointed and irrelevant.
Beth: I agree with G.D., the “free-wheeling quality”… But for me this served to leave me guessing at what would happen next and whether they’d ever make it to Castia. Do you ever have one of those days when you’ve got to get X, Y and Z done and the world just seems hell bent on getting in your way? You get stuck behind a tractor on the way into town, then the bank is closed, then you find Y in the fourth shop you try and discover you left your purse at home… That’s kind of what the plot felt like and I just ached for poor Gabe.
I did find it easy to read, I found the “free-wheeling” pace ticked along at a fair old click and I was surprised by just how much was packed in each chapter. I can’t think of any instance where I felt the story dragged. I’m glad Eames avoided using flashbacks or shifts in POV; I usually love these devices, but with so much going on here I think they’d have been a bad choice.
James: I have to agree a bit with it lacking structure, and I think it really lost some impetus when they finally got into the Wyld (ironically). I expected it to be a lot more linear, but the fact that it surprised me was often a good thing (just not the part with the cannibals and the druggie troll).
Laura: I wasn’t a huge fan of that part, either. On the whole, though, I found the book to be a really fun ride.
Speaking of the Wyld (as James was): what are everyone’s thoughts on Eames’ worldbuilding?
Dorian: As far as world-building goes, Eames definitely established that this is a monster-filled D&D-ish world, but one of my favorite bits of world-building was the frogs Clay’s daughter brings home. We’ve already heard mentions of all sorts of odd creatures roaming the countryside, but even the innocent little frogs have wing-buds. Someday they could grow into flying frogs. The unnatural fauna of the world isn’t weird critters coming in from outside; it’s built right into the bones of the setting.
Julia: I loved all the different creatures and the traveling; that felt nicely old school to me. The fact that those “bands” travel around and are treated like rockstars just felt off to me on the other hand. There was plenty of deep info in some places (all those nice creatures!) but in other parts I felt things stayed a bit grey.
Eric: As a long-time gamer (and game developer) the world felt less like D&D (though I can see that comparison!) and more like the worlds in MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. There were a ton of heroes (just like there are a ton of players in MMORPGs) and a seemingly endless number of monsters to be slain, but slaying those monsters was something a large number of people did and monster targets were even parcelled out like quests yielding experience and gold. (But there was a bonus – the monsters were actually sympathetic at times – so again, there’s that unexpected bit of heart). Anyway, there’s a touch of LitRPG in this world even if it’s not framed that way, and that combined with the aesthetic of mixing rock and metal bands with monster slayers really, really worked for me. It’s a concept I wish I’d thought of, and I loved the world Eames created with it.
Dorian: Also as a long time gamer and game developer, I felt the book’s first half was a pretty even split between D&D and MMORPGs. Owlbears, gnolls, and chimeras (chimerae?) are all classic D&D monsters, and the world felt like it’d been populated by a huge wandering monster table from an old-school DM’s guide. Adventurers going on quests to kill monsters for loot is classic D&D. But all of your points regarding MMORPGs are accurate, Eric. Likewise, the D&D/MMORPG theme is fairly well balanced with the adventuring-parties-as-rock-bands theme. It’s a hugely entertaining combination.
As a long time gamer and game developer, I felt the book’s first half was a pretty even split between D&D and MMORPGs. Owlbears, gnolls, and chimeras (chimerae?) are all classic D&D monsters, and the world felt like it’d been populated by a huge wandering monster table from an old-school DM’s guide.
– Dorian Hart
Eric: OMG, I noticed that too, and I absolutely giggled when the Owlbear finally showed up. An Owlbear. Finally! Moog was over the moon.
Beth: I was messaging Michael Everest throughout my read (knowing what a big fan of the book he is) and on the subject of owlbears:
Me: Are they real?? Well, you know, in terms of the book
Mike: No. Moog finds a bloke pretending to be one. Matrick is that man. Clay shrugs. And Gabe gets confused by it all. Whilst doing his hairZ.
Dorian: 80% in, and the D&D Monster Manual has greatly increased its representation: in addition to owlbears, gnolls, and chimeras, we’ve now seen or heard about goblins, kobolds, ettins, gelatinous cubes (“crypt slimes,” but Eames isn’t fooling anyone), rakshasas, trolls, ettercaps, devas, treants, and lycanthropes. (And I feel like I’m still missing some…)
Laura: Giants! Don’t forget the giants.
Any other observations? T.O.?
T.O.: Dammit, the band’s name is Saga. SAGA ffs. The husband of a work colleague of mine once went to work for Human Resources in Saga the company, which – at the time – was simply a holiday/travel company for the over 50s!
So our superannuated band on their journey through the Wyld is named not just for an epic story type, but for a travel company specialising in holiday tours for superannuated 50-somethings (amongst which I now count myself, just in case anyone accuses me of ageism).
I just love that connection, which surely can’t be accidental – or maybe it was a fluke and I’m just spotting links where there are none!
Then again, I’m sure Clay and Gabe and the rest would not be giving the Wyld too great a write-up on Trip Advisor.
Beth: OH MY GOD THE HOLIDAY PEOPLE
Laura: Haha! What an amazing coincidence, if coincidence it is.
I know not everyone was as enamoured with the world of Kings of the Wyld, though. Anyone want to jump in with any dissenting thoughts?
G.D.: Here is where my real gripes with this book begin. It lacks any originality in its setting, being little more than an amalgam of Dungeons and Dragons and the World of Warcraft with the “Rock Band” idea slapped on top.
I’m unclear how many of the underlying themes of the book are deliberate. Because so much of the world sees to have been constructed by regurgitating pop culture fantasy, I wonder how many of those themes are just a mish-mash of parts from better stories that were previously consumed.
A few that really pissed me off:
Including two gay men in the whole book, having one already dead from a disease that nobody in the setting seemed to care about seeking a cure for, and the other infected with it and slowly dying. (A disease that some rock stars pick up while on tour, no less.) Did Eames intend to have an AIDS allegory in his fantasy romp? Did he intend the later reveal that getting stoned with a “witch doctor” was the cure to AIDS? Because that is what is in the text.
Implying that the younger generation are all soft and that because of them lacking the testicular fortitude to fling themself into warfare every few weeks the world is going to end. Was that really his intention? To repeat the old lie that we need constant war to keep civilisation strong?
James: I don’t think this was the actual message there, because we start to discover that the whole ‘us vs. them’ of the civilisation-v-monsters is a set-up; a lot of the monsters are simply trying to live their own lives, and a lot of the band’s stories are about how they lucked into things – it’s more a standard critique of rock music becoming more manufactured than anything deep, for my money.
G.D.: I honestly don’t know if these are the author’s subconscious biases slipping in, or if he is genuinely espousing these ideas, but things like this are the reason this book annoyed the hell out of me. Don’t write a book without thinking about what you want it to say.
Laura: Definitely food for thought, G.D. I have to admit that much of this didn’t occur to me while I was reading; in fact, the only thing that really annoyed me was when Clay was able to magically regrow his lost hand. (I’d been looking forward to seeing how he would deal with such a debilitating condition, and how it would impact him and those around him.)
Beth: Like G.D. I wondered if “the rot” was an allegory for AIDs also. But with regards to the younger generation, I had the impression that the reason they “played arenas” was because monsters had to be bred as their numbers had been decimated by the bands of the past? So the reason they’re “soft” etc is because the world is a less monster-filled place these days? Contradictorily… all the monsters are outside Castia…
The world-building felt secondary to me; it was all about the characters and their motivations. I’ve never actually got round to properly DnDing, and I was more of an Elder Scrolls girl than World of Warcraft; so I guess all these references and mashing kind of went over my head.
Taya: Considering that it seems most of our crew has at least a familiarity with D&D and other game thingys (so technical)–if not a serious interest–I’ll add the perspective of someone who does not have that background:
Not having any D&D context to work off of may have actually been a good thing. I had no preconceived notions and, while I might have missed ALL THE REFERENCES, I didn’t know I was missing them, so in the end it didn’t matter. (And for the record, I caught enough of the rock band references to not feel like an idiot.) In exchange, the book was full of things that were new to me–owlbears, kobolds, etc.–and even the set-up (adventuring party slaying monsters) is, if perhaps not right up my alley, unfamiliar. So while G.D. found the similarities to games frustrating and unoriginal, for this uninitiated heathen, those elements were amusing and unproblematic.
Beth: What Taya said! I also thought owlbears were original to this book.
Dorian: I have an embarrassingly thorough familiarity with D&D, but the references amused me — I didn’t find them frustrating at all. Perhaps that’s because, for me, I didn’t feel like Eames was doing it gratuitously. I never had the sense of “HAW HAW LOOKIT ME WITH MY CLEVER REFERENCES.” It simply felt like they were there to be recognized and enjoyed, but they were never a focus, either implicitly or explicitly. I derived extra joy, not less, from the presence of owlbears.
I was in Taya’s boat regarding the music references. (I’m more of a classical music kind of guy.) I got “Moog” and “Fender” and a couple of others, but I suspect I missed dozens of smaller references throughout. My thought about that was: “I’ll bet more serious rock aficionados are delighting in some references I’m not getting — good for them!”
Taya: Tell me you got ‘Slow Hand’…
Laura: I didn’t…
Regarding what some of you guys have said about the setting of the Wyld itself, I’ll admit it did feel somewhat anticlimactic. I was prepared to be terrified, but our heroes never really felt like they were in peril.
A.Z.: The Wyld was my favorite part of the story when we heard about it from afar. But then we go there and I was unimpressed. That’s not to say some parts of it weren’t cool, but I just felt that we hear so much about how it’s this kickass, murderous, insane forest of nightmares, but then the characters arrive and spend large amounts of time tromping through it without facing certain death. I mean, I know this is Saga, but, well, I just expected more.
Beth: I agree with A.Z to a certain extent; I guess it’s difficult to live up to something once you’ve hyped it so much. But not everyone can write terrifying forests of nightmares like you, A.Z.!
Laura: I felt the same. However, I also felt that there was lots to like. Did anyone have any particular favourite moments?
A.Z.: Skyships? I’m always down (er…up?) for skyships. Always. The tidal engines were a very cool concept. I don’t understand how they worked (which we’re not supposed to) and I don’t care. They were the right mix of wonder, technology, and magic.
And the floating coliseum-meets-rock-concert arena was badass. Nothing more for it. Loved it.
Dorian: My god, the Maxithon battle with the chimera…an arena battle that was entertaining, efficiently told, full of details but giving the reader a clear sense of the action, and absolutely ridiculous in all the best ways.
Entertaining, efficiently told, full of details but giving the reader a clear sense of the action, and absolutely ridiculous in all the best ways.
– Dorian Hart
Beth: One aspect I did absolutely love was the druins, the ancient history, the fact that their actions became the basis of religion for humans. This idea that time can turn history into myth, how much truth is there in our legends? I loved this concept so much, that’s definitely an aspect of his world building I could have dived deeper into.
Laura: Agreed, Beth! Those aspects were fascinating. I look forward to (hopefully) learning even more in future books.
Moving on from the worldbuilding now (and towards the conclusion of this month’s impressively in-depth Hive Read!), what are everyone’s final thoughts on the plot itself?
Julia: It has been a while since I read Kings of the Wyld, and I don’t remember much about the plot itself anymore. So yeah… There is traveling and there is some action scenes and I do remember single scenes, but for overall plot there wasn’t so much in my eyes. The story really lives off its characters, humour and rock band innuendo, not so much from the plot.
Eric: To me, the plot built naturally, with increasingly large levels of danger and enjoyable battles. Ultimately, the plot starts out dirt simple – Clay wants to help Gabriel rescue his daughter, but must first get the band back together – and obstacle after obstacle gets in their way, with each obstacle (and battle/escape) being progressively bigger and badder. The first time the band gets back together, the “show” had almost as many casualties as a Dethklok concert, and I have to respect that.
I’ll be honest – I love this sort of book, so the plot worked for me, specifically, since that’s the type of story I enjoy. Again, I have to draw a comparison to modern videogames, and not just RPGs, but game narratives in general. You start out with an easy tutorial mission whacking kobolds with a stick and, by the end, you’re hopping from floating island to floating island with a glowing axe slaying a dozen giants. So while the plot wasn’t necessarily complex, it moved and developed at a good pace, and in particular, I liked that the antagonist had a genuinely understandable reason for doing what he did. I always hate villains who are evil for evil’s sake, and Lastleaf was definitely not that. He and the other antagonists were interesting (especially Larkspur) and I was never, ever bored.
Laura: Speaking of the conclusion: what did you think of the final battle?
Eric: The end battle was great. I loved that a random minotaur ended up being as tough to kill as the big bad, Lastleaf, and that Clay actually respected that. I love that the horn that spewed bees actually proved useful. I loved that they stuck a dragon in the ocean. And I *loved* that the running gag with “someone saw a centaur out by so-and-so’s farm” actually came full circle at the end of the book, with Tally (Clay’s daughter) killing it. I had completely given up on that joke, since it came so early, and was pleasantly amused when it paid off at the end.
G.D.: The plot, such as it was, bounced along at a steady pace, but because of the chaotic nature of the journey, nothing really had weight or significance attached to it. Was it fun seeing these characters that I liked being flung from one wild situation to the next? Absolutely. Was it coherent? Absolutely not.
The plot, such as it was, bounced along at a steady pace, but because of the chaotic nature of the journey, nothing really had weight or significance attached to it. Was it fun seeing these characters that I liked being flung from one wild situation to the next? Absolutely. Was it coherent? Absolutely not.
– G.D. Penman
A.Z.: Pretty much what Graeme said above. The plot felt somewhat disjointed and scattered. We were vaguely moving in a specific direction, and we eventually got there. I would have liked a tad more structure to the plot and most certainly more weight to consequences of encounters along the way. As it stands, the consequences are minimal at best — for the main characters, at least — despite insane amounts of danger.
That being said, there were awesome moments such as the dragon meeting its watery end, and did I mention skyships? Also, Eric mentioned the difficulty of taking down the minotaur at the end and I thought that was great. It’s very realistic that the other side can have a number of badasses, some, or most, who aren’t known to you.
Laura: Yes! That one-on-one fight with the determined minotaur was a real high point of the battle for me.
Dorian: “Scattered and disjointed?” I’d be curious to to hear more about that, as I felt the plot was about as simple and direct as could be. The opening chapters set out: “This book is going be about reforming the band and going on a rescue.” Then Clay and Gabe track down the remaining three band members. Then they go on said rescue, always heading toward their destination by the most direct available route at the time. Sure, there are side-tracks and diversions, but that’s what makes every book more interesting than the barest spine of its plot.
I agree about the lack of consequences given the danger levels. KotW had the trappings of constant peril, but from its tone I never *really* felt like the heroes were going to suffer any terrible setback. But once I adopted that mindset, I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. I was too entertained by the journey to trouble myself with worry over the MCs. 🙂
Beth: Again, everyone seems conflicted! To begin with, as the others have mentioned, I thought the plot would be straightforward. Get the band back together, rescue Rose. But I was surprised by how quickly the plot thickened; there are underlying political tensions getting in their way; figures from their past complicate matters; enemies old and new to contend with. I felt it was sometimes ridiculous, but never overly so and Eames always brought it nicely back on track. I agree with Dorian; without the setbacks along the way it would have been a very simple book. As it is, I found the plot exciting, progressing well to a satisfactory (if surprising) ending. (Surprising because, again, grimdark has ruined me.)
Laura: I know what you mean about the grimdark mindset, Beth. I was expecting at least one major death myself. What have we become??
Any final thoughts on the book overall before we move on to Quotations and Recommendations?
Dorian: Kings of the Wyld was fantastic. One of my favorite books of the past year. Eames pulled off a neat trick: he’s like an inverted fun-house-mirror reflection of Joe Abercrombie. He wrote a book full of violence, profanity, dark humor, and battlefield philosophy that feels like Abercrombie, but it’s also centered on friendship, full of hope, goodness, and optimism. It’s the opposite of grimdark in the ways that matter most.
Eames pulled off a neat trick: he’s like an inverted fun-house-mirror reflection of Joe Abercrombie. He wrote a book full of violence, profanity, dark humor, and battlefield philosophy that feels like Abercrombie, but it’s also centered on friendship, full of hope, goodness, and optimism. It’s the opposite of grimdark in the ways that matter most.
– Dorian Hart
Also, Kings of the Wyld has some of the best-described and entertaining combat sequences I’ve ever read. The battle against the Heartwyld Horde could have been a messy disaster, but somehow Eames filled the scene with 100,000 actors and still kept it organized and exciting.
James: I really enjoyed the book. It’s definitely got flaws, but it makes up for them with a whole lot of charm. It was refreshing to read a fantasy book that didn’t take itself seriously at all, didn’t have to kill all the characters off (hardly any, in fact), but still had something serious to say about friendships. I liked the characters, who were skilfully drawn (even if there were too many), and I liked the way it didn’t apologise for being basically set in an MMORPG, with a lot of (bad) rock’n’roll jokes. I can see why it was so popular, but unlike some of the other runaway hits, I might just pick up the sequel here because I think there’s a good chance of it being something even more special.
Kings of the Wyld definitely has flaws, but it makes up for them with a whole lot of charm.
– James Latimer
Eric: I’m excited that the next book is going to focus on Bloody Rose and her own band (I love that Kings of the Wyld wraps up the story of Saga and, rather than milking it forever, lets these characters ride into the sunset to make way for the new blood) and hope that trend continues. The world Eames built is chock-full with characters I’d love to read about, and the sequel, Bloody Rose, seems to have a brand new cast. While I’ll admit it may not be for everyone (and honestly, what book is?) it definitely worked for ME, and I’m honestly excited about the next book and look forward to reading more from this author.
The world Eames built is chock-full with characters I’d love to read about, and the sequel, Bloody Rose, seems to have a brand new cast. While I’ll admit it may not be for everyone (and honestly, what book is?) it definitely worked for ME, and I’m honestly excited about the next book and look forward to reading more from this author.
– T. Eric Bakutis
Laura: Thanks for sharing so many brilliant insights, everyone. I love it when we all have different points of view, and reading your comments definitely makes me think harder about the books I read. On the whole, it seems we found Kings of the Wyld enjoyable but problematic, and I appreciate you all taking the time to share your views.
As always, some of you were noting down quotations during the readalong. Which ones in particular amused or resonated with you?
Eric: Too many to list, but in particular, the dialogue was top-notch. So I’ll just pick one exchange from near the end of the book:
“The fuck you looking at?”
“A legend, apparently.”
(pause) “Same here.”
It was a short exchange between two former rivals who are now fighting on the same side, but a great example of the way Eames’ dialogue works. A little cheesy, a little funny, suitably laconic, and totally appropriate to a world of touring metal bands taking down monsters for fame and glory. These sorts of exchanges peppered the book, and I enjoyed all of them.
T.O.: I totally agree with Eric about too many quotes to mention – one of my kindle notes to self is just “so many nice lines.” I think it is a testament to the quality of Eames’ writing that he can wring out quotes of pithy humour and also of languid profundity. Still, here’s a couple:
- “… their daughter, his darling girl, who was his most precious legacy, the speck of gold siphoned from the clouded river of his soul.”
- “Why build the temple at all?” Clay ventured. “Seems cheaper to shout at the sky.” – surely a great comment on religion in general.
This too tickled me – only because I have been re-watching and reading The Princess Bride:
“Lucky,” said Gabriel.
Clay glanced at him sidelong. “I’m not sure that word means what you think it means.”
A.Z.: There were many. Alas, I read the book last year and I’m not known for my memory. Suffice to say, most of the dialogue.
Beth: There were three instances where Eames made me cry with a single line. The first was the one T.O has already mentioned, the second was Gabe’s reason for the rocks, and the third was:
“What kind of monster must I be, that even Clay Cooper gave up on me?”
One minute all is fine, and then he delivers these one-liners that just floored me.
I also made a note of this one on Goodreads as I found it a particularly funny turn of phrase:
“Weren’t you supposed to be keeping watch?”
“Sure was… I watched them appear out of nowhere with bows.”
Laura: Great choices, you lot!
Finally, does anyone have recommendations for books similar to Kings of the Wyld?
G.D.: Go to the self published section of Amazon and pick a fantasy book at random. You will likely find someone has written out their D&D campaign; that will handle the “plot” part.
If you are looking for something with characterisation as good as this book in a fantasy setting with some depth, you would do well to pick up Joe Abercrombie’s work. Glen Cook’s Black Company has a heady pace and sticks close to this book’s pseudo-military formula. Or if you are looking for actual D&D books rather than a setting ripped off from it, I’d readily recommend R.A. Salvatore’s Dark Elf Trilogy.
Beth: I’m drawing a blank at what to compare it with – sorry. It has that character camaraderie that Jen Williams does so well in her Copper Cat trilogy. Jain reminded me so much of Wydrin.
Sometimes Eames’ representation of human nature felt Pratchettian (is that a term yet?), the ettin being well-mannered for example; taking a trope (big ugly monster) and flipping the expectation is classic Pratchett. And if you like skyships and terrifying forests, A.Z. Anthony’s got a belter of a book in the works for you.
Laura: Thanks, all. Some great quotations and some interesting recommendations, too.
That’s it for this month! Thanks again to our wonderful reading team of Eric, Beth, G.D., Dorian, T.O., Julia, James, A.Z., Taya and Laura. Be sure to drop by soon to see what we (and others) have to say about Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho!