As I’m recovering from the long weekend of Supanova, and I’m not in the right headspace for work… review time it is!
I finished Nicholas Eames’ much-hyped Kings of the Wyld last week, and while it took longer for me to finish than it should, it was more that I was time poor than a reflection on the novel, which I’ll break down in a moment.
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE BIG, SPOILER SPOILERY SPOILERS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
As I said, Kings of the Wyld has been much-hyped, earning rave reviews and high star-ratings so I was looking forward to stepping into this world. Over-the-hill mercenaries getting the band back together for a final quest to save the daughter of one of their own? Great premise, and big yay for having older protags – something sorely missing and not often explored in fiction.
It starts well, if a little slow (pacing is an issue with the storytelling, but I’ll get into that a little later), and we’re introduced to the first two of five protagonists: Clay Cooper (our storyteller) and Golden Gabe (whose daughter, Rose, the band is off to rescue). After collecting the three others: Moog (the wizard), Matrick (a despondent king grown fat), and Ganelon (a man turned to stone for the last twenty years), the band sets off to cross the infamous Heartwyld… but a lot happens before that. Like… a lot. There’s monsters of all kinds (so many, I lost count), the Silk Arrows who continue to rob Clay’s band whenever the chance arises, fighting a chimera, faking Matrick’s death, keeping ahead of bounty hunters Matrick’s wife sent after them… Like I said, a lot.
However, the humour does shine through – some of the one liners had me laughing out loud, and others had me groaning, but it is part of the charm of this book… and at times, saves it. That’s the thing with Kings of the Wyld, when I got to it’s end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I enjoyed it, yes, it was fun, and there is a lot to like about it… but there are issues. Some big, some not so big but important nonetheless.
I mentioned earlier that the pacing is off; we begin with the urgency of getting to Gabe’s daughter to save her – surrounded by a horde of unimaginable size, time can’t be wasted. But there are so many side-quests, interruptions, meanderings… the intensity and urgency are lost in what is the basic premise of the story. So many monsters are introduced and described – especially in the middle of the book ‒ that Rose barely rates a mention.
That can be forgiven because Eames’ prose and his narrative style does work to pull the reader in, and there are some truly beautiful lines and moments in this middle section. It’s also where we get to meet Dane & Gregor – the two-headed Ettin. The relationship between the blind and grotesque Dane, and his seeing brother who describes a hideous and shit world as beautiful and wondrous was a joy to read. It’s clear Eames has the skill to write complex characters with depth and a wealth of emotion.
It’s the Ettin that shows the flaws in the characterisation of our five main players…except, perhaps, for Ganelon ‒ my favourite of the band. This is where I struggled with this book, because there are some exceptional moments Eames has created. The conversation between Clay and Ganelon where they’re discussing the twenty years Ganelon’s been trapped in stone is one of the best of the book, with Ganelon wondering what kind of monster he must have been for his friends to not come for him. It’s moments such as these that lit the book for me, that showed the skill Eames has for conflict and character depth. But it didn’t flow through to all.
Yet there came a moment, when Clay lost his hand, and where I thought here we go, now we’re going to get some real agency. As shocked as I was (I’m pretty sure I gasped aloud) that Clay had his hand severed, it was that struggle to remain valid within the band, to continue to help his friends regardless I was so looking forward to seeing. And we do see a little of it; that determination and struggle to climb back up that mountain and rejoin the band was excellent.
I can hardly say it.
Ta-da! His hand regrew.
Why? Why do that? Why rob the reader of that moment? Of the moments to come from this game-changer? It felt like a cheat. That I didn’t need to worry about Clay’s or the rest of the band’s fate – everyone was going to be just fine. And if not? Magic was cure-all.
It just didn’t work for me.
Look, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who say I just didn’t “get” the book, and that’s fine, maybe I didn’t. But I need to be invested in the outcomes of the characters, to worry over them, to hope and cheer and yell at them because I want them to survive. Give me that threat of character death, the implausibility of survival, make me fate-invested. I see the scope of facing insurmountable odds and the ridiculousness of it that Eamses did show, but when balanced against those moments of depth… it was almost (at times) a tale of two authors.
Thing is, I did enjoy Kings of the Wyld. The fight scenes were on point, the humour was excellent, and some of the characters just shone. There were moments of brilliance within, but the hand… man, that hand.
On a Goodreads scale, I gave it four stars but it’s probably sitting just under that.