End Date: May 26th
Author: Nicholas Eames
Pages: 544 (paperback)
Selected By: BillMo
“Clay Cooper and his band were once the best of the best, the most feared and renowned crew of mercenaries this side of the Heartwyld.
“Their glory days long past, the mercs have grown apart and grown old, fat, drunk, or a combination of the three. Then an ex-bandmate turns up at Clay’s door with a plea for help – the kind of mission that only the very brave or the very stupid would sign up for.
“It’s time to get the band back together.”
I loved this book! I’m really glad I Google’d comedy fantasies and this was one of the top ones that showed up. It isn’t even like the fake five-star ratings that show up on some sites (I won’t name which ones), where you can obviously tell that reviewers are being too generous due to an affiliation with the author or publisher. Not this book, though. This one was great!
A helmet restricted your vision, all but negated your hearing, and more often then not made you look stupid as hell.
This book was crass, funny, sad, and awesome. There was fighting, cussing, mythical creatures that you may or may not have ever heard of (and some that have you just going, “What the fuck is that?!”).
He remembered how small the night sky used to make him feel. How insignificant. And so he’d gone and made a big deal of himself, figuring that someday he might look up at the vast sprawl of stars and feel undaunted by its splendor. It hadn’t worked.
The author was able to paint scenes that I could play out in my head. He did a great job of describing scenes – especially those involving action. I really hope someone picks this up and makes a movie or TV series out of it. Hey, Netflix – whatcha doin’, cuz I have a project for ya! I’ve even cast the main band to make your job easier:
Clay Cooper: Sean Bean
Gabriel: Viggo Mortensen
Ganelon: Chadwick Boseman
Moog: I’d like to see Gary Oldman take on this one
Matrick: Jason Statham can fatten up for this role
Griff trundled over to his mat and gave his balls a few good licks before promptly falling asleep. Clay fought down a surge of envy seeing that.
You see a group of friends that were not close any longer getting together and sharing something special. This book reminds us that people do get older and the ailments that come with the addition of time – there’s no sugar-coating it, our bodies do just give out, and that lower back pain that didn’t used to be there is a constant reminder that, “Nope, can’t do that like I once could.” You laugh. You might cry (I didn’t, but I did feel a tug at my heartstrings during this story). But it was all good, even the sad parts, because they serve only as a reminder that we aren’t immortal. We may all feel like we did when we were twenty, but eventually we have to realize, “Hey, jumping off that cliff into that lake might not be the best thing for your knees and back right now.”
“A sandwich belongs to whoever eats it; a sock to whoever wears it; a coin to whoever has it to spend. But some things are not for the taking. Like this.”
The main characters were all very good, and I didn’t find myself disliking any of them. There’s even a main character who’s kind of bad but that I ended up liking. I did, however, really dislike most of the bad guys… a whooooooooooole lot. While Moog was my favorite, I think I developed a crush on Ganelon; there’s something about the whole handsome, brooding fighter thing – he might be a little stone-hearted, but dude’s got spirit! I liked Clay for being honest and level-headed, Gabriel is a charming, charismatic leader who can inspire the pants off of anyone (and I may also have a small crush on him, too), and Matrick is a witty badass. And Kit! What’s not to love about this considerate character – he was hilarious and smart (but, um, yeah… not crushing on him so much… blech).
No taxes meant no one to clean gutters or lay down stone for roads, and so Clay and Gabriel sloshed through what they hoped was mud as they passed through the wide-open gates into the city whose parents had hired a prostitute as a babysitter and never come home.
There was one thing that puzzled me, though. There was this herb that if you smoked it it could pretty much heal whatever ailed you, but the Band didn’t stock up on this shit. Are you crazy, guys??? Load up on that stuff!!!!!
Clay made a note to congratulate himself later for not shitting himself right then and there.
I’m definitely reading this sequel when it’s released, and I would read other books written by this author.
“Condition, of course, being a gracious term for inevitable and exquisitely painful death.”
Final thought: I’m gonna need me an owlbear. Some additional quotes I liked:
Clay thought at first that they had come across a troupe of mummers rehearsing their act, but they were brandishing weapons and screaming bloody murder, which set off a few it’s an ambush alarms right there.
“Judge them for what they wished to be,” he begged the Father of Gods, “not what the world made of them.”
Unsurprising, since he’d never met a villain (or villainess, in this case) without impeccable taste in wine. It was a prerequisite, he figured, to be rich and evil.
They had a similar saying down south: the straw that broke the camel’s back-though why you’d put a piece of straw on a camel’s back was, to Clay, an utter mystery. They were a curious people, southerners.
“Worth settling down for, tits like those…” He fell silent, gazing out at the red-gold sky as if he’d said something profound and needed time to contemplate the wisdom in his words.
But then again, he supposed, a little embellishment was so often the difference between a good story and a great one.
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.
(he was thinking something high-pitched, sort of a falling from a great height meets I’ve just shat my pants, with a touch of petulant little girl doesn’t get her way thrown in to spice things up)
Life was funny, and fickle, and often cruel. Sometimes the unworthy went on living, while those who deserved better were lost.
One by one we burned out, or were snuffed like candles in the wind, our entire race destined one day to flicker into smoke and disappear forever. But such, alas, is the fate of every fire.
Yet the deepest scars are often hidden and though a mirror might reveal our weakness, it reflects only a fraction of our strength.
Then again, if something sounded ridiculous in your head, then voicing it aloud rarely did it any favours.
Because even a misspent life, he reasoned, was worth remembering.
But no, he had long since learned that harbouring regrets was akin to stashing embers in your pockets: it was pointless and bound to hurt.
“Your momma keeps an axe in her womb, eh? Was thinking of trying that myself, to keep the boys out.”
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): Moog. He was crazy, funny, and very helpful. I really liked his sense of humor. He was silly, but in a great way! I felt bad for him, but then again I harbored some sadness for all of the characters.
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.
As individuals they’re each of them fallible, discordant as notes without harmony. But as a band they were something more, something perfect in its own intangible way.
While this novel was sold to us as a comedy or with comedic elements (and there are some), this struck me as not funny at all initially. The author tried for some funny, “ha-ha” moments, but most came off as sarcasm and some a bit heavy handed. However, those lighter moments did lessen the blows of the major lessons here.
“But time did what it does best, didn’t it? It beat us up. It broke us down. We got old, Gabriel. Too old to do the things we used to, no matter how good we were at doin’ ‘em. Too old to cross the Wyld, and too old to make a difference at all if we did.”
The first major lesson is, it’s a bitch getting old. I concur. However, we find that in our reality, it is clearly a major theme in this novel that deftly illustrates the issue at hand for each of our heroes. We are introduced to our heroes twenty years after their prime. I’m guessing that they are in the forties, possibly fifties. Each member of the band has their own unique talent that contributes in some way to the band. Unfortunately, as each has aged, their particular strengths have either diminished or they have become so out of practice, it’s kinda tragic. However, we always seem to have that one friend who seems to never age. While the circumstances are less than ideal, we have one character who is literally the same age as they were some twenty years ago. The pro for the team, he hasn’t lost a step. The con, it makes each of the bandmates look just that much more inept.
And so it goes, thought Clay. Life was funny and fickle, and often cruel. Sometimes, the unworthy went on living while those who deserved better were lost.
The novel does provide us a lot of reminiscing, as is wont with old war dogs. We are first introduced to Clay who is probably the most pragmatic of the lot. He’s the cool head, the man behind the “front man”, the true leader of the group. He’s retired and happily so. However, as he travels along with his bandmates, we see the world through his eyes and even though we see much through his eyes, he appears to be clear-headed and a reliable narrator. He learns, as they muddle along on this adventure, that things aren’t always what they seem and there are those they were cohorts with in his former life that either continued on did not survive or to also have aged but a bit more in the game as they never retired as he did. Clay reminisces is a frame of reference for us. While his musing are straight forward, and often amusing; the more wayward musings come from Moog.
“We are each what the past made of us. You would do well to remember what has come and gone before. Time is a circle.”
Moog, oh dear Moog. He is the resident wizard and often the purveyor of eccentricities and general ramblings. However, we can look to Moog for the more colorful musings that permeate the novel. He’s affable, fallible and quite frankly hilarious. He’s the quintessential absent-minded professor if you will. However, he fills the gaps that Clay cannot as he is more present in the world that Clay abandoned so many years ago. There were times when Moog drove me a bit insane with some of his inane musings, but truly he does grab your heart because of the loss of his spouse and his quest to cure the Rot that so many of their fellow mercenaries contracted while venturing into the Wyld. You feel for Moog and his plight, but at the same time you want to smack him silly at times, as seen through Clay’s eyes. Next to Clay, one would say he is the heart of the band.
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 life their mother offered without condition.
While the whole point is to save Gabriel’s daughter, Rose, a rallying point for the team is Matrick. We find Matrick severely out of shape, but no matter what, the team feels that he needs to be protected, at times physically, but mostly emotionally. Matrick is unfortunately a very aware version of King Robert Baratheon (Game of Thrones). While his wife thinks he’s a fool, he’s quite the monarch and well, prone to gluttony and drinking a bit too much, but he still loves his “children” with all of his heart and his bandmates just as much. Alas, he’s lost more than a step in his older age, but once he gets his daggers going, he’s a force to be reckoned with… until he trips over his own feet and well, you can figure out the rest from there. He’s all heart and is very aware of what is going on around him. I was hard pressed not to use him as one of my favorites, but he stood out more for comedy, at times, than someone who is supposed to grab you.
“Be careful making friends out of enemies,” she warned, “lest they remember why they didn’t like you in the first place.”
Ganelon represents the youth of the band. Due to issues I won’t reveal, he is imprisoned in stone for as many years as the band has been disbanded and once released, he’s as ready as he ever was to take on any foe that the band comes across. He’s pretty level-headed despite his raging desire to wreak havoc. However, despite what could be some misgivings about his recently rectified situation, he is clear of mind and even-tempered enough to understand that his woes were caused by his actions, not the inaction of his bandmates. So despite his arrested development, the mental maturity still comes out as their quest moves on. He is quite complicated even though most think of him as merely muscle.
But now, he had long since learned that harboring regrets was akin to stashing embers in your pockets: it was pointless and bound to hurt.
That brings me to Gabriel. He’s the reason we are on this venture into the Wyld. He raised a willful and stubborn daughter who has created her own band and followed in her father’s footsteps. However, she bit off more than she could chew and is now in need of being rescued. Queue the more experienced, yet out of practice Saga. Even though Gabriel rises to the occasion in battle throughout the novel, he’s effectively lost his confidence, his bluster, his “front man” ability. While we are to believe he is the heart of the band, it truly falls to Clay and the others. He’s well aware that if Clay didn’t buy into the quest, all was lost for him. Whether it had been his own bandmates saying no, to those who he would encounter that would be needed to accomplish his goals, without Clay, this mission would have been a nonstarter.
A battle, as related by a poet, is a glorious thing, full of heroic stands… and valiant sacrifice. But a battlefield, as experienced by some poor bastard mired in the thick of it, is something different altogether.
There are a host of other characters that made the book enjoyable, including Lady Jain and the Silk Arrows (sheer comedy and yet bad-ass women), Kit the Unkillable (I think I laughed each time he was called upon to explain something), but the most memorable and heart-wrenching was Gregor/Dane. Dane is blind, and relies on his brother’s description to give him a frame of reference in the world. The kindness Gregor shows his brother and the beauty he can draw out in such dire and dank situations, is amazing. This kindness is born out of love and understanding that his brother has many woes already, why add on to them? It was quite touching and I appreciated the way Eames portrayed the character. All in all, Gregor made you see beauty in a world of pure anguish in the Wyld.
It would occur to Clay mere moments later, that the fights that seem to matter most weren’t always the ones that did, and that sometimes, the fate of worlds was decided by something so arbitrary as sheer dumb luck.
There are several villans to contend with during this novel and each vile in their own right. Lastleaf and the understanding of his druin existence and the very foreboding ending will make for an interesting sequel. However, the daeva (can’t recall her name) is both villain and hero… or is she? Matrick’s wife is Cersei Lannister to the nth degree. Yet, we can at least say, Cersei was loyal, even if it was to her brother and cousin, while Matrick’s wife made it sport to sleep with as many as possible and bear as many children as possible from anyone but her husband. Even their old booker, Kallorek, is most definitely a user, if not a villain in his own right.
I could go on and on about the characters and much like Cronin, Eames got me to invest and commit to the investment of seeing where these characters go in the novels to come. I’m looking forward to the sequel and I most definitely will be reading those. It was a good showing. Humorous, even if dark in places, with not very much lacking in the way of adventure and no real lulls that made me want to put the book down. I’m sure I would have gotten through it faster if time allowed.
Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): This month is tough, because I liked all of our heroes for some reason or another. But if I have to pick, I’d say Clay & Gregor.
Lady Esbe read the Orbit paperback version of this selection.
WHEN WE SEEK TO RULE ONLY OURSELVES, WE ARE EACH OF US KINGS.
This has got to be one of the best books we’ve read in a while. Shit, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while – it was so good that, immediately upon completing it, I went back to the beginning and started it all over again. It’s that good.
But there were… measures of goodness, he figured. You could set one thing against another and find that one, if only by the weight of a feather, came out heavier. And that was it, wasn’t it? To make a choice between the two – the right choice – was a burden few had the strength to shoulder.
This novel gets so many things right, I can barely focus on where to begin. It has all of the traditional elements of fantasy: a group comprised of the usual charismatic leader, a stoic “tank,” a dual-wielding rogue, a wacky wizard, and a deadly swordsman; an imaginary world that nevertheless feels somewhat familiar; monsters and mythological creatures; magic and mayhem; a dark and dismal forest where none shall pass; an ancient and seemingly immortal villain; and, of course, a quest. It has powerful messages about the bonds of friendship, the price of glory, the fickleness of the media and the public, and, of course, aging and mortality. There are quick nods to popular culture (shout out to Portal, yo!!!), all arranged within the context of the story itself so that those unfamiliar with their origins notice nothing out of place. And Eames has managed to stuff all of this content into a humorous, occasionally heartbreaking, absolutely entertaining story.
In stories there were marches without weeping foot sores, swordfights without septic wounds that killed heroes in their sleep. In stories, when a giant was slain, it toppled thunderously to the ground. In reality, a giant died much the same way anything else did: screaming and shitting itself.
The madcap loonies who make up the merry band of dysfunction known as Saga have a rich and wild history together, but our tale begins long after their days of glory, long after the band has broken up and its members have each moved on to pick up relatively uneventful lives of their own. The glorious, handsome, charismatic leader of yesteryear is a broken man; his marriage is over, his child is missing, and he’s flat broke. The second-in-command, the heavy-weapons tank, has hung up his armor and become a middle-class family man. The wily, dashing rogue went into a career in politics, but his once glorious marriage has become a misery and his children the chains that keep him fettered in his rich prison. The wacky wizard has become little more than a bumbling magician, his own marriage ending with the death of his spouse, fueling in him a dangerous and deadly obsession. They’re all struggling – most to make ends meet, but all of them are clearly still trying to figure out, even after all of this time, how to be content with sitting on the sidelines.
Clay said a prayer in his head to whichever of Grandual’s gods was in charge of forgiving men who broke women’s wrists before punching them in the throat.
Even the villains are conflicted. The primary villain, Lastleaf, reminds me quite a bit of Prince Nuada from Hellboy II: he’s got a damn good reason for doing what he’s doing, but… well… y’know, “an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind” and all of that. Though I get it. I totally get it. And as with Nuada, I still have a hard time hating Lastleaf for what he does. Yes, he’s guilty of many horrible atrocities – his actions indirectly led to the demise of a character I had come to love quite a lot – but he is also a victim. His people were guilty of many crimes, avarice being the least of them, but they were also nearly blasted into extinction by vengeful mobs of those they had enslaved, murdered, and vilified. Broken and betrayed, he has risen up with a vengeful mob of those now being enslaved, murdered, and vilified. It’s clear to see how easily retribution becomes a maddening cycle: you kill me, my family kills you; then your family kills my family; then my friends kill your family; then your friends kill my friends; then the friends of my family… and so on, and so on, and so on. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” indeed.
There was a pond in the middle of Kallorek’s house. The water was so clear Clay could see the tiles that checkered the bottom, blue and white. There were no fish or frogs that he could see. No lilies, or rushes, or dragonflies skimming the surface. There was just… empty water. “What the fuck is the point of this?” he asked. [Note: It’s a swimming pool.]
One aspect that I really loved about Kings of the Wyld is that it approaches fantasy with a sense of realism. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve turned to Mr. Me while watching a movie or reading a book and asked a question or made a comment about how the action or scene would have played out “in real life.” For example: during the scene in Lord of the Rings when Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are running after the orcs who’ve kidnapped Merry and Pippin, I said, “I bet even Legolas has big, bloody, oozing blisters on the bottoms of his feet, running all that time in those shoes with no support or anything. Aragorn’s probably got athlete’s foot by this time, too. Do you suppose the Galadhrim gave them powders to put in their shoes and on their junk so they wouldn’t chafe or end up with fungus with all of this adventuring in soggy forests?” My taller half has always taken the stance that “no one would ever think that shit but you,” it was refreshing to read a book that addressed these practical matters and even explained their mysterious disappearances in legends and myths as omissions made in the interest of artistic license by the bards in favor of drama.
The truth, he knew, was that the world needed his kind of monster. It was a brutal place. It was unfair. And Clay Cooper, such as he was, was quite simply the right kind of wrong.
But above all else, Kings of the Wyld is a book about friendship. Clay “Slowhand” Cooper, Golden Gabe, Magical Moog, Mat, Ganelon, and Kal haven’t seen each other in years, but the bond created by their shared experiences, their friendship, was enough to get the band back together (well, for the most part, anyway 🙂 ). Some jump at the chance to relive their glory days, while others are less keen now that they have places they call home. They’re (almost) all arthritic and out-of-shape. Most haven’t lifted a sword or shield or dagger in decades, and none of them have any clue as to what the expectations are of the public who once adored them so mightily. But they answer the call for help from one of their own, regardless. Because, in the end, Saga – their brotherhood, the unification of their friendship – is that important. Friends – the families we choose for ourselves – are that important.
He wondered what might be caged in the bowels of that place even now, stirring restlessly in the dark, waiting for its chance to kill or be killed as a crowd of thousands looked on. And they call this civilization, he thought sourly.
Since BillMo opted to include who she’d cast in a movie or TV series of this novel, I’ll play along and include my nominations for each primary character: Clay Cooper – Christopher Meloni; Gabriel – Mads Mikkelsen; Moog – Hugh Laurie; Matrick – Patrick Dempsey (he’d obviously have to put on some flubber); Ganelon – Michael Ealy; Kallorek – John Goodman; Kit – Michael Keaton; Larkspur – Ruby Rose; Lady Jain -AnnaSophia Robb.
Time is a circle, he remembered Lastleaf saying at Lindmoor, in twilight. History is a turning wheel. And here it is, Clay thought wryly, turning and turning, grinding us all to dust.
In closing, YES, I absolutely recommend this novel. It’s well-written, imaginative, original, and hits all the feels: you’ll laugh, you’ll weep, you’ll rage, you’ll sulk, and you’ll laugh again. I fully intend to read Bloody Rose when it’s released in August and am fervently hoping that Lady Esbe makes it easy on us and picks it for September’s monthly selection. 🙂
Elle’s Favorite Character(s): Every-damn-body. There’s not a member of Saga, and even most of their affiliations (Kit, Larkspur, Gregor & Dane, Lady Jain and the Silk Arrows, and most of the other bands who show up for the final fight), whom I didn’t absolutely adore. Hell, I even felt for the villainous Lastleaf for a while there.
Elle Tea read the Amazon Kindle version of this selection.