End Date: October 27th
Author: Nicholas Eames
Pages: 560 (paperback)
Selected By: Elle Tea
“Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.
“When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.
“Girls just want to have fun.”
Mercenaries aren’t heroes. They’re killers.
Well, to borrow from Galaxy Quest: that was a hell of a thing.
“Sorry I dashed your hopes and ruined your whole life, dear. Here’s the bottom half of a bacon sandwich…”
I hearted Kings of the Wyld , the predecessor to Bloody Rose, hard; it swiftly rose to become one of my favorite books of all time, and I re-read it two more times, for a total of three times, in that single month of bookclub reading. So to say that I was super-psyched for the release of Bloody Rose is an understatement. Could anything have lived up to the hype I had in my own head? Maybe… Rarely, but maybe. The question here is did Bloody Rose, and the answer is… not entirely, no – and not just because I’d hit squeeing levels of excitement for it, either, but because…
“Wherever your Wyld Heart leads you, go.”
Well, first let’s do what Rose gets right. As with its predecessor, Bloody Rose is full of little hidden nods to pop-culture (bonus nerd points if you catch the Illithid reference early-in!!!), and just as before they are woven into the story so well that you’d notice nothing amiss if they meant nothing to you. Those are always nice surprises, but one of the things that really kept Rose flying for me was the depth of emotions invoked by Eames’ imagery: the heartache of a single parent forced to choose between what they want for their child and who they want that child to be versus what they know their child needs in order to determine who they will be on their own; the frightened, tragic rage of an otherwise horrifying monster forced to fight day in and day out; the heartbreaking hopelessness of a mother forced to breed, forced to rear the resulting offspring, only to watch them be ripped away from her, over and over again, all in the name of entertainment; the pitiful eagerness of those kept in chains to be set loose, even if it means being forced to fight alongside an evil they know against an evil the likes of which has never before been witnessed.
“We all have our rituals… Necessary vices that enable us to conquer our fear. Or, if not conquer it, then to at least pile furniture against the door while we duck out the back. It’s not enough to survive what we do, Tam. We must also endure it… One concerns the body, the other the mind. Every battle has a cost. Even the ones we win.”
Another excellent element of Eames’ second installment is again related to imagery – this time in regard to fight scenes. This was something Eames did so well in Kings, and he knocks it out of the park with Rose, as well, from Cura’s amazingly creative inkling warriors to Brune’s brutal transformations, the action scenes flow smoothly and play out cohesively and powerfully.
“It makes me wonder, sometimes, if what we’re doing really matters. The fighting, the killing, the glory we’re all so desperate to claim. None of us decide how we are remembered… Gowikan was cruel – and vain. He was a petty despot whose quest for immortality doomed both him and his people. And yet here he stands, long after his enemies are gone, revered by those he’d have treated as slaves. Immortal, after all.”
Eames is king of the hidden theme, as well. On the surface, Kings was a fun buddy story… but beneath the surface bubbled lessons about friendship, aging, and the futility of war. On the surface, Rose is an adventure story, a daughter struggling to rise above her father’s name while saving… well, everyone, really. But parallels to our modern world may be seen everywhere: it’s impossible to read about the arenas, about the monsters snatched from the wild and shoved into cages and chains, without one’s mind drifting to the listlessness of animals in zoos and aquariums, the cries of those brutally trained to fight for the entertainment and wallets of their “owners,” the broken gazes of those used in circuses and festivals, even the wild-eyed, terrified stares of those crammed into trucks on their way to slaughter; it’s impossible to read about the tactics of an evil despot hell-bent on being queen of the world, even if all that’s left of that world once she’s done with it are mounds of ashes where cities once stood and legions of rotting corpses where wildlife and humans once lived, without thinking of the divide-and-conquer tactics so prevalent in politics across the world today.
Boys are like raccoons, he’d said. They’re pesky, and not to be trusted around food. Also, they’re more afraid of you than you are of them… Girls are like coyotes. They run in packs, they make noise when you’re trying to sleep, and if one comes near you it’s best to scare them off with fire.
Even more prevalent, however, is the theme of how one defines oneself. Rose defines herself by how close she comes to out-heroing her father, Gabriel, the hotshot frontman of Kings of the Wyld‘s legendary badass boy band, Saga. She gets angry whenever his name comes up, goes into a fury whenever someone compares her to him… but the reality is that she knows as well as we do that, as long as she keeps taking a drug to augment her natural responses, she will never be as good as Golden Gabe – and so she keeps going, keeps pushing the limits, dragging her own band, Fable, with her as she smashes herself against the rocks time and time again, hellbent on either surpassing her old man or getting herself killed in a moment of glory. But… again… as long as she’s taking drugs, she’ll never achieve this goal, and more and more we see her glory become suicidal recklessness.
You didn’t get to be the villain of one story unless you were the hero of another.
The truth is, however, that she’s been fighting a losing battle since the get-go: no one has ever compared her to Golden Gabe as much as she has, and no one ever will. She cannot accept that her father being a legend does not preclude her from becoming one, and she doesn’t realize that trying to beat Gabriel at being Gabriel is a losing battle – sometimes heroes are those who, rather than picking up their weapons, instead put them down and choose to do the right things for the right reasons. Rose is already a hero to her friends, she is a legend to her lover, and they would follow her to hell and back – and quite often do; to one small character she could also be a god… but she’s consumed with chasing her father’s legacy that she doesn’t see any of this.
“I can so talk to animals. They just don’t always listen.”
As with Rose, the greatest weakness of each of the other fighters within Fable is that they define and allow themselves to be defined by things that, in the end, they truly have no power over. Cura defines herself by her tattoos – what she can do rather than who she is; Brune defines himself by who his father wants him to be rather than the man he thinks he should be; Freecloud knows in his heart who he wants to be, but he redefines himself time and again for Rose, thus allowing himself to be defined by her obsession with fame and glory; Roderick, silly and apathetic on the surface, struggles still against the perceptions of others; and Tam’s entire presence and story-long struggle to find her place in the band is based on her defining herself by what everyone else (save Freecloud) around her tells her she is – “just” the Bard.
“The world needs more humans like an orc needs a second asshole.”
So. That was all very good. And then… well, the rest went a little sideways. It’s impossible not to compare Bloody Rose to Kings of the Wyld, and this is unfortunate – not because I read Kings first, but because this second installment relies heavily on Kings – Fable literally relies heavily on Saga – to bring the story together and keep it moving. It starts strongly enough, with newcomer Tam in the spotlight, walking us through her village, her simple life, her interesting (and sometimes familiar) friends, and then the new band heads out on the road to chase down some thrilling heroics…
“I’m broken. There’s something missing inside me. I don’t now what used to be there. My mother. My uncle. A normal fucking childhood, maybe. I don’t know. But it’s like a… a hole that I keep trying to fill. And yet no matter how many drinks, or drugs, or people I consume… it’s still there. An empty space that nothing can fill and no one can fit.”
… where everything meanders until you hit about 60%. Fable is going against the tide of mercenaries headed to the front, and I get that. But they don’t seem to have much purpose, and, truth be told, I just never felt like I knew or completely cared about any of the band’s members. Slowhand carried us steadily through Kings, and from the get-go I was comfortable with him; the more I knew him, the more time I spent in his head, the more I wanted to know about him. Tam, on the other hand, seems like so much wallpaper; she’s “just” the bard, true, and a noob to the whole mercenary adventuring gig, also true… but her character, like the rest of the band, just seemed very superficial, as if, even after all of the fighting and tears and triumphs and losses, they were always holding something back, never really letting me know who they were – and, worse yet, that perhaps even they didn’t know. Rose’s hunger for fame can’t hold a candle to Gabe’s natural penchant for showmanship, Roderick is a pale shadow of the comedic relief offered by the magical maniac that is Moog, Cura’s sorcery is amazing but her personality falls flat, Brune’s power is cool as hell but – while better developed than the others – he still only feels about three-quarters complete, and the logical and sensible Freecloud is never more than an appendage to his shorter, louder, brasher half.
“Hubris, man. It’s killed more heroes than monsters ever did.”
Significant supporting characters from Kings make cameo appearances in Rose, and while it was great to see some familiar faces, at the same time they, too, seemed diminished. But my biggest issue with Bloody Rose is that a novel whose central character, whose eponymous character, is so desperate to step out of her father’s shadow just can’t seem to step out of its predecessor’s shadow – so much so that *****SPOILER ALERT*****→ the story doesn’t really feel like a cohesive story until Saga shows up. As I said earlier, the story meanders for 60% – but then Gabriel shows up, and suddenly the plot starts moving and a pace is established. The arrival of Slowhand seems to bring with it a gathering of all of the loose ends and Moog brings some much-needed giggles, and finally, over halfway through the book, we know what’s expected, we know where we’re going, and we care about the people to whom this is happening. Saga doesn’t save the day, but they certainly saved the story for me. ←*****END SPOILER*****
“Glory fades. Gold slips through our fingers like water, or sand. Love is the only thing worth fighting for.”
All that being said, Bloody Rose was still a fun romp through a fantastical world. The imagery is amazing, the subtle serious themes are cleverly and amusingly disguised, and there are still so many places to see and characters to meet (fingers crossed for a novel that gives a more in-depth look at Tam’s parents’ band in their heyday!!!). I’d read that the author is under contract for three books, and I’m (un)patiently awaiting the announcement of the third – once that hits shelves, expect to see that one as a monthly pick from this gal, if neither of the other Ladies snatches it up first!
The plainsmen value strength and prowess above all else. If a han doesn’t fight his enemies, he’ll end up fighting his friends.
If you’ve read Kings of the Wyld, give Bloody Rose a go – Fable is no Saga, but the world and magic is worth the wandering. If you’ve not yet read Kings, I’d recommend starting there first; Rose is technically a stand-alone novel, but I think you’ll appreciate Rose’s relationship with her father, her issues with him, and some of the side characters a bit more if you know what went down earlier in the Heartwyld. And if you only feel like reading one or the other to get an idea of how the author writes and the world he’s created, totally go with Kings.
She’d been fascinated by the market back in Ardburg. The monsters had seemed exotic at the time, inherently dangerous – as if cramped cages and filthy pens were exactly where such wild things belonged. Now, however, they felt to Tam like victims, casualties of being born with scales instead of skin, claws instead of fingers, or (in the case of a giant spider trussed by corded rope) eight bulbous eyes and poison-laced mandibles instead of a proper face.
And here are a few more quotes that I just couldn’t fit into my review:
The bard saw a red-maned gnoll chained by her throat to a stake. The hyena-headed creature was nursing a litter of spotted pups and staring dazedly at the middle distance. Her children would be taken from her once they’d been weaned, and she would be bred again with another of her kind – a specimen chosen for his size and ferocity. Her offspring would be raised in captivity beneath some distant arena, beaten and lashed by pitiless wranglers until they became the savage monsters mankind required them to be.
Their aim hadn’t been to destroy humanity – merely to survive it.
Some battles needed to be fought alone, even if it meant you lost them.
Tam couldn’t help but wonder if there was a technical term for when a blacksmith replaced his anvil with a second hammer and just pounded the shit out of some poor tool.
“There is nothing, I think, so wasteful – or so pointlessly tragic – as a battle that should never have been fought in the first place.”
“Evil thrives on division. It stokes the embers of pride and prejudice until they become an inferno that might one day devour us all.”
Elle Tea’s Favorite Character(s): Overall, the chained monsters who were offered freedom and used as fodder during the final conflict; something about them just kept sticking with me, and my heart hurt most for them. My faves from Fable were, in order: Freecloud, Cura the Inkwitch, and Brune the Shaman.
Elle read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
This was definitely a very good book. In my opinion it was not as good as Kings of the Wyld which was definitely a hard book to beat but this one was still very good. I like that in this book it shows you the monsters of the world are not what humans call monsters, but that the humans are actually the thing of nightmares and the monsters to be feared.
“A Wyld Heart needs a wise mind to temper it, and a strong arm to keep it safe.”
*****SPOILER ALERT*****→ My favorite part of the book was where other members from Saga showed up. Because they are awesome and very likable in different ways. ←*****END SPOILER*****
“You’re a legend now, girl, and legends are like rolling stones: Once they get going, it’s best to stay out of their way.”
There is a part where Fable goes to fight a monster and the monster has babies. Well, if I had babies and someone came to kill me I would probably be vicious and try to defend myself and my family. I think if no one had gone after her maybe she would have left humanity to their own devices but I guess we will never know. She may have taken down villages in her past but doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance? Okay I know from my opinion that’s not true. Not everyone deserves a second chance but this monster sounded really cool and I wanted to give her a second chance. She deserved one. Who can blame her? Maybe the villages she took down in her past were a threat to her. People have done a lot worse things for less reasons. She was just doing what was in her nature.
She’d wanted adventure, sure, but adventures tended to end rather abruptly when a dragon got involved.
I wasn’t very attached to Tam. I wish I liked her more as it is I didn’t not like her I just didn’t feel too strongly about her one way or the other.
Rose and Freecloud were discovered together in a snowbank and charged with lewdness, public nudity, and possession of an unsheathed sword.
I did like getting a peak in to each members life and getting to learn more about why they are the way they are. I also think they might be a little crazy since they are following Rose. Rose wasn’t a bad person she was just selfish and wanting to be like her father or maybe better than her father, as a mercenary that is not a person. Her life to me was sad and I wish she could find happiness in the important things that make life happy. I think she ended up realizing what’s important but I wish she could have found it for herself earlier. However, if she did we would not have had a book toread. 🙂
“But it’s crazy as socks on a centipede.”
There wasn’t anyone in Fable that I really didn’t like. I liked Roderick for being a funny and kind of a pervert. I liked Cura just because who wouldn’t want to make the tattoos on their bodies attack people. That sounds like a skill that I could put to some good use. Yes, I would have to start getting monsters tattooed on myself but if I had a promise I could conjure them and sic them on people then I think that would be awesome. Freecloud was great in almost a zen kind of way. He usually made a lot of sense or at least sounded sensible.
Most people, she figured, sized up the truth when it came knocking, decided they didn’t much like the look of it, and shut the door in its face.
Tam’s uncle Bran was funny. I liked all of his interactions. He was a giant mess and brought a level of fun to the group. He seemed like he would have made a decent member of Saga. I don’t think anyone in Saga would need replacing but Bran would be able to find a place to fit. Or at least a place on the outskirts to beat some things up and maybe throw in a little heckling.
It was snowing, still; flakes whipped by, fleeting as half-remembered dreams, fizzling as they struck the sails above.
I feel like I should mention something about the bad guys. The villains did not make it to a special place in my heart and I didn’t feel too much for them. Their story was almost sad but in the end it doesn’t mean you get to be an asshole.
There’s not a drunk in the world who doesn’t consider themself an exceptionally gifted singer.
I would definitely read more books by Nicholas Eames and am ready to see what he comes out with next. And just a few more quotes I liked that didn’t fit into my review:
And so the rout of Contas ends, Tam thought, and the War of Roses begins.
“… lying dead on a bed of bloody Roses.”
The world is big, the young are restless, and girls just want to have fun.
BillMo’s Favorite Character(s): My favorite character is still Moog. I want to read more with Moog in it…..chanting begins here, “Moog, Moog, Moog, Moog….”. My favorite of the new band, Fable, was Brune; who wouldn’t like a guy who can shape shift in to an animal? (Well, probably someone who doesn’t like animals but that is probably someone I don’t want to meet or know and they can go piss off.)
BillMo read the Amazon Kindle edition of this selection.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t select this reading last month because I didn’t think I could stomach a whole novel centered around Bloody Rose, plus I rather fancy my selection last month. I didn’t like her in the first novel and this one didn’t improve my disposition. In fact, by the end of this serial, there was still little to redeem her, at least for me. As Elle and I discussed, the biggest disappointment for me is that as with every series we’ve read so far (exception being The Passage), the sophomore effort is usually not as good as the first. This is touted as a standalone, and it does. However, the reliance of the reemergence of Clay, Moog and Golden Gabe bolstered this installment and didn’t give me a completely standalone feel. Don’t get me wrong, I love these characters, but really, the book needed them to progress and for us to feel a bit of cohesiveness.
But he suffered too much indignity, endured too many concessions to pride. He was angry and spiteful, driven mad by hatred.
So, while Rose’s part was relatively small in the first installment of the Eames’ series, she annoyed me to no end. However, my dislike strengthened ten-fold for her in this installment. My major complaints about her is that she is selfish, reckless and just an angry little person. One could conjecture that living in the shadow of her father was enough to drive anyone to be so self-conscious that they would attempt, at all costs, to rise above the shadow of their forebear. But here’s the rub, her issues are purely her own and completely psychological. If we go back to the first novel, we know that Gabe encouraged Rose to do whatever it is she wanted. However, she seems to me to be unnecessarily bogged down in Gabe’s greatness. He never set down a gauntlet for her and said, “here kid, beat this.” He wanted her to live her own way and to do as she needed to be happy. However, her recklessness is cause for him to be concerned.
Rose proves time and again that she is selfish. All she seeks is glory. I questioned whether she saved Freecloud because he was in danger or was it just glory? We know she took on the Heartwyld Horde for glory, not for the sake of protecting the realm. Now, she has dragged her cohorts out to fight the Simurg. Sure, money could be the major draw, but the true triumph for Rose was the ability to one-up her father. After all, Golden Gabe never killed a Dragoneater before. I’m not sure what the behavioral or psychological complex would be called when a daughter’s desire to live up to or surpass her father’s acumen, popularity, or whatever attribute that the father may possess, but Rose epitomizes it. Unlike her father, as soon as Rose achieves what she wants, she is ready to bail on anything above and beyond. However, Gabe could have easily rescued her on the sly and abandoned Castia to it’s fate during the siege. Yet that is not his way. Unfortunately, in all the lessons he taught her in her youth, fighting for the greater good wasn’t one of them.
Rose has a tendency to rush headlong into a quest or battle without thinking of the consequences or potential harm that could come to others. (For those who have not read Kings of the Wild…sorry there is a bit of a spoiler here). If we take it back to the first novel, we find that she recklessly headed into Castia to fight the Heartwyld Horde. Not for the sake of saving Castia itself, but to say she achieved what her father achieved if not on a grander scale. However, that backed-fired on her in the most epic of ways. Not only did she get trapped due to her recklessness in a siege, she had to be rescued by the one person she was trying to prove that she measured up to. So, despite her best efforts, people will always remind her that she had to be saved when she went off half-cocked when facing the last horde. This recklessness does not end with her father. This continues with her band. She has Freecloud, her lover and a Druin who can anticipate and protect her as much as possible. Then there is Brune, her shaman and Cura her summoner, each put themselves into harm’s way to keep Rose alive. At no time has any of her forays into battle been purely won on her merit but with a little, or a lot, of help from her friends and family and at least one major sacrifice in this novel. Why so reckless?
When you grow up as I did, without two coppers to run together, being rich means being free. Free to go where you want, to eat what you want, to be whoever it is you’d like to be.
Again, I’ll put on my armchair psychologist hat for at least a paragraph. Rose’s recklessness can be attributed directly to her addiction to Black Leaf. I couldn’t quit grasp what the Black Leaf’s complete function is, but it effectively removed Rose’s fear so that she could function. For me, this is another failing for Rose. Golden Gabe and his band faced the monsters of the Wyld stone cold sober, or a likeness to it, since they were drunk quite a bit of the time (or at least Matrick was). They tackled their fear and quite possibly in facing that fear, was able to succeed in their quests. However, Rose would dose up and fight as if she did have a death wish. Her methodology only caused her band to watch her back a little harder because, ultimately, they are a family, but you do what you can to protect the weaker of your pack. Rose’s terror or attempt to conquer her terror with the use of Black Leaf could have developed after the battle for Castia. It’s quite possible that she also has PTSD due to Castia. Yet she has no one to blame but herself. I could berate Rose’s character for another solid two pages, but that would be beating a dead horse.
I had my favorites from the last installment that made their way into this installment, but I happily acknowledge my new favorites. I was pleased we got to meet Freecloud, as we barely got a glimpse of him in the first novel. The son of Contha, Freecloud too has daddy issues. However, his issues were more of the “dad is batshit insane” vice a generally good guy who only wanted the best for his child. Freecloud took his task to heart when he left his father and upon meeting Rose, he found a higher purpose. Unfortunately, that centered around putting himself at risk for a wholly selfish woman. He didn’t gripe about his situation of having a crazy father, nor did he gripe about having to watch over his ridiculously insecure partner who put their entire band’s life at stake anytime she got a wild hair. He could have lamented more at his desire to be a devoted father to his and Rose’s child, Wren. I applaud his loyalty, his ability to be even keeled and even humorous in rather grime circumstances. His age as a Druin is young, but amongst his cohorts, he is the oldest and the most mature. When we meet Freecloud’s father, we realize his issues, but nothing comes close to what Brune has with his father.
Shadrach had controlled them through fear, and although fear needed subservience, it did not beget loyalty.
Of our cast of characters, I think I empathized with Brune the most. We are beat over the head about his stature, his ugliness and then the questionable intellect. However, Brune has the best heart of the group, next to Freecloud. Brune is a shaman that shapeshifts, but is unable to control his fain. He believes himself to be a Bear that is uncontrollable and thus much of his problems within the band. However, when he finds his true fain, watch him thrive. After an incident that puts his band at risk, Brune seeks out his birth home to reconcile or learn to control his fain. Problem is that Brune was banished and his father is a despot of epic proportion. So needless to say, his homecoming was anything but welcoming. However, I absolutely loved how the band rallied behind him to help him face his fears, and resolve his daddy issues.
Cura is the band’s Summoner and while the others handle their daddy issues somewhat inwardly, her issues are written on her skin. I did like the nuance that while other summoners used clay creations to achieve summoning a likeness, Cura made her creations almost living things. Each had it’s own name, each was either an embodiment of a horror she experienced or witnessed in her life, but they functioned in the most efficient of ways for her. Cura didn’t bemoan her lacking childhood or the abuse she suffered. However, she did make her pain work for her. She wasn’t my favorite, but she definitely deserves the honorable mention.
This novel nods to the difficulty of relationships between parents and children. Most of our band has issues with their parents and at least one of them has an issue with being a parent. We are experiencing the events of this novel through the eyes of the newest member of the band, Tam. Tam is the youngest and the most sheltered of the group. The product of a warrior bard in her mother and a band member in her father;Tam is sheltered by her father due to losing her mother while in the service as a bard. Tam’s father held tight reigns on her with the demise of her mother. It is no wonder that when she is offered the opportunity to become a bard, she leapt at the opportunity to break free of her parental bondage. I was a bit indifferent to Tam. Yet, I could see the hints of her mother and father in her as the novel progressed. She was never meant to be just a bard, but she takes on the roles that are needed as they are needed.
In general, I liked the book. However, it wasn’t the strong showing that the first novel was. I enjoyed the bandmates, but Rose still had my ire by the end of the book. Her actions weren’t about saving the world, at least not in my opinion. Much like the Winter Queen, her actions were about vengeance and anger. I enjoyed the humor, which reminds me of a fantasy version of The Boondock Saints, it’s a bit warped, but it’s definitely funny. Not sure where the next installment will go, but I hope to see some of our heroes again (if I list them, then it would be a complete spoiler alert and I won’t do that to you). I must say, I enjoy Mr. Eames’ writing style and the lessons he puts forth. The last novel discussed how father’s influence their children, and that continues on in this one as well. However, he takes it a step further by allowing us a glimpse from the other side as the children. This started as a 4 for me and unfortunately, lowered to a three, not because of the writing itself, but my connection to the story and the outcome.
Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character(s): Freecloud, Brune, Gabriel, and Clay.
Esbe read the Orbit paperback edition of this selection.