Years ago, Clay Cooper was a member of Saga, an adventuring band beyond compare. They were heroes ploughing the depths of the Heartwyld Forest for treasure and adventurer, slaughtering monsters and rescuing captive princesses. They were legends. But they got old, they got fat, they retired and had kids. They grew up.
But now their frontman Gabe wants to get the band back together. His daughter Rose is a mercenary captain defending the city of Castia from a horde of monsters...but Castia is a thousand miles away beyond the treacherous Heartwyld and a forbidding mountain range. Worse still, the boys are not ready to get back on the road. One of them's got an incurable disease, another one has been unwisely made a king and another has been turned to stone. It falls, reluctantly, to the slow and steady Clay to get the guys back together for this one last gig.
Kings of the Wyld is a fast-paced, humorous sword and sorcery story. At its heart, this is a traditional story so familiar that it feels like a greatest hits of your favourite genre mashed together. On this basis it would be fun but forgettable, the fantasy equivalent of a Big Mac, if it wasn't for the book's masterstroke: in the world of Grandual, adventuring companies are treated like rock bands, putting on shows in gladiatorial arenas, splitting up acrimoniously, heroes going solo and of course getting back in their old age to make money when they realise they miss the old lifestyle.
It's a silly conceit but one that works surprisingly well and is sustained through the novel, which allows for commentary on things like ageing, the relationship between youngsters brimming with enthusiasm and their elders who've seen it all before and the dangers of falling prey to nostalgia. They things are handled fairly lightly though. This is a book that's more concerned with having fun.
There's a lot of inspiration from Dungeons and Dragons, particularly the less-copyright-infringing end of the Monstrous Manual, with revenants, ettins and ettercaps showing up (but not owlbears, obviously, as they are both dumb and completely mythical), but no elves or dwarves. The villain is surprisingly up-front and present in the novel and his motivations are quite well-drawn, and there's also a well-deployed cast of supporting characters such as the members of friendly rival band Vanguard who are as interesting as our main heroes and a remorseless angelic bounty-hunter who makes for a fearsome enemy, but also a worthy (if unreliable) ally.
Eames packs an enormous amount of plot, characters, battles and quips into a 450-page-long novel and the whole thing moves with verve, pace and humour.
On the minor side of things, if the rock band theme and influences don't work for you, then the novel never really rises about the serviceable. The prose is okay and the book is enjoyable, but undeniably lightweight.
Kings of the Wyld (***½) is a rollicking fun novel which acts as a good palate-cleanser if you've been reading some pretty heavy books recently. It's available now in the UK and USA.