Kings of The Wyld

By Nicholas Eames

Wow, what a pleasant surprise this was.

I found Kings of the Wyld like I find most books these days, by tooling around on Amazon and looking for authors similar to those I like. The process can be hit or miss (hence the creation of this blog!), but occasionally one does strike gold. I was initially a bit skeptical of the book’s premise, which sounded like it could get old quick.

From the site:

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. 

Reviewers went on to explain that in this world, mercenary “bands” paralleled modern rock bands (e.g. each band has a “frontman,” they go “on tour” through the wilderness, etc.). I fully admit, I was skeptical of this premise, which brought to mind some of the really terrible 80’s fantasy that I read when my library started running out of more promising candidates.

But take it from me: this is a truly charming book, and like The Shadow of What Was Lost, it’s that much more remarkable for having been the author’s debut effort. Perhaps the highest praise that I can give the book is this: it is laugh-out-loud funny, to the point that I have trouble coming up with good comps elsewhere in the fantasy tradition. It’s not quite zany like Pratchett, though does share some similarities with his work. Maybe The Princess Bride? Readers, help me out if you have suggestions!

Here’s a typical passage, as our protagonist tries to extricate himself from an opponent’s grasp:

The stitches in Clay’s face had come open again, and his left cheek was scraped raw. He climbed groggily to his feet, trying to reconcile in his head how he’d spin this story to Tally if he lived to tell it. 

What’s that honey? What I was doing while Uncle Gabe was dueling a god with all of civilization at stake? Why, I was wrestling in the muck with an exceptionally tenacious cow.

The book is an engaging, funny work that somehow both inhabits and subverts many of the traditional fantasy tropes. I’m kind of running out of superlatives here. I understand there’s a sequel in the works, and it’s immediately shot to the top of my waiting list.

So to sum up: if you’re looking for a quick, fun, satisfying read, then this is a great choice. I eagerly await Eames’ future work.

Rating: 5 – Mandatory Reading

If you liked this, you may enjoy: The Princess Bride, Guards! Guards!

 

An Echo of Things to Come (Licanius Trilogy, Book 2)

By James Islington

Past readers will know that I was blown away by Islington’s initial entry into The Licanius Trilogy, The Shadow of What Was Lost. It currently occupies one of the few spots in my “mandatory reading” category, and I’ve been salivating about book two for months now.

Part of what made Islington’s debut novel so surprising is that it was originally self-published. The fact that I didn’t realize that until after finishing the book should give you some indication of the book’s quality- this was a polished work, free from a lot of the clunkiness that typically comes with early drafts. And though Islington was obviously drawing heavily from the Wheel of Time series (among others), I never got the feeling that he was writing fan fiction, only that he was inspired by the same stories that I love.

Now for the more difficult part: I have to say that I didn’t love book two. Did I like it? Yes! Did I like it a lot? Yes! But I can’t quite bring myself to give it the coveted “mandatory reading” status.

Things I liked about book two *no spoilers*:

  • the writing continues to be solid
  • Islington has built a fascinating world, and the magic system is complex but nuanced
  • the continuing reveals about Caedan’s past are entertaining
  • the development of Davian and Asha’s characters and powers is satisfying,
  • the ongoing questions about whether our heroes are doing the right thing
  • the sense that even the putative villains might have understandable motivations, and that we as readers might not fully understand what’s going on

Things I didn’t like about book two *minor spoilers*:

  • In hindsight, I wish I had re-read book one before jumping into book two. I had some trouble recalling the specifics of what was going on, in part because some characters have multiple names, and because a significant portion of the book centers on Caedan regaining piecemeal memories from years (or millennia) earlier.
  • Similarly, I had some trouble with the timeline of events. For instance, it seems that no-one can remember the details of the war that occurred just a few decades before the book is set. Some of that is explained away using magic, but it still rubbed me the wrong way.
  • I think Islington leans a little too hard on the trope of “authority figures don’t appreciate the coming threat” (and yes, I realize that our own leaders are ignoring the coming climate apocalypse, so this isn’t really that far-fetched). In particular, I found myself legitimately angry with how stupidly Wirr’s mother acts in the book.
  • I’m still a little lukewarm on readers being led to sympathize with Davian’s sense of morality. There’s an important scene where he decides not to kill someone, and I’ll just say that it’s not at all clear to me (even as a pacifist-type) that this was the moral choice.

So ok, I had some quibbles. Overall, I still found it to be a very enjoyable book, and I’ll still happily pre-order book three. In the meantime, I’m going to leave book one in the “mandatory reading” category, while inserting this second entry one step below. Depending on how the series unfolds, I could see myself nudging the whole series into one category or the other, but for now, I’ll wait and see.

Rating: 4 – Highly Recommended

If you liked this, you may enjoy: The Way of Kings, The Name of the Wind

 

 

Child of The Daystar (Wings of War, Book 1)

By Bryce O’Connor

Child of the Daystar is the first entry into The Wings of War series. It introduces readers to the story of Raz i’Syrul, a sort of humanoid dragon, who is captured by slavers early in his life, and is subsequently raised by a kindly group of nomads. After a series of unfortunate events, we then witness Raz’s rise to fame (infamy?), in which he becomes a badass mercenary/gladiator type (hey, wouldn’t you, if you were a 7-foot tall dragon dude?).

This is one of those books that I felt conflicted about while reading. It’s not exactly young adult, insofar as there is plenty of combat, viscera, etc. But it does have the sort of cadence that I’ve come to associate with YA fantasy literature (similar to Red Rising, The Hunger Games, etc.), and there were times throughout the book when I thought about putting it down (mostly in the first half). But I never quite did, and when all was said and done, I think I’ll probably pick up the sequels at some point (I know, I know, I’m damning it with faint praise). O’Connor has a strong hand with the action sequences, and I appreciated how Raz’s dark side helped to flesh out his character. I will dock a few points for the bad guys being transparently evil, but I suppose there are straight-up demonic slaver-types still around in the world today, so it’s not that much of a reach.

The amazon reviews for books two and three of the series look positive, so hopefully that’s an indication that the series grows stronger as it progresses. At the very least, book one was a relatively quick and entertaining read. I’ll gladly designate it as “guilty pleasure” reading; if you’re looking for for a drink that goes down easy, and like combat-filled fantasy,  this isn’t a bad choice!

Rating: 2 – Guilty Pleasure

If you liked this, you may enjoy: Red Rising, The Hunger Games