June of last year I published a review of Nicholas Eames’ Kings of the Wyld (see Expendable Fantasy Edition) and I loved it. It was everything I loved about DnD, humor, and fantasy in one package. The pacing was perfect for the story. The POV character colored the world in shades of dry, sarcasm. Most importantly it was fun. So when Nicholas Eames announced the sequel Bloody Rose I was super excited. When it arrived last week I was ready and I devoured it and… couldn’t bring myself to like it.
I’m sorry, Nicholas, but I am going to have to punch your baby a few times.
“Live fast, die young.
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.
It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.”
I want to get this part out of the way. I don’t hate this book. It is flawed in ways that most probably won’t notice. However I can’t not notice them and once I’ve seen them I can’t pretend I didn’t. The prose is still quite good. The world is still interesting. Also it has a bitchin’ cover. (Seriously. Look at that piece of badassery at the top of the page. It’s sexy. I don’t know whether the artist was trying to get my attention or my erection but he succeeded.) That being said there are real problems with the book. Mostly pacing, point of view, and characters with a slight hint of sequelitis. I’m just gonna work that in order.
Pacing. I blew through the first 8 chapters and then struggled with the next 15 chapters. The first 8 chapters do a great job nailing down who the characters are and setting the stage – and then the next 15 chapters do the exact same thing over and over. There is a limit to how many times I can be told that someone gets drunk or someone has sex or someone has nondescript fight for money before I just started nodding and saying, “Got it. Can we move on?” But that it was you get for 15 chapters. No real character development – unless you count someone’s class abilities changing and I sure as shit don’t – and no plot. There are tiny, tiny hints of a plot but that’s it. You could have gone from 8 to 23 and you wouldn’t have missed a thing. Everything there is basically inconsequential. There is no foreshadowing, no important characters introduced, no plot relevant information given, and no real character development. It is – literally – go to new place. Fight. Show of each character’s single personality trait. Show Tam being out of her element. Insulting banter between friends. Rinse and repeat.
Let’s talk about Tam. She is the point of view character. The outsider look into the band Fable so that we as the audience can get things explained to us because they need to be explained to her. That is her only role. Other than that she is fucking pointless. Oh good god is she pointless. She is barely involved in any of the fighting. So for much of the book while Rose and Freecloud and Brune and – god damn it I forgot the fucking emo witch’s name again – Cura are all doing cool, amazing things she is watching from a distance. Remember that she is the pov character which means we spend a lot of the book watching battles from a distance. Now I like watching fights. Love it in fact. I am enraptured watching MMA or a really good boxing match or a great sword fight. I am also exceptionally certain that watching me watch a fight is not at all interesting to anyone without a particularly strange fetish.
To sum her up. She comes up with no plans, has no unique skills, is barely involved in any of the action, has a bullshit romance that comes out of nowhere, and to top it off doesn’t have anywhere near the personality to pull off being a main character. She is generically sweet with a little bit of sass (that she never voices) and that’s it. You could have replaced her with any other character in the book and changed fucking nothing. Everything she did could have been done by any other member of Fable. She is in some scenes that she should never have been in but she was lazily roped into because the author wanted us to see it.
How about characterization among the other characters? No better actually. The characters from Kings of the Wyld were larger than life. They popped off the page. These characters? They are just kinda there. They don’t have character development so much as they have monologues where they explain their backstory and motivation. Nothing is shown (except for their primary vice). Everything is told. I just came out of this book not really liking any of the characters. Rose is a self centered, fucking idiot who I wouldn’t trust to run a McDonald’s drive thru. Brune is generic berserker type barbarian. Cura has a lot of sex because of sad upbringing trope (and she does magic but far more time is spent reminding us that she will sleep with anyone because that is fucking fascinating. All the fantastic adventure of the cheerleading squad at my high school.) And then there is Freecloud. I want to like him but god is he fucking dumb.
That is actually a common denominator here. All of the characters are really fucking stupid. No planning. No clever wit. No one calls anyone on their bullshit. Everyone just blithely follows Rose to their almost certain death while admitting that they are all going to die. So why do it? Fucked if I know! It can’t be charisma because Rose is god damned cardboard. There is no depth to her personality at all besides how shitty of a person she is. And no, Nicholas, the last few pages do not redeem her. At all.
And last and least of my complaints is that there are a number of big emotional moments in this book… that aren’t built up in the book. They only have impact if you read the first one. I can’t say too much about it without spoiling major plot points but the events are meaningless without having read the first book as there is no reason for them to be big events just based off the events of this book.
I wanted to like this book. I wanted to love it but it just doesn’t have the magic of Kings of the Wyld. It doesn’t have the humor or emotion. It doesn’t have the action. It’s an adventure without a sense of wonder. It has plot holes you could drive a bus through. It has forgettable characters. It just doesn’t bring much to the table at all. It feels like a step backwards from Eames debut book.
In the end I feel like this whole book is a missed opportunity to tell a really interesting story. To tell a really fun story. And it just misses the mark.