Kings of the Wyld is the debut fantasy novel from Nicholas Eames. In a world ravaged by monsters, the mercenary bands who combat them are treated like rock stars. Some of them do it for the money. Others do it for the fame. And a band which rocked the foundations of the world is being drawn back together for one last gig.
The world s one split between the urban and rural. In the urban we have walled cities, towering monuments to ingenuity and skill. That they have rather thick walls is surely incidental. This is a civilisation based on the ruins of others – a near immortal race of bunny-eared savants put down the roots of the modern society, before their brutal annihilation in mysterious conflicts of the distant past. Their artefacts are as powerful as they are mysterious – which is to say, very. Still, it’s a land almost at peace. The vast and monstrous hordes of decades past have been broken by bands of mercenaries, mixing magic, swagger and violence together in an intoxicating blend that is almost, but not quite, heroism. This is a land not fit for heroes. But something is stirring, and this precision-crafted world provides a vivid and detailed backdrop for the machinations of the characters.
The band are a diverse bunch. They’re a mix of sociopaths restrained by their better natures, and/or those who use monster-hunting as an outlet for their violent urges, glory-seekers, money-grubbers and those who might be charitably described as a little unstable. They’re also experienced, or, if one is feeling less polite, middle aged. This band of hardened killers has stories written about them, and once shook the world – but they’ve broken up, settled down, and found their own causes; their reputation maintained by an audience which is now itself older, while newer, cooler bands capture the hearts of the young. Somewhere in there is a commentary on playing to large arenas for the love of the crowd, as opposed to the older craft of trudging around the country and working smaller venues in your murder of monstrosities. In any event, The Band are not, in a lot of ways, nice people. But mellowed, or possibly even broken, by their age and having survived everything that life threw at them, they’re amazing to read about. Gabe, the charismatic, subversive face of the band, if not the leader, is a wreck held together by love for his daughter. Their rogue is deadly with knives and lockpicks, but also suffers from having everything he’s ever wanted. The shield-man, our protagonist, manages to restrain his own penchant for brutal violence with the totem of his family, and his love of the rest of the band. This is a group of tired individuals, gone somewhat to seed; but if their past is now behind them, they still have the energy, the raw potential, to make things change. The chemistry between them is palpable, and the relationships they construct, or the histories that they carry with them are subtle, human things, which put wounds, scars and faces to the characters, and give them a certain depth and heart.
The plot – well, at base, it’s a journey. Physically, yes, as the band reforms and marches across the world in service to a larger goal. And that’s a rip-roaring adventure for sure, with political machinations, horrific monstrosities, kinetic combat and an emotional heart which hasthe potential to rip you open at the same time as it promises cathartic resolution. It’s gloriously bloody, honest stuff, which has a core of humanity which makes it affecting and real. But that’s the thing – alongside the physical journey, the swordfights, the daring escapes, the complaints about old injuries, there’s the personal journey as well. This is a band not entirely prone to self reflection, coming to terms with their own past, and the realisation that the tarnished images they built for themselves in their youth have been largely forgotten, feet of clay and all. This is a journey which challenges assumptions, and explores the ties that bind a group together – loyalty, truth, and the desire to make a lot of money.
It's an absolutely cracking debut, and one I recommend unreservedly. Give it a try.