On the face of it, Bloody Rose (2018) is a lot like Kings of the Wyld, the first novel in Nicholas Eames‘ THE BAND series: it’s still following the original’s fun premise (i.e. “questing bands are basically just rock bands, complete with touring and groupies”), and it boasts much of the same humor, heart, and hard-rock-cafe sensibility. It also carries on the tradition of being, you know, awfully good. But there are some notable changes lurking under the surface. Bloody Rose is the kind of sequel that tries to go bigger and darker than the first, the Empire Strikes Back to the original’s Star Wars. And I’m happy to say it’s quite successful.
Before I go any further, though, here’s the premise: young minstrel Tam lives in a small town and dreams of joining a questing band. Her parents were in a band, after all, and she figures it’s in the blood. Her father, still grieving the untimely loss of his wife, firmly disagrees. Nonetheless, Tam covertly applies to and is accepted by Fable, the biggest band in the world. She leaves home with a chip on her shoulder, but soon finds that her bandmates are even worse off on that score than she is. The teammates live hard, drink hard, and generally indulge their every self-destructive whim. Their leader, the woman called Bloody Rose, is the hardest of a hard lot, a glory-hound too reckless to live long. And yet, when danger threatens the land, Fable is the only major band that doesn’t seem pushed to confront it. As Tam learns more about her bandmates and the true threat she will face alongside them, she must decide where her loyalties lie.
As in the first installment, Eames proves himself a deft writer, gifted with both a great ear for dialogue and an equally solid eye for detail. Fable’s raucous members are a swirling thunderhead of dysfunction and daddy issues, and all of that comes across (in implication if nothing else) from their very first page. Tam is a good choice as an eye onto the teammates — at once an outsider to the group and also so clearly one them in terms of personality that she quickly meshes into events — and her adventure with the band is masterfully handled. It’s funny and tense by turns, and comes to a thrilling conclusion that somehow (I’m not quite certain how Eames pulled it off) manages to beat the first book’s finale in terms of pure explosive force.
As I said above, Bloody Rose is a somewhat darker book than Kings of the Wyld. One of Eames’ greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to dance near-seamlessly back and forth between referential comedy and traditional action/drama, but in the first book the baseline tone was essentially comedic. He flips the percentages this time around, offering a mostly serious story that nonetheless bubbles with levity. The jokes are great, but they aren’t the focus. This is a more intense book than its predecessor, trading in the feel-good warmth of some over-the-hill adventurers getting a last hurrah for a bleaker story about damaged people fighting to cohere in the face of adversity. There are times when Eames doesn’t quite earn the high melodrama he pursues — his flirtations with poetic present tense in the heat of battle scenes, for example, sometimes became a bit much this time around — but overall he carries off a very ambitious plot with admirable aplomb.
As in the first novel, there are a few issues with pacing around the middle. The members of Fable are all interesting and complex people with deep-seated interpersonal problems (or, well, problem — it’s basically daddy issues across the board), and Eames is committed to giving each of them a distinct arc and moment of growth. Unfortunately, he’s so committed to this end that he ends up going on a few tangents to fit it all in, apparently unable to wrap everyone’s individual resolution into the main plot. All of the material is good, but some of it feels peripheral. The shaman’s storyline, in particular, ends up going on too long, though it would have made an exciting short story all to itself.
Overall, Bloody Rose is an excellent follow-up to Kings of the Wyld, offering a bigger, more dramatic helping of what fans loved in the first novel, along with just enough changes under the surface to keep things interesting. I look forward to seeing what Eames does next.
As a final note, I listened to Bloody Rose in audiobook format. The narrator does an excellent job, making each character distinctive and moving well between the humor and the more serious sections.
Nicholas Eames continues his unique approach to fantasy adventure story-telling in Bloody Rose (2018), book number two of his THE BAND series, that he started with Kings of the Wyld. He styles roving teams of mercenaries, who seek fame and fortune in the gladiatorial arenas or hiring-out to keep the inhuman hordes at bay, as modern-day rock bands.
Bloody Rose is the leader of the most famous — or infamous — mercenary band currently active. Fable is the hardest fighting and hardest partyin’ band there is, and Bloody Rose is their heart and soul. This is her story as told by Tam, Fable’s traveling bard.
Tam is young and desperate to leave home and seek her own adventures. So, when she hears that Fable needs a new bard, it takes little encouragement for Tam to go for it.
Mr. Eames’s idea of taking traditional fantasy tropes and turning them into rock-stars is just nuts! If someone had told me that this was their idea for a fantasy series, I would kindly have wished them luck and moved on. I’m not sure what it was about Kings of the Wyld that intrigued me — probably the cover — but I had such an awesome time with the first book of THE BAND that I had to continue the series.
As I started Bloody Rose, I had doubts that lightning could strike the same way twice, but Mr. Eames did it and then some. In fact, I’m having a hard time with this review, because I don’t want to even slightly risk a spoiler.
Bloody Rose (and Kings of the Wyld too) is just crazy because the magic system, creatures, and non-human races of THE BAND series is like something straight out of a RPG handbook, and, personally, I kinda hate that stuff. But in Mr. Eames’s hands, it’s great, awesomely great. Nicholas Eames’s writing is like one of those tiny stars that packs the density of a star five times its size. What should be a light-hearted, if not silly, read is a genuinely satisfying story. Eames even acts like he’s trying hard to keep readers from taking it seriously. Both books are rife with references to pop and rock music, as well as laugh-out-loud comedy. Also, for readers like me, whose testosterone levels require prescription strength dose of action, it’s in there. All those elements are plenty enough to qualify a darn-good-read, but where Mr. Eames really gets you is right smack-dab in the feels.
Now I’m a hard, old bastard. Seems like the more years I survive, and the more books I read, the fewer things I genuinely care about, and I think I kinda like it that way. Then comes an author, out of nowhere, like Nicholas Eames who makes me feel stuff. Dammit all, but I love Bloody Rose and the rest of Fable, and I love Slowhand Clay and Golden Gabe, and so many of the others. I empathize with the “monsters” and feel shame for their plight. And it feels good to feel stuff for characters in a book again.
For that, Mr. Eames I thank you. I owe you one, sir.
Yes!! I’m so excited to read Bloody Rose. I thoroughly enjoyed Kings of the Wyld and am looking forward to experiencing Eames’s humor again.
get ready to rock. Lexi \m/
Get ready to Rock, Lexi. \m/