What if there was a world where adventurers were treated like rock stars? Where bands of mercenaries had the kind of celebrity that our world gave groups like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, or the Beatles? And what happens when one band, the members gone grey haired and long in the tooth, decide to reunite for one last epic gig… err adventure. That is the premise of Nicholas Eames’ debut novel, KINGS OF THE WYLD.
The reason for the gig? The band’s frontman’s daughter is currently in a city under siege by the largest horde of monsters the world has ever seen. And the more “civilized” nations aren’t in a position to go lift it. Even the mercenaries, who used to make a habit of venturing into the wilds and killing monsters have gotten out of the habit. At the time of the novel, they are more likely to go to a big city and fight in the arenas, the monsters provided by wranglers. All this means is that humanity is woefully unprepared to fight against the horde, even if it means their lands will be targeted next.
As a result, Gabriel, the frontman, recruits the main character of the story, Clay “Slowhand” Cooper. Why him first? Because, even if he will never realize it, Clay might not be the flashiest or deadliest member of his band, but he was the heart of it, the one all the others would follow if he but asked. And because his own daughter asks if he would come rescue her if she was the one in trouble, Clay agrees to help his former friend, even knowing that it will almost certainly result in his death. What follows is a series of subquests to recruit the other members. Moog, the wizard, has gone into business selling magical Viagra. Matrick, the thief, managed to score himself a kingdom… but now his wife is trying to kill him. Finally, there’s Ganelon, the most dangerous man Clay Cooper has ever known, but who has been petrified for the past nineteen years.
The strongest part for me is that Eames infuses the entire novel with an irreverent humor, heightened by the very real pathos his characters go through. It’s a novel that runs full-on with its premise and isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself at times as well.
I do have some small quibbles with the book, probably the biggest of which is that Eames seems to have leafed through an old Monster Manual to come up with the monsters his heroes face. I would have preferred something a little less bog-standard fantasy than the typical giants, wyverns, goblins and orcs but maybe that is just me. I will say that his villains are unique, and you will never meet a more menacing bunny-eared foe.
All in all, I highly recommend this novel to fans of fantasy and hard rock, and people who dreamt of wielding an ax of either sort.
You can follow Nicolas Eames on twitter here.
 I’m not sure what the tipping point was for fantasy novels to start featuring older characters, their halcyon days behind them, but it is a trend I’m noticing. Other examples include RED COUNTRY by Joe Abercrombie and THE GRIM COMPANY by Luke Scull. Cameron did point out that older adventurers are nothing new, citing Allan Quatermain as an example. I don’t disagree but was thinking more in contrast with more recent work like The BELGARIAD and MEMORY, SORROW, AND THORN where the main character starts as a callow youth and matures over the course of the work.