First of all, I love 80s rock. Like, a lot. Seriously, the soundtrack of my childhood consisted largely of Queen, Journey, Styx, Foreigner, and other bands of their ilk. Saturday mornings are still meant for “Your Love” by The Outfield and “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield.
So, when my friends started gushing about a fantasy novel filled with musical references from one of my favorite eras, and promising that it was funny to boot, I added it to my list. But something else always seemed to grab my attention, and it stayed unread on my list for months. That is, until my lovely friend Petrik sent me a copy as a surprise early Christmas gift. With my very own copy in hand, I finally cracked KotW open. And I’m so glad that I did!
I don’t know that I have ever described a book as “rollicking” but this one definitely was. "What if mercenaries were treated like the rock bands of the fantasy world?" is basically the best jumping off point for any book ever. The use of music industry terms, like headliner and touring and booker and frontman, were all really fun additions. I’m in a band, so seeing a band equivalent in a fantasy setting was exciting and incredibly entertaining for me. Also, I loved all of the band and song references. I know there’s no way I caught them all, but any time I did catch one I was messaging friends with cyber squeals of joy. I’ll refrain from giving any away, because the search for musical Easter eggs is half the fun!
And the music references weren’t the only ones Eames included. Video games and and movies and classic fantasy novels were all referenced, as well. Here’s my favorite, a reference to The Hobbit:
“The place was a hovel, but not the cozy hovel of the sort inhabited by poets and scribes, crammed with bookshelves, candles, and antique curios. Nor was it the sparse kind of hovel, occupied by little more than a ragged blanket and a straw-stuffed mattress: It was a kubold’s hovel, and that meant shithole.”
I genuinely busted out laughing when I read that paragraph, and it makes me smile every time I remember it. There are so many lines like that in this book. But there was also depth here, lines that actually made me stop and think, which stood out all the more because of the predominant humor throughout the majority of the book. For example:
“But what does a mirror know? What can it show us of ourselves? Oh, it might reveal a few scars, and perhaps a glimpse—there, in the eyes—of our true nature. The spirit beneath the skin. Yet the deepest scars are often hidden, and though a mirror might reveal our weakness, it reflects only a fraction of our strength.”
See? That’s deep stuff, man. And that deep thought sprung right from the head of our main protagonist, “Slowhand” Clay Cooper. I enjoyed Clay so much. I loved all of the members of Saga, a classic band getting together for one last adventure and the central focus of the book. But Clay was definitely my favorite. If Saga is to be equated with an actual musical band, here are my thoughts on what instrument each member would play. Golden Gabe is the frontman, as we already know from the book itself, but the rest are all strictly my opinion. I believe that Ganelon is the lead guitarist, because lead guitarists of rock bands tend to be destructive and more than a little crazy and are often lady magnets, all of which apply. Moog plays the synthesizer, because he’s kooky and does his own thing but it somehow always works out with what the rest of the band is doing. Matty Skulldrummer would have to be the drummer for obvious reasons.
That leaves Clay. I think Slowhand is an appropriate stage name for a bassist. A bassist tends to be the binding agent in a band, the person who quietly holds everything together and keeps the song moving in the right direction. The bass-line is the heartbeat of a song, and Clay Cooper is without a doubt the heartbeat of Saga. Also, I have a thing for bassists; my husband is a phenomenal one.
All of that randomness to say: I really loved this book. And honestly, I could go on about the employment of such a wide array of fantastical creatures and magical weapons and intriguing mythology, but I want to leave as much as possible unknown for others to discover for themselves. There were a couple of writing choices that I would have changed, like doing away with a few of the plethora of similes employed in the prose, but there was nothing that bothered me enough to keep me from giving the book five rocking stars. If you’re looking for something that mingles humor with heart, that will make you feel nostalgic and keep you entertained as you search for various pop culture references, I’ve found no other novel that can top this one.