Dark fantasy can likewise be hit or miss. Without some sort of levity, be it through hope or humor, it has to be damn near perfect to justify the grimness or risk losing a reader who tires of nothing but bleakness. Kings of the Wyld is a book that knows how hold the balance and as such proves to be a stand out debut.
The premise is grim. Clay is living a happy life, married with a young daughter, when an old friend and 'band' mate shows up with a plea for help. A city under siege is where Gabriel's daughter is trapped and he knows only Clay has the pull to bring all the old members of 'Saga' back together for one last impossible fight. Leaving his own happy life behind Clay joins Gabriel as they reunite with each of the scattered old legends; a wizard, a thief turned king, and a pure killing machine turned...well that would be a spoiler. Yes friends they are getting the band back together in one of the more obvious winks a reader can expect in their hilarious journey.
There is a hope to this book that separates itself from so much dark fantasy. The entire quest is driven by love; Gabriel for his daughter of course (and Clay out of respect to his own) but also out of a bond between the band themselves. Clay is a protagonist from another era; genuinely good who occasionally has to do bad things. He is Logan Ninefingers as Logan wanted to be, or rather how Logan pretended to be (I can do references too you know). Despite the bleak outlook for their particular quest the group never really loses hope or even thinks of turning back. And one particular side character's amazing journey to put the best spin on everything for a friend is down right heartbreaking! Just wait until you see to whom I refer.
But it is the humor that sets Kings of the Wyld apart. Small pop cutler references litter the pages (I saw Princess Bride and Spinal Tap among others). But the references never stop and wave to try to call attention to themselves; they are dropped subtly and left where those looking can find them. It isn't just pop culture references though as even fight scenes turn hilarious once the bands mage, Moog, joins the fray. I am still laughing about a horn that supposedly turns swords into snakes. Eames has great comedic timing, seamlessly going between action, seriousness, and humor between one line and the next.
Most impressive of all is just how tightly written Kings of the Wyld is. Most would be happy to read this book for the laughs or the rock and roll quest alone. But despite its simplistic premise, or perhaps because of it, this is a book that one would be hard pressed to poke holes in. It has an ending every bit as satisfying as the journey to took to get to it. Loose ends are tied up, side characters are not forgotten and main characters each get something out of the quest. Just enough is left for a future sequel to peak interest without being infuriatingly open.
I didn't love every character and there were a few portions of the quest that could have been edited down a bit more (everyone has their own tolerance for 'random encounters' in a book and I may have hit mine). A few of the Saga's problems were solved a bit too easily (though when done with comedic effect this wasn't always a negative). But all I can offer is nitpicks here, overall I was quite happily surprised by this book.
Joe Abercrombie meets Terry Pratchett, and that is not praise I would give lightly.
Copy for review provided by publisher.