Rating: 5 stars
Kings of the Wyld could be described as the genetically engineered offspring of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, David Gemmell novels (Winter Warriors springs to mind), and the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual.
A quick note: If you are offended by the frequent use of the “F” word and similar, this book is not for you. It comes up a lot in character dialogue. Considering the setting and characters, it does not feel excessive.
Kings of the Wyld presses my buttons on many levels. Let me start by saying I’m 47 and a portion of my youth was spent playing and “dungeon mastering” the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons. Today, I have what you might call a normal life (wife, children, career) aside from the fact I’m also a fantasy author (you can take the man out of the game, but you can’t take the game out of the man). I have a few minor aches and pains, and I’ll never fit in those clothes I wore as a teenager again. This is relevant because…
Kings of the Wyld is about a band (Dungeons and Dragons style adventuring party) of middle-aged overweight and often drunk ex-mercenaries that emerge from what passes as normal retirement to get the band back together.
Their mission – rescue their front man Gabriel’s daughter from inevitable evisceration by almost the entire contents of the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual besieging the city of Castia where she is trapped.
The monstrous ensemble is called the Heartwyld Horde led by the sympathetically tragic Lastleaf – a Druin who seems to be a bit like an elf except with bunny ears. And he rides a Wyvern. I should point out here that this book does not take itself at all seriously except for a few genuinely poignant moments (wipes tear from eye at the memory of the closing scenes). This book has given me so many laughs!
Who are the band?
The hero of this tale is Clay whose inner monster was tamed by a loving wife and a darling daughter. He has long since hung up Blackheart – a wooden shield made out of a Treant – and retired. Then Gabriel comes calling.
Gabriel – divorced father of the damsel in distress and would be wielder of a potent magic sword except that he sold it to the cad now married to his ex-wife.
Then there is the wizard Moog who mourns the loss of his husband to the incurable “rot” disease from which he also suffers. One of the hazards of wondering the Heartwyld. He makes a living as an alchemist selling “Phylactery” which is best described as Viagra in gaseous form. And he lives in a tower that is almost exactly the same shape as a “thingy.” If you wonder what I mean by “thingy” just go back to that Viagra reference and I’m sure you’ll get it. The knocker on the door to his tower is a particularly amusing character named Steve who struggles to speak due to the brass ring in his mouth… and I thought I was cool having a brass dolphin on my front door.
Matrick is the band’s drummer, sorry, knife-wielding warrior thief that somehow became King. The Queen has managed to produce 5 heirs to the throne, none of them fathered by Matrick himself and, oh yes, the Queen wants him dead. Extracting him from his former life to reform the band is trickier than you might think…
Lastly, there is Ganelon who is remarkably forgiving of the fact his former bandmates left him in a quarry turned to stone by a Basilisk for 20 years.
Other characters help and hinder them on the way, and I shall always remember the Ettin Dane and Gregor with fondness. (An Ettin is a two-headed giant in case you’re wondering).
After suffering the indignity of being robbed by a band of girls named the Silk Arrows (twice!), the band’s expedition takes them through the Heartwyld that is still remarkably full of trouble considering so many of its denizens surround Castia for the whole story. The trip is complicated by the fact Matrick’s wife (the Queen) hired a bounty hunter to assassinate him. Is the bounty hunter a shadowy figure in a hooded cloak? Bobba Fett’s twin brother? Nope. A bad-ass Daeva – false god nightmare of a winged woman with her own band of red-robed monks held in her thrall all riding in a skyship!
This story is chock full of humour, monsters, magic and magical weaponry, more monsters and touching moments. And touching moments with monsters (some of them wielding magical weaponry). If you’ve ever wished you could read a story with a wondrous variety of monsters all doing their worst, Kings of the Wyld is like a bowl of every flavour ice cream with a chocolate flake stuck in it plus syrup and those little coloured sugar tubes on top (I know them as hundreds and thousands). There are probably some marshmallows jammed in there somewhere too. Pure indulgence.
Of course, none of this would be worth our reading time or the 5th star if it were not woven into a compelling story. Make no mistake; this is not a regurgitated video or role-playing game. As a student of story craft myself, I know a well-structured story when I read one, and they are not found in the fantasy genre often enough. Nicholas Eames knows his stuff – the story twists, turns and pinches in all the places it must to cast its spell over any fantasy fan even if they never played Dungeons and Dragons. It’s been a very long time since I last enjoyed reading a book this much. Count me in for the sequels.
If all this were not enough, Kings of the Wyld asks one of life’s most compelling questions. The answer to which the wizard Moog and every child under the age of 8 already knows…
Do owlbears actually exist?