Great storytelling hay can be reaped by taking old tropes and flat out running with them until you reach their natural, logical conclusion. (See, e.g., M.L. Brennan’s Generation V series.) Eames does just that with the band of adventurers model common to D&D and other RPGs. What would a world filled with adventuring bands look like? What would the economics be? How would adventurers be seen by society? Much is made of the rock and roll allusions in Kings of the Wyld, but I really think that this is the more interesting angle.
It makes for a rollicking read, if not one that ever quite meets its potential or Eames lofty aims.
The Kings of the Wyld were once the most famous adventuring band in all the land. Now, decades later, Gabriel is getting the band back together. The quest is to retrieve his daughter—herself a young adventurer—from a city halfway across the world and under siege by a massive horde of monsters. The chances of success are negligible; success certain; glory possible.
Getting the band together itself is a herculean task, but the ball gets rolling when Clay “Slowhand” Cooper, our POV character, agrees. The rest of the bandmates are past their prime, deeply scarred, and grown old (except the one who spent the interim literally petrified).
Kings of the Wyld is in many ways a very traditional sort of fantasy story. It has a quest, it has monsters, it has a band of adventurers, it has magic swords and airships and all sorts of good stuff—it’s chock full of pulpy SF adventure goodness. The one bit of inspiration that keeps it from reading as trite is the adventurers-as-rock-stars conceit.
It is fun and new but also makes a lot of sense. The world was once run by rabbit-eared, elf-like druins, who bred monsters as servants and slaves. Eventually the monsters rebelled, and the druins have been in a long decline. Humanity has carved kingdoms out of the monster-infested wilds, but the biggest threats they face are not armies of other humans but roving monsters. And it is not soldiers but rather mercenary, adventuring bands who are best suited to monster-hunting. Hence the tremendous popularity of those bands and a growing resemblance to rock bands. A good adventuring band will grow famous as tales of its exploits spread and rich as its booker collections bounties from fearful citizens. The Kings of the Wyld return to the scene to find a new breed of band less concerned with braving the Heartwyld to hunt monsters than with fighting in the arena and enjoying the trappings of fame—sometimes hiring out the actual adventuring, if they even accept a book other than an arena fight.
It’s all tremendous fun, and Eames never forgets that reading a fantasy novel is supposed to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience. He does have his storytelling ambitions. He’s going for escapism, but not disposable escapism. Trying to hard has hobbled many a book. I can’t say it hurts Kings of the Wyld, but neither are those ambitions quite met. The monsters are pulled a little too directly from D&D, the plot is a little too derivative, the punch from the emotional beats strike only glancing blows. Still, though, great, pulpy fun.
4 of 5 Stars.