Bloody Rose

You may recall that I meant to read Nicholas Eames' Kings of the Wyld for quite a while, what with all the rave reviews and the fact that it was supposed to be the kind of novel Terry Pratchett and Joe Abercrombie would have written if they had ever collaborated on a project. And though the book was a far cry from George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, or Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World, or any other work of speculative fiction that turned out to be a game-changer, it ended up being the most fun I had reading this year. And that's worth something!

Needless to say, I had lofty expectations for Bloody Rose, expectations that perhaps this novel simply could not live up to. Or maybe it's the fact that the author appears to have used the same ingredients to recreate the same recipe, putting them all in the oven and hoping for the best. The end result, however, failed to live up to the potential generated by its predecessor. Mind you, Bloody Rose is another light, funny, and entertaining read. But in many ways, it turned out to be a pale imitation of Kings of the Wyld.

Here's the blurb:

A band of fabled mercenaries, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, tour a wild fantasy landscape, battling monsters in arenas in front of thousands of adoring fans, but a secret and dangerous gig ushers them to the frozen north, and the band is never one to waste a shot at glory . . . even if it means almost certain death.

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, rolls into town, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.

As was the case with the first installment, the worldbuilding is nothing special and can be decidedly generic at times. Most of the elements have been seen and done before, over and over again. Yet again, pretty much all the tropes are present. À la Abercrombie, in Kings of the Wyld Eames enjoyed subverting those clichés and playing with readers' expectations. Not so in this sequel, sadly. The author never takes himself too seriously, which is why the first volume was so much fun to read. The fact that mercenary bands are idolized like rockstars gave Kings of the Wyld its unique flavor. As is the case with music today, with so many people complaining that it's not as good and authentic as music from the 70s, 80s, or 90s, the new mercenary companies of Eames' universe are competing against one another to live up to and ultimately outshine the bands from the past. It was hard to put a label on such a work, for one minute it was moody grimdark and the other it was laugh-out-loud hilarious. Unfortunately, the concept doesn't work as well in Bloody Rose and most of the plot felt a little rehashed.

The characterization definitely fell short this time around. Nicholas Eames truly knocked it out of the park in Kings of the Wyld. Like the members of Twister Sister and Judas Priest, the men who comprised the legendary mercenary band Saga were way past their prime and were only poor shadows of the powerful figures they once were. Other than Ganelon, who spent the last decades frozen in time, Clay Cooper, Mattrick Skulldrummer, Arcandius Moog, and “Golden Gabe” Gabriel had all seen better days. All were flawed, yet extremely endearing characters. It was a very tall order for Rose, Cura, Brune, Roderick, Tam, and Lastleaf to fill those shoes and it is no great surprise that they failed to do so. It's not that they aren't interesting protagonists in their own right. They were simply not as fun to follow as the Saga band were. The only perspective of Kings of the Wyld was that of Clay Cooper, and a more entertaining narrator I haven't encountered since Abercrombie's Sand dan Glokta. The most even-keeled member of Saga, I just loved his cynical and the-glass-is-half-empty kind of outlook on life. He definitely was the best choice of POV for that novel. As the only narrative voice in Bloody Rose, Tam Hashford's perspective never stood a chance to hold a candle to Slow Hand's and it makes a big difference.

Once more, this sequel is a fantasy story that hearkens back to the popular quest books from the 80s and early 90s, what with the characters surmounting seemingly impossible odds without getting killed and somehow finding a way to come out on top at the end. It doesn't always make sense, but it's another hell of a ride. Although it's one that doesn't work as well as that of the first volume, for it bears too many similarities with what took place in Kings of the Wyld. In terms of pace, Bloody Rose can be quite uneven in certain parts of the book. Various sequences serve little purpose other than having the proverbial shit go down the crapper and send our cast on another misadventure where they'll have to pull through and survive another ordeal to get them one step closer to their objective. The same could be said of its predecessor, true. But where the pace was fluid and I ended up breezing through Kings of the Wyld, the rhythm definitely dragged in this one.

I went through the first installment in record time. Trouble is, in my review I mentioned that I doubted that this same recipe could work a second time around. If he could, this was an auspicious beginning that could see Nicholas Eames ultimately rank right up there with the likes of Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie. With Bloody Rose failing to live up to expectations, it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Is Nicholas Eames a one-hit wonder and a one-trick pony? Let's hope not. We'll know for sure when the next book in the series comes out. . .

The final verdict: 6.5/10

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