Y’all, this one was delightful.
This isn’t going to be a long review; in fact, I’d be surprised if the cover art doesn’t take up more real estate than the actual review. Suffice it to say that this is the kind of book where I can identify the characters on the cover by their weapons (left to right: Patrick, Gabe, Clay, Ganelon and Moog) and I enjoyed it enough that I ordered the sequel before I’d finished it and almost went directly into the sequel afterward. It won’t be on the unread shelf for long, I can assure you of that.
Kings of the Wyld is a pure epic fantasy adventure, featuring a gang of murder hobos fighting monsters that any D&D player will recognize, with the minor exception of substituting rabbit-eared immortals called Druin in for the expected elves. The hook, such as it is, is that these guys have been retired for a while and most of them have gained a bunch of weight, gotten old, moved on from the adventuring life and have spouses and children. The story kicks into gear when a giant horde of monsters nearly takes over and besieges a town far to the north, a town that Golden Gabe’s (adult, also adventurer) daughter happens to be among the defenders of. Gabe’s plan: get the band back together (that phrase is literally used, repeatedly) and go rescue his daughter. The problem: even before you get to the city surrounded by tens of thousands of monsters, you have to get through the massive forest full of other dangerous monsters in between them.
Toss in some Pratchett/Adams-level humor and you’ve got yourself quite a book. I gobbled this up in just a couple of days, and enjoyed every page of it. I have a few gripes– I’ll get to those in a second– but all in all this was a hell of a treat.
So: the gripes. The book remains firmly locked into the third-person perspective of Clay “Slowhand” Cooper, the guy with the big shield (it’s more important than the sword) on the front cover there. Clay wants to get back to his wife and daughter but his loyalty to his friends is what gets him to go on this one final mission. The problem is, I feel like a few chapters here and there from another perspective might have helped. In particular, I’d like to have seen some chapters from Rose, the daughter trapped in the city. Gabe is nearly frantic with worry for most of the book, but we never really see the danger Rose is in because they spend 85% of the book trying to get to her. At one point they’re able to contact her via a scrying tool of Moog’s, but she rather brusquely tells her dad to stay the hell away because she doesn’t want him to get killed and … well, he doesn’t take it all that well.
This is also very much a Dude Book. The five main characters are all men, and the representation level isn’t great: one of the five is gay, but his husband is Tragically Dead before the events of the book start, which is kind of annoying. Now, the dude-heavy nature of the team might be part of an ongoing commentary throughout the book of How Things Have Changed Since Our Time, and I’ll point out that while the main story thrust of the book is the Damsel in Distress trope, Rose herself is an ass-kicker, she’s just an ass-kicker surrounded by a hundred thousand demons, and most of the younger bands of adventures feature women rather heavily, including one exclusively female group that manages to rob Clay and his team multiple times over the course of the book. The sequel, starring Rose, will presumably be better on that front.
I think it’s fair to say that if those things are going to bother you, you can probably pick up Bloody Rose, the sequel, because I’m pretty sure that you’re not going to have to have read this book to know what’s going on, and given the quality of the writing I feel safe recommending Bloody Rose unread. I was not bothered by them so much as I noted them and moved on; your mileage may vary and adjust your expectations accordingly. But I loved this one, and I can’t wait to get to the sequel.