#REVIEW: Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames

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.

Monthly Reads: August 2022

For a whole lot of reasons, August wasn’t a stellar month for reading, both in the amount of it that I did and the quality of the books that I was reading, but the Book of the Month was still pretty damn good: The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream, by Dean Jobb. Ken Liu’s Speaking Bones wasn’t eligible because I’m less than a third of the way through it, and since it’s a thousand fucking pages long I expect next month’s stack to look short as well.

Unread Shelf: August 31, 2022

Who else could not possibly be any happier to see the end of August?

REPOST #REVIEW: Babel, or The Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution, by R.F. Kuang

8/28/22 addendum: This book finally came out last week, and despite pre-0rdering it months ago it took until Thursday for my copy to show up, because Amazon is buttheads. I may actually end up with three copies of it eventually because the UK cover is absolutely amazing. At any rate, I still love this book, and you still need to read it, so reread my original review in case you missed it.


I admit it: I thought about just putting Babel in as the name of the book for the headline there, but really, when a book has this grandiose of a title and more especially when it earns this grandiose of a title, you really need to lean into it. So you get the whole thing.

First things first: this book does not come out until August 23rd. I have had absolutely incredible luck lately with getting advanced reader copies of books I was frothing at the mouth to read– first getting a copy of Jade Legacy several months early, and now lucking out and getting my hands on Babel by winning a Twitter drawing. I have reviewed all three books of her series The Poppy War, and two of the three ended up on my Best Of list at the end of the year. To be brief– because this book has nothing to do with those books except for some overlapping themes– they are an astounding achievement in fantasy, particularly when you take into account that even now, four books into her career, R.F. Kuang is somehow only 26 years old, meaning that I was in college when she was born.

Christopher Paolini, eat your fuckin’ heart out.

Anyway.

Babel is set between 1826 and, oh, the mid-1830s or so, primarily at Oxford, and is at least mostly a historical fiction novel. Why “mostly”? Because in the real world there wasn’t a gigantic tower in the middle of campus that housed the Royal Institute of Translation, which kept the British Empire afloat via a translation-and-silver-based magic program. That’s … new. And it’s weird to say that Kuang mostly adheres to real history other than this thing that literally touches every aspect of the British Empire, but she does. And this is where I’m kind of perfectly situated for this to be my favorite of her books: you might recall that at one point I was working on a Ph.D in Biblical studies– the Hebrew Bible, specifically– which means that while intellectually I can’t hold a candle to any of the four students who form the main cohort of this book, it does mean that I’ve had a lot of the same conversations that they have at various points in the book, and that I’ve spent lots of time thinking hard about a lot of the same issues that are inherent to the concept of “translating” something from one language to another, even before you get to the part where one of the things being translated is literally considered holy Scripture.

Also, one of my buddies from that graduate program is now an actual professor at Oxford, so while I’ve never set foot on the campus I know people who work there, which … doesn’t mean anything at all, actually, but I’m happy to bask in Bill’s reflected glory– and if you’re reading this, my dude, you must find a copy of this book when it comes out. And then send me one, too, because the UK cover is way better than the US one and books with sprayed edges make my jibbly bits feel funny.

The main character of the book is called Robin Swift, a Chinese orphan who is taken as a ward by a professor at the Institute of Translation and brought back to London, eventually to become a student at Babel himself. Why “called” Robin Swift? Because Dr. Lowell tells him that his actual name– never revealed in the text– is no fit name for an Englishman, and makes him choose another one. When Robin arrives at Oxford, he meets the rest of his cohort, composed of two women, one of which is Black, and a young Muslim from India. You may perhaps be raising an eyebrow at this, and you’d be right to, as Oxford didn’t admit women or anything other than white people in the 1830s, but Babel has different standards and different rules than the rest of the university. The book follows Robin and his friends through their first four years at the university, as they learn more about Babel’s workings and about how the silversmithing that underlies so much of Britain’s power works, all while living in Britain and attending a university while, for three of them at least, being visibly Not British.

So in addition to being another really good R.F. Kuang book about a young scholar in over their head (no uterus-removals in this one, though) this book is also about racism and colonialism. In fact, I’d say it’s mostly about racism and colonialism, and specifically the way both manifest themselves in the university, and about what it’s like to be complicit in the oppression of your own people, and what “your own people” even really means if you were raised away from them. And all of that sounds really deep, and it is, but it’s also a hell of a good story, with fascinating characters and lots of worldbuildy magic stuff that may as well be serotonin injected directly into my brain.

I loved the Poppy War books. I loved this more than any of them, and if R.F. Kuang wasn’t one of my favorite writers before, she absolutely is now. Pre-order this, immediately. You can have it in August.

Let’s play a game

Six books, all from my Unread Shelf, next to Squirrelly Dan for scale. Which book has the most pages, and which has the fewest? The answer may surprise and enthrall you!