#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.

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.

#REVIEW: The Princess (2022)

You could be forgiven– I would forgive you, at least— if you dismissed the idea of watching Hulu’s The Princess almost immediately upon hearing about it. You have literally heard the plot a thousand times; the titular Princess, who is never named in the movie, is expected to marry a Bad Guy to ensure the also-unnamed Kingdom has an heir, refuses to do so on account of he’s an obvious sociopath, blah blah blah everyone’s captured and she’s chained up in the top of a tower awaiting her forced marriage because apparently the Bad Guy’s only rule is that he can’t just usurp the kingdom by killing the king; he has to do it “legitimately,” even though the wedding is a farce.

The movie has the distinct feel about it, especially in any scene not starring Executive Producer and star Joey King, of something that Disney would make with 7-10 year old girls as the expected demographic. There’s a lot of broad humor. At one point there’s a trap pulled directly from Home Alone. There’s a guy whose only role in the film is to be fat. The first forty minutes or so are structured in a way that feels very video-gamey. It’s all very, very Disney, and while there’s nothing wrong with making movies for 7-10 year old girls, it is also fine (especially if you aren’t a 7-10 year old girl) if you are someone who does not enjoy said movies.

And then, maybe five minutes into the start of the movie, the Princess dislocates her own thumb on camera so that she can slip out of her chains and then messily kills the two men who are there to keep her quiet and under guard. And, uh, we’re off to the races after that.

So take that Disney movie you had in mind, and then cross it with a really hard-R Charlize Theron action film, only with better fight choreography and a petite redhead who doesn’t immediately scan as a monstrous badass, and understand that there is DNA of both of those things in this movie (which is, for the record, rated R), and that this film, which starts out with the Disneyest of imaginable plots, ends with a beheading.

It’s … really something.

I only found out about this movie from TikTok, which advertised it to me relentlessly for weeks until I caved. I haven’t seen any promo for it anywhere other than TikTok and Hulu.

You want to see this movie for a couple of reasons: 1) the fight choreography really is fucking amazing. It’s well-shot, which is getting rarer and rarer in action films, and the choreographer never (well, really rarely) forgets that his heroine is a 120-pound girl, and despite fighting lots of grown men who are much bigger than she is, she manages to come off … realistic? She uses her agility and size to her advantage throughout the movie, fighting with accuracy rather than strength– there’s a bit where she’s fighting a knight in full armor that is just remarkably well-done, as she focuses on dodging big, heavy swings and counter-attacking at the gaps in his armor, and the movie never lets you forget that swinging a sword around is exhausting, as King spends roughly half her time on-screen gasping for breath.

Oh, and she has virtually no dialogue at all for about the first 45 minutes of the film. There’s only escaping, hiding, and kicking ass. The film’s even really light on badass quippery, which wouldn’t feel appropriate with this character. She does get a great “to the pain” monologue late in the movie, but there’s surprisingly little badassery for the sake of badassery in this movie.

The second reason is closely related to the first: Joey King is awesome, and I want to see her in many many more movies, only movies that know from the start that they’re geared for adults. I don’t know how well this has done for Hulu (it’s possible it’s been a runaway success; I genuinely don’t know) but it straddles two genres that really don’t generally … uh … straddle together, and I fear that that might have cost it some well-deserved viewership. This kid’s the real deal, and the fact that she somehow snagged an executive producer role for this and a couple of other Hulu projects makes me think that she’ll be around a while. The movie itself? Harder to say, but the bad parts are wrapped around some seriously cool shit, and I think it’s probably worth your time.

#REVIEW: The Doors of Eden, by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The headline to this post is a lie; this is not going to be a review, not even by my standards. This is just, like, me waving this thick-ass paperback around and squeeing at people. I love Adrian “Spiders” Tchaikovsky a hell of a lot, and he approaches if not exceeds Brandon Sanderson levels of prolific, so there is an awful lot of him out there to read, only I don’t feel like I talk about him in this space all that often.

The reason for that is simple: his books are batshit insane, from start to finish, all of them, and it makes him kind of hard to write about, because when you try to describe what happened in a Tchaikovsky book the tendency is to wave your hands around and, like, make gurgling noises and say “trust me” an awful lot. I actually fooled myself on this one; it actually starts off in the real world, and for the first hundred pages or so you could be fooled into thinking it was either a book about cryptids or a murder mystery, and while I enjoy both of those kinds of books they would end up feeling awfully pedestrian coming from Tchaikovsky.

Yeah, by the end of the book there are sentient, human-sized rats in plague doctor costumes, a computer the size of a planet made entirely from ice, giant spacefaring trilobites that communicate via manipulating piles of centipedes into an approximation of a human face, technologically advanced Neanderthals, and something like a dozen timelines all collapsing into each other including a part where you get section one of chapter seventeen something like eight times in a row only it makes sense and it’s cool, and oh okay it’s a fucking Adrian Tchaikovsky book after all.

Note that, despite looking like a perfect match to Children of Time and Children of Ruin, this book is not connected with those books in any way that I was able to figure out. I’ve got it on the shelf next to them because it looks like Volume 3 of a trilogy, but it’s not. And, looking on Google to see if I can find an image of the three books next to each other, I just discovered that there actually is a third book from that series coming in November, called Children of Memory, and I’ve already got another book by him in a different series on my unread shelf, meaning that by the end of the year it’s not unreasonable to believe I’ll have read four Adrian Tchaikovsky books, which will probably easily top 2000 pages between the four of them. He’s also got a (completed) seven-book fantasy series out there that I haven’t even touched yet, and he also writes three hundred novellas every year.

Christ, dude. I love you, but … slow the fuck down.