Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

Bloody Rose
by Nicholas Eames
Orbit, 2018

bloody rose.jpg

Nicholas Eames’ new novel Bloody Rose is the second in a proposed fantasy trilogy. Eames rocked the fantasy genre with 2017’s Kings of the Wyld. These novels are set in a world where groups of mercenaries are given the rockstar treatment by legions of fans and are referred to as ‘bands.’ Quests undertaken are referred to as ‘tours’ and each band sent to hunt monsters is booked for ‘gigs’ by managers. Kings of the Wyld, Eames’ debut, touted itself as ‘Getting the band back together.’ Filling his story with a multitude of 1960’s and 1970’s music and pop culture references with as much humor as possible, Eames managed to mix comedy with deeper themes such as the prospect of aging, wondering if the energy brought by youth stills remains, and bonds between friends reuniting - all the while setting his story in a typical fantasy land with kings, queens, and creatures of all sorts. At the center of this story was Saga, one of the most famous ‘bands’ in all the land and now well past their prime. Come back together to help rescue the daughter of Golden Gabe, the leader of the band, from a horde of monsters, Saga needed to prove that they could still relive their former glory and save the day.  

Eames’ has titled his trilogy ‘The Band trilogy’ for the influence music had on his writing. Indeed - Eames published a soundtrack to listen along to while following the story, with songs dedicated to each chapter in Kings of the Wyld. Just as a generation’s music changes over time, so do the stars of Eames’ fantasy world in Bloody Rose. In this follow up, a few years have passed since the events of Kings of the Wyld.  The focus of this story are two women. Tam Hashford is bored of her existence working in a local pub, watching in envy as famous bands frequent her establishment and hearing their bards regale crowds with tales of fame and prestige. She soon gets what she wishes for after meeting Bloody Rose, the daughter at the heart of Saga’s rescue mission from the previous book and leader of the band Fable. Each has an agenda - Tam wants to be more than a bartender to the stars, and Rose wants to step out from behind her father’s shadow and prove that she can be more than the daughter of Golden Gabe. When a new horde of creatures wreaks havoc and is lead by the vengeful Winter Queen, the mother of the main antagonist from Kings of the Wyld, Tam and Rose must work together with Fable to save the land.

With this sequel, Eames has outdone himself in every way. Kings of the Wyld felt more contained, focusing mainly on Saga as a band in their travels through the Heartwyld, a vast forest that takes up most of the center of the land in which the story takes place. Bloody Rose feels grander, exploring more of the world and expanding the lore established in Kings of the Wyld. A larger number of bands are roaming around. References to music and pop culture return with more of a 1980’s flair (Eames has stated in interviews that the final book of the trilogy will have a heavy 1990’s influence). Some references are more subtle, but with some of the heavier handed ones, the reader can feel the glee Eames had when adding them. Like many real life rock bands, Fable even has their own version of a tour bus, and they eventually upgrade to a sky ship. These references never seem included simply for nostalgia. They feel natural, and bring depth to the setting.

Eames knows how to write an exciting battle scene that also allows his characters to be witty. Eames has proven himself to be a master of using his characters to make the reader go through a range of emotions, from great joy to sadness to humor within a few paragraphs. Despite sometimes having a heavier tone, Bloody Rose has some quirky dialogue. When Tam realizes her uncle has been stabbed, she asks:

“Uncle, are you okay?”

The old man’s eyes floated for a moment before landing on her.  “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“There’s sword in you.”

“Ah, well… there’s a sword in all of us,” he said, then winked as if he’d said something profound.

Eames is not afraid to poke fun at fiction and fantasy tropes. When faced against a villain taking time out to explain their evil scheme, Rose is quick with a sassy response in an on-the-nose manner:

“Instead, they will serve me in death. As will you. And so, in time, will every creature in this world.”

“Well that’s… typical,” Rose said.

Even with connections to the previous book, Bloody Rose can easily be read without having read the first book. While cameos from book one do occur, Eames takes care to keep new readers in mind with detailed explanations of the events of book one. There are a large number of new characters introduced who have more depth than those in Kings of the Wyld, particularly the members of Fable. Completists will certainly want to dig into all the details - the nooks and crannies of all of the references and nods to the prior story, but Bloody Rose is vastly superior to Kings of the Wyld with regards to explaining the world Eames has set up. His writing is entirely engaging throughout. This was a difficult book to put down. The intrigue is there for book three due to the likelihood of a new band of characters to follow, but the thought of revisiting beloved characters in Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose is a comforting one. 

Michael Feeney is a book reviewer and pop culture junkie from the Philadelphia area. He is an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction.