Last year Nicholas Eames had a breakout success with his book Kings of the Wyld. The story of an older fantasy party getting back together for one last tour, the book told a touching story of five characters finding the strength to set aside their differences and save the world. It was one of our top books of the year and you can read more about it here, here, and here. Not content to just write one amazing book, Eames is back with a sequel, Bloody Rose, that takes place in the aftermath of book one but follows an entirely new cast. It is a big task to write a sequel from the ground up, so the question is: did Eames mess up his encore?
No, no he did not. I am deeply impressed Bloody Rose is such a solid book, especially as it forgoes a lot of what made Kings amazing. Our new POV is Tam, the daughter of two famous mercenaries looking to strike out on her own. She quickly falls in as the new bard for the top band in the world, Fable. The five (if I include Tam) person band includes Brune (a shapeshifting druid), Cura (a summoner who uses ink and flesh for her creations), Lastleaf (a druid swordsman you might remember from book one), and the aforementioned Rose – daughter to one of our characters from book one, Golden Gabe. In the wake of vanquishing the horde of monsters in Kings of the Wyld, bands have begun to stick to touring arenas where they can slaughter monsters brought in from the Wylds in front of huge audiences. However, it doesn’t take long for the remnants of the monster army to regroup under a new leader for one last push into human lands. When this new horde starts making its invasion, most bands head towards it to put it down a second time. The notable outlier to this is Fable, who finds themselves heading in the opposite direction to fulfil a mysterious contract – much to the ire of the other bands around them.
Much like with Saga in book one, Fable is a band with a lot of issues. Each band member is dealing with their own personal crisis that is slowly pulling the band apart. The major theme this time around is parent relationships. Each band member has a problem with their parents that they are trying to work through throughout the course of the book to varying degrees of success. I won’t go into all of them to avoid spoilers, but I think I can touch on the more obvious two – Tam, our POV, and Rose. Tam’s mother was killed while touring with her band and her father has never gotten over her death. Tam essentially runs away from her father to join Fable after he expressly forbids it and spends the majority of the book trying to find her own identity and come to terms with who she is vs. who her father wanted her to be. Rose, on the other hand, is the daughter of one of the most famous mercenaries alive and has found herself unable to leave his shadow. Driven to take on increasingly more dangerous contracts, Rose is determined to eclipse her father or die trying.
Bloody Rose’s characters are fantastic. Tam is an absolute delight (and is a lesbian for those of you who are looking for lgbt protagonists). I think Eames made a really good choice in telling the story from Tam’s eyes. As we progress through the book, Tam’s opinion of Fable’s other members goes from ‘starstruck awe’ to ‘deep personal understanding of their strengths and flaws’, and riding along with her for that trip was wonderful. The cast as a whole is fantastic, including many of the smaller side characters like Tam’s uncle Bram and Fables bookie Rodrick. The only character that I honestly wasn’t in love with was the titular Rose. She felt a little shallow, only living to outshine her father, and the other characters were so interesting that, while I liked Rose, she never quite connected with me like the rest of Fable did.
Bloody Rose has a more somber and serious voice than its predecessor, though it still has a good sense of humor. Kings of the Wyld focused a lot on laughs and emotional connections, whereas Bloody Rose focuses more on its plot, worldbuilding, and narrative themes. In line with this, one of the biggest themes of Rose is evaluating people for their own merits, not the merits of their parents, and as such I think comparing the two books does both injustice. Bloody Rose’s plot is fantastic. Eames does a great job building out the world a lot more this time around and getting you much more invested in the bigger picture. The pacing for the first 60% of the book is phenomenal, but I think it does struggle a little bit around roughly the 80% mark. This was only a minor problem in an overall fantastic book though and I do not think anyone who is looking forward to Bloody Rose is going to be disappointed.
The success of Bloody Rose shows that Nicholas Eames is here to stay. It is a heartfelt read, with a beautiful world, and a cast I deeply connected with. Eames’ narrative voice is one of the best in this generation of fantasy authors, and I cannot wait to read everything else he puts out. Bloody Rose is one of the strongest fantasy books this year, and everyone should pick it up as soon as they can.
Rating: Bloody Rose – 9.0/10