Title: Bloody Rose (The Band 2)
Author: Nicholas Eames
Release Date: August 28th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Epic Fantasy, Humour
Page Count: 560 (paperback)
Before we dive in, let me just mention that Chapter One of Bloody Rose sees our protagonist reverse-mansplaining to an idiot and then declaring she likes girls (to the readers, anyway). If that’s not one of the best openings of 2018, I don’t know what is.
In a land where mercenary groups are like rock stars of our world–with gigs, tours, groupies, and a penchant for drugs and sex–Tam Hashford is just an ordinary teenage barmaid. But when Fable, a mega-famous group led by a woman they call the “Bloody Rose”, comes into town, Tam decides she wants to join them as a bard instead of spending the rest of her life working in a tavern under her helicoptering father. What follows is a bloody, thrilling quest for glory (or death).
Kings of the Wyld was a rollicking debut featuring a band of aging mercenaries. Eames could have kept the same formula–a group of male adventurers, a “damsel” in need of saving–and it would have been just as fun and wildly successful. But instead he does something that genuinely surprised me: he changes things up.
What he did in the first book, he improves on in nearly every way–introduce more diversity, add more character depth, explore more of the world and its history. In Kings of the Wyld, we had a gay side character with a dead husband; in Bloody Rose we get a lesbian main character with a F/F plotline. In Kings of the Wyld, we see middle-aged characters trying to reclaim old glory; in Bloody Rose we explore how the expectations we place on ourselves can become a crippling weight. The ending of Kings of the Wyld was exhilarating and sweet. The ending for Bloody Rose hits you like a goddamn freight train.
Tam is very much an observer protagonist (think Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird). She’s the narrator of the story and her POV is the only one we get, but she’s not the main character. She’s the chronicler. The witness. The Bard. Not the main attraction but the one who, more often than not, stays in the background. Does that mean she’s any less of a character than Rose or the rest of Fable? Hell, no. The trouble with observer protagonists is that they can easily end up being bland and underdeveloped. That is not at all the case with Tam. She’s capable, talented, and her youthful eagerness and naivete is a refreshing contrast to Rose’s fiery personality.
A bard’s duty was to watch, to witness. For Tam to turn an eye when glory faded, when heroes were forced to endure heartbreak and hardship no strength of arms could overcome, was to betray that duty.
Rose is, of course, the star of the show. Through Tam’s eyes, we see her shift from a legendary warrior to a woman who’s so desperate to surpass the glory of her father, she’s willing to sacrifice her own identity for it. Her struggles are at once fascinating and heartbreaking.
Eames is blessed with a prose that is addictive and so, so much fun. For those of you who avoid epic fantasy because sometimes the characters talk like, “It behooves me to mention that the King bespoke of my lord with indubitable respect”–well, these books are for you, because anachronistic, colloquial style of writing is Nicholas Eames’ game.
“What about Rose and Freecloud?” Tam asked.
“Don’t expect we’ll see much of them today,” said the shaman with an exaggerated wink.
“If you know what I mean,” he added, winking again.
“I do,” Tam assured him.
“Because they’re having–“
“Bye,” she said.
“–sex, Brune finished, but she was already headed for the stairs.
But I think his greatest talent, prose-wise, is his ability to transition from ridiculous, laugh-out-loud humour to serious poignancy with fluid ease.
My only main criticism is that the plot follows a too-similar pattern to Book 1–lots of moving from point A to B and then defending a city from a horde of monsters. But if you love lengthy travel sequences in your fantasy (I usually don’t), you’ll probably love this. I also wish we got a little more from the villain than the typical “I want revenge” motive.
All in all, The Band series continues to be a love letter to gamers, fantasy connoisseurs, and anyone who enjoys a good story filled with friendship, action, and heart. If Eames keeps moving at this trajectory, I have no doubt his work will leave an indelible mark on the pages of SFF history.
(Also, I’m inordinately proud of myself for coming up with that title)