Review: Bloody Rose (The Band 2) – Zigazig Ah-ing its Way to Glory

Bloody Rose

Title: Bloody Rose (The Band 2)
Author: Nicholas Eames
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: August 28th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Epic Fantasy, Humour
Page Count: 560 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.5/10

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.
“Okay.”
“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)

Top 5 Wednesday – Favourite Summer Reads

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“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme is: favourite summer reads.

I ran into a bit of a roadblock with this one because I wasn’t exactly sure what books my brain categorizes as “summer reads.” Are they books that are set during summer, or are they ones that you just feel like reading during summer? And if the latter, I can’t be the only one who feels like reading cold, dark, moody stuff during these months. I mean, what better way to combat the sweltering heat than with a book about an Antarctic expedition? Or one about a haunted doll?

I couldn’t decide so I divided my list into books that are fun light-hearted romps; books that send chills down your spine–thus saving you on air conditioning bills; and one book that just needs to be read during the summer.

1. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Gentleman's Guide
I read this in the summer of last year so I may be biased, but Gentleman’s Guide is a fun, uncomplicated story in which young lord Henry and his companions embark on a tour of Europe that soon gets sidetracked into something rather unexpected and harrowing. It’s not quite the rollicking adventure the blurb had me believe, but it’s got a sweet romance, a mystery, and pirates–and that combo just screams “summer” to me.

2. Kings of  the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

Kings of the Wyld
Kings of the Wyld is such a ridiculously fun read. Set in a medieval fantasy world where adventuring bands are like the rock bands of today (they have band names, they go on tours, their weapons correlate to various instruments, and so forth), it’s a story that’s exciting and funny but also strangely heartwarming–it had me chuckling to sniffling in a matter of paragraphs. And most of all, it’s such a smack on the lips to lovers of fantasy RPGs. So spice up your summer with this pulse-pounding adventure!

3. Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Bird BoxI never really got scared reading horror books as I did watching horror movies (something about the lack of sound and strong visuals). But then Bird Box came along. Its characters are blindfolded for the majority of the story and the horrors that haunt them are unknown and unseen. Malerman masterfully–and evilly–uses your imagination against you and leaves you chilled and shaking for hours after you finish. I read most of it in bed at night in the dark, which turned out to be a terrible, terrible idea, because I couldn’t fall sleep or even get out of bed to turn the lights on.

4. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale
Rooted in Russian folktales, much of The Bear and the Nightingale is set in winter and Katherine Arden does such a fantastic job bringing the season to life. She’ll make you feel the inhuman cold racing through your body and smell and taste the freshly fallen snow. Perfect for those hot, stuffy nights.

5. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

On the Jellicoe Road2
On the Jellicoe Road isn’t light-hearted or fun, but its setting–a small Australian town–just begs you to read it while surrounded by warmth and rustling summer trees. If you’re reading this masterpiece for the first time, I highly recommend that you do it (if you can) outside on a sunny day, in a secluded area and surrounded by nature. It just enhances the atmosphere of the story and creates this intimate bubble in which friendship is indeed magic and the past and the present merge. And if all of that sounds super vague, just go read the book. It’ll be one of the best decisions you make this summer.

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And that’s it from me! Tell me some of your favourite summer reads and if any of the above books are on your list!