Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames


A retired group of legendary mercenaries get the band back together for one last impossible mission in this award-winning debut epic fantasy.


Wow. If I hadn’t recently read The Book that Wouldn’t Burn, this would have likely been my favorite read of the year so far. What a ride. What a damn ride.

Kings of the Wyld is an irreverent send up of tried and true fantasy tropes that doesn’t rest on the laurels of those that came before. Equal parts humorous, adventurous, grim, and emotional, Kings of the Wyld easily settles into that niche the Dungeons and Dragons movie made in my heart. Too few works are as joyous about their source genre, and I loved every minute of traipsing around with the titular band of warriors, Saga.

At times I felt like I was listening (I did the audiobook—which was superbly narrated) to a Dungeons and Dragons campaign complete with campaign arcs, enemies, character development, and the occasional loot. Though it follows many of the tropes and trappings of what makes tabletop rpgs great, it used the raw exuberance of rock and roll and gleefully switched the volume of those ideas up to 11. The character work easily rivals the genre’s best (yes, I am talking about Abercrombie), and once again I felt that profound sense of loss I always feel when I end a truly great book.

Kings of the Wyld tells the story of a bunch of aging has-beens that had once been the greatest band of mercenaries their world had ever known. Told through the eyes of “Slowhand” Clay Cooper, the plot centers around the reforging of old bonds and the rekindling of brotherly love as the band gets back together to save their leader’s daughter. Throughout the story we are treated to obstacles and entanglements that all serve to move the plot forward by alternating the lightness of humor with the heaviness of loss.

What I found worked for me the most was the emotional heft. As a girl-dad, Clay’s relationship with his family and his impetus to join the quest really hit home. On a similar note, as a guy who was once in a cool hardcore punk band and is now also a washed up has-been, I felt myself relating to these characters and those questions of “what if?” and “who am I?” And there were certainly lessons to be learned there.

The relationships between the characters as they try to recapture their old selves was endearing. I especially loved the odd Moog and his relationship with the other members of Saga. It was a joy to watch the boys grow into the men they used to be—capped off with what just might be the best pre-battle speech in all of fantasy (sorry Aragorn). 

The humor was almost universally spot on and well-timed. Though there were a few jokes that I rolled my eyes at, I think the average reader may find their mileage will vary from mine. A good example of a joke that did not land for me was a “cake is a lie” Portal reference. There are probably people out there that loved that, but for me it was about 15 years too late. Even so, these moments are few and far between and the overall tone and humor of this book is nothing short of masterful.

My only other critique would be that there was an awful lot of listing and moving parts in the final big scene. It definitely helped the scale but it became difficult to follow at times. Though this could be a product of me listening to the audiobook on my morning commute.

This book made my mornings so much better as I drove under gray sky to the dull rest of my day and made me wish I too could set off and brave the Wylds just one more time. I encourage you to pick it up and find out if you still got it or if like me you will be wistfully remembering a bygone era.