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Literature / Kings of the Wyld

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"It's time to get the band back together."
Golden Gabe

Clay Cooper was once a member of the band Saga, one of the most famous bands of mercenaries in history. He toured the world with his friends, taking gigs to clear out monsters that threatened villages, or even venturing into the Heartwyld itself, the most dangerous place in the world. For ten years, they were giants, the top of the game.

Now, nineteen years later, Clay Cooper is retired with his wife and daughter, working as a town guard for his tiny village. Until one day Gabriel, Saga's old frontman, comes calling with yet another attempt to get the band back together—but this one is important. The distant city of Castia is under siege from the largest horde of monsters seen in hundreds of years, and Gabe's daughter Rose is trapped there, as she had been doing mercenary work in the area. Gabe wants Clay's help to get their old friends back together and save Rose.

There are some problems, though. Gabe sold his priceless sword; Moog, their wizard, is busy trying to find a cure for an incurable disease; Matrick the Thief is king of a country; and Ganelon, their finest, fiercest warrior, is locked in a magical prison. Just getting the band back together will be a miracle in and of itself. Then five old men will have to cross a thousand miles of the most dangerously enchanted woods in the world, to fight a horde of countless monsters, all to rescue a girl who is almost certainly already dead.

But if it were easy, there would be no glory.

Kings of the Wyld is the first entry in Nicholas Eames The Band series, followed by Bloody Rose in 2018 and a third book, Outlaw Empire set for the 2020s.

This book provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: There are plenty of female merc bands in the story. Jain and her Silk Arrows, who casually get the drop on Saga twice, although the first time it's just Clay and Gabe. Gabe's daughter Rose, as well; there's a reason she was fighting at Castia. During the siege, she ended up in charge simply by virtue of being the most badass person still alive.
  • All Myths Are True: Characters make constant references to the story of the gods known as the Summer King and the Winter Queen, the first a benevolent deity of light and warmth, the second a malevolent deity of cold and death. There is also the Autumn Son, the Heathen, their son who turned on them both. It turns out that they're all druins. The Summer King was the Archon who gave Gabriel Vellichor, the Winter Queen his wife, and the Heathen their son, Lastleaf. When the Archon's wife died in childbirth, he created the sword Tamarat to resurrect her any time it was used to kill a druin, and immediately used it to kill their newborn daughter. His wife was resurrected, but horrified at what he had done, so killed herself. The Archon kept resurrecting her until she went insane. Their son stole Tamarat so that his mother could finally rest in peace.
  • Affably Evil: Jain and her Silk Arrows, bandits who rob Gabe and Clay outside of Cloverdale, and then the rest of the band a few weeks later. The first time, they steal everything except for Clay's shield (Jain says that Blackheart is too important to take from him), and the second time they steal about twenty pounds of gold jewelry, but make the band breakfast first. With all the money, they decide to give up on thievery and become a mercenary band.
  • And I Must Scream: Clay is horrified to learn that, rather than simply being literal stone, Ganelon was aware and conscious during his stint in the Quarry.
  • Babies Ever After: Larkspur gives birth to Ganelon's son in the epilogue.
  • Big Damn Kiss: At the final battle, Larkspur's airship kills a giant, then Larkspur herself flies down and gives Ganelon a massive kiss.
    Gabe: And people say I'm dramatic.
  • The Big Guy: Ganelon, quiet and taciturn but extremely dangerous. His weapon of choice being a two-handed axe, he is the band's obvious guitarist. His reputation for being a frothing Blood Knight who causes more trouble than he solves also brings to mind the infamous memetic insanity of drummers.
  • Blade Enthusiast: Matrick uses two dangerous, named knives. At first he appears to subvert the stereotype, but it turns out that when he gets going, he's a wickedly cruel fighter who can give Ganelon a run for his money.
  • Chainmail Bikini: The pretty female "mercenaries" Clay sees in Conthas are wearing armor that not only barely covers any skin, but is clearly too fragile to protect the skin it does cover. During the final battle, Clay spots them wearing much more practical armor.
  • Declaration of Protection: Gabe gathers his old band, crosses thousands of miles, and engages a horde of monsters so big that they are the horizon, all to save his daughter.
  • Easily Forgiven: Downplayed with Ganelon, him agreeing to rejoin immediately after being freed seems like it, but during his time at the Quarry, he had a lot to reflect on, specifically with himself and Saga. At first, he hated them, but began to realize how bad his actions were if even Clay and the group didn't want to help him and started to realize the consequences of his actions.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Unlike most settings, mercenaries are considered elite forces who earn glory and fame by protecting people from monsters. It's explained that part of the reason for this is because there hasn't been a large scale human-vs-human war in decades, so the normal army units don't have much to do besides parade and guard things. Mercenaries, on the other hand, are constantly testing themselves against monsters, so one mercenary is easily a match for a dozen normal soldiers.
  • End of an Age: With the monster population down and the world safe, gone are the days where a few strong fighters could wander into a nearby forest, kill a bunch of monsters, and get a name for themselves. Now most of the fighting is done in arenas, and the pageantry of the mercenaries has been cranked up until the knob falls off. Gabe's Rousing Speech at the end points out that the world is obviously not saved, since there's a giant horde attacking Castia.
  • Enemy Mine: When Saga and Larkspur become stranded in the Heartwyld. The members of Saga are wary that the "amnesiac" Larkspur will revert back to her real personality and Larkspur is putting on an act in order to get Saga's cooperation due to their circumstances.
  • Faux Action Girl: Some of the new female "mercenaries" are pretty clearly just models and dancers hired to make the male mercenaries look good during the parade. They even respond to catcalls with blown kisses, when Clay notes that most female mercenaries respond to that sort of thing by beating the offending party within an inch of their life. Turns out that they actually are competent mercenaries; at the final battle, Clay sees them in sensible armor fighting beside their coworkers.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Kallorek "the Orc," Saga's old bookie, acts like a friendly and eccentric landowner. But he reacts violently to any insult, real or imagined, casually breaks his word on both major and minor deals, and has a monopoly on all booking west of the Heartwyld that lets him take fully half of anything any mercenary bands make.
  • Foreshadowing: Lastleaf's name is a big hint that he's the Autumn Son, the Heathen.
  • Happily Adopted: Mattrick loves his wife's children even though every last one of them is the result of her affairs. They are apparently fond of him too - when he divorces her, all five of them choose to come live with him instead of her.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Double subverted with Larkspur. Her "amnesia" causes her to revert back to an innocent girl only to reveal she was pretending to be one in order to catch Saga off guard. However, she later has a real one and helps Saga during the final battle.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: Clay really hates helmets, claiming that all they do is muffle your hearing, block your peripheral vision, and they don't even do a good job of protecting against blows to the head. It seems he's not alone in this belief: With the notable exception of Lastleaf (and then only for a little while during the final battle), no one else in the book wears one either.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: Upon arriving in a new world, the druin found themselves simultaneously unaging and semi-infertile; each druin woman could bear only one child in her lifetime, dooming the species to a slow but inevitable process of extinction.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Why Ganelon and Larkspur become a couple.
  • Jumped at the Call: Played straight with everyone except Clay, ironically, who was the first person to rejoin with Gabe. Clay cynically assumes Moog and Matrick are too busy with their current affairs to want to bother reforming Saga and he thinks Ganelon probably hates all of them to even accept. Moog agrees instantly, Matrick begs in private to get him out of his kingdom and after talking to Gabe, Ganelon agrees to reform pretty easily.
  • The Lancer: Matrick, the friendly but violent knifeman, has the last name Skulldrummer and handles his two knives like drumsticks.
  • The Leader:
    • Golden Gabe, "the frontman". Not only is he literally the man in front during a fight, but he is the one who does all the talking and has all the ideas, making him a clear example of a Charismatic Leader.
    • Clay initially appears to be Gabe's second, but Gabe laughs when Clay calls Gabe the leader. Sure, everyone outside Saga thought he was in charge, but everyone inside Saga (except for Clay) knew that they were following Clay. While Gabe usually had the ideas, Clay was the one who had the final decision. According to the author, Clay was envisioned as "the guy on bass whose name everyone forgets but without whom the song just doesn’t feel right."
  • Leitmotif: The audiobook, fittingly, has a soundtrack. Gabe's theme is a rapid and uplifting piece, while Lastleaf's is somber and dangerous.
  • Like Parent, Like Child:
    • Rose is a lot like Gabe, running off to start a merc band of her own and proving to be quite the formidable, charismatic fighting in her own right.
    • Ginny is shown in the epilogue to be actively fighting against this, warning Clay that Tally won't be using a sword, knife or any other kind of weapon after Clay comes home to learn she managed to kill a centaur on her own.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: Clay spends a significant portion of the book with no weapon except his shield Blackheart. He carved it from the corpse of the treant Blackheart, who Saga killed for leading a group of treants in attacking a town.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Gabe carries around a bunch of rocks that Rose found when she was a little girl. They're just boring ordinary rocks, and Clay says that Rose isn't going to care about them. Gabe says that they're not a gift, they're to put on Rose's grave if she's already dead. After he gets a chance to talk to her using magic, he puts them on Shadow's grave instead, since they're not worth hauling all the way to Castia.
  • More Criminals Than Targets: After centuries of mercenaries making names for themselves by killing every kobold and harpy that gets within ten miles of a human settlement, there aren't really many monsters left outside the Heartwyld. The cities found a logical (albeit horrifying) solution to this problem: Breed the monsters themselves, and have mercenaries fight them in the arena. The old-timer mercenaries are all disturbed at the idea, and even the younger generation admit there's not much glory in that kind of fight.
  • Named Weapons: Pretty common among higher-level mercenaries. Gabe has the sword Vellichor (the most valuable artifact in the world, a gift from a dying immortal), Clay has the shield Blackheart (carved from the corpse of the treant Blackheart), Matrick has the knives Grace and Roxy (named after the prostitutes he lost his virginity to), and Ganelon has the axe Syrinx (origin unknown, but its magic only comes alive in his hands). Lastleaf has three swords, all forged by his father: Tamarat (forged to bring his wife back from the dead), Scorn (a "volatile weapon"), and Madrigal (the singing sword, a gift from Lastleaf's father to an Exarch).
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Numerous to real-world rock stars, including "Neil the Young" and Elvais, the latter of whom was a legendary hero who died on a latrine. Word of God confirms that Clay Cooper's nickname, Slowhand, is a deliberate Shout Out to Eric Clapton.
  • Our Elves Are Different: The druin are mostly the same as elves, an ancient fey never-aging low-fertility humanoid race, except for their rabbit ears.
  • Our Kobolds Are Different: Kobolds are described as short creatures that look like bipedal rats. They're intelligent enough to speak in broken sentences, but feature as minor monsters that are often forced to take part in the arena shows that modern adventuring bands take part in.
  • Papa Wolf: Gabriel, who not only goes on a suicide mission across half the world for the off chance that he can save his daughter, but who manages to convince four other over-the-hill ex-heroes to come along for the ride. Clay is one in extension, since he is driven to join Gabe by the thought of how he'd feel if it was his daughter.
  • Parents as People: Initially it seems Valery doesn't care that Rose vanished because she's so loaded up on drugs, but when she decides to kick the habit and Gabe returns, she outright begs him to bring Rose back. He promises he will.
  • Portal Network: The ancient Dominion had a small one, with only three "Thresholds:" One in the ruins near Castia, one in Kaladar where the War Fair is held, and one in Antica, which sunk into the sea. They open the Castia portal to send the dragon Akatung to Antica, then take it to Kaladar and bring the entire War Fair to fight the Heartwyld Horde.
  • Private Military Contractors: The mercenaries, of course, though they're treat far more sympathetically than is normal for this trope. Furthermore, the entire setting is based on a pun regarding the word "band:" Mercenary bands are treated exactly like rock bands, with tours, frontmen, bookers, gigs, and of course money and fame.
  • Ridiculously Cute Critter: The Owlbear cubs, which Moog of course ends up adopting after Saga are forced to kill the mother.
  • Rousing Speech: Gabe gives one at the War Fair to convince every mercenary present—and therefore nearly all of the mercenaries in the world—to follow him through a portal to Castia to save the city and his daughter. And he gives this speech through a pinecone.
  • Sealed Badass in a Can: Ganelon is an unintentional version; he was given the worst punishment anyone could think of, which had the side effect of leaving him young and healthy when the band needed him nineteen years later. After the siege of Castia, he voluntarily goes back, telling the guards "wake me when she gets here." Presumably he was referring to the Winter Queen.
  • Sequel Hook: As Lastleaf was dying of his wounds, he used Tamarat to kill himself, resurrecting his mother the Winter Queen. She hasn't made herself known yet, but it's only a matter of time.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: When Lastleaf tries to have a Motive Rant at the end, Gabe just keeps telling him to shut up because no one gives a shit.
  • Sixth Ranger: Larkspur, a Femme Fatale bounty hunter who initially hunts Saga to claim a bounty on Matrick, but who eventually allies herself with the band.
  • Sixth Ranger Traitor: Subverted. Larkspur ends up betraying Saga, but by the time that happens her Heel–Face Turn has already kicked in and she ends up rejoining for the final battle.
  • The Smart Guy: Moog, the wizard/alchemist. He knows a little something about everything, and will ramble about it at length. His odd devices and ideas also bring to mind the oddity of the keyboardist.
  • Smug Snake: Kallorek, the most successful bookie in the world, clearly believes that he's a genius negotiator who has gotten everything on nothing but his own merits, and therefore deserves everything he can grab. It's pretty clear that he just rode on Saga's coattails, though they certainly found his ruthlessness useful. While alone with the band on an airship, he threatens all of their families with rape and death. It says a lot about him that he is surprised when Clay throws him off the ship. Clay later notes that killing him probably solved half their problems.
  • Taken for Granite: "The Quarry" is a prison where the prisoners are turned to stone and locked away in the darkness, guarded by basilisks. While everyone assumes that they are unaware, according to Ganelon they are completely awake. He spent ten years in a frothing rage, hating his friends for abandoning him, but he mellowed out by the time they freed him.
  • The Team: The main mercenaries, of course. The book has plenty of fun drawing parallels between a mercenary band and a rock band.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Kallorek really shouldn't have threatened the loved ones of extremely dangerous people while alone with them.
  • Tragic Villain: Lastleaf, whose father was a Villain with Good Publicity who tried to kill him in order to drag his dead mother back to life against her will, and who's had to watch the world his kind used to rule be conquered by humans who treat every non-human as a "monster" to be killed or enslaved.
  • Undying Loyalty: Clay is repeatedly surprised when his bandmates immediately drop everything to join Gabe's quest. Gabe later explains to him that they're not following him, they're following Clay.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Lilith, the princess that Saga saved from being raped and imprisoned and then married Matrick constantly cuckolds him, none of his kids are biologically his. Refuses to let him leave as king, for fear he'll make a legitimate heir. And has tried to have him assassinated on multiple occasions. In the epilogue, the kids all choose to stay with Matrick over Lilith.
  • Villain Has a Point: Clay admits that Lastleaf isn't wrong when he points out monsters are killed and enslaved for the entertainment of humans and usually treated without mercy whether they try to get along with them or not. It's just that he's willing to murder thousands of innocent people to the Hoarde to seal their loyalty to him where he draws the line.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The human kingdoms grant only the most limited of rights to "monsters," even though many of them are fully sentient and seem to be no more inherently evil than humans (which is admittedly not saying much...). This is one of the things that Lastleaf is angry about, and which he uses to gain converts to his cause.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Larkspur pulls this on Saga by pretending to have amnesia when they get stranded in the Heartwyld.
  • Yoko Oh No: Valery, Gabe's wife, is often credited with breaking apart Saga by poisoning Gabe's ear and talking about coexisting with monsters. Clay notes that while Valery didn't really help, in the end she didn't have much to do with the band's troubles, and especially not with them breaking up.