Before you start reading this, if you haven't yet read Kings of the Wyld ("KotW") then consider heading back to the home page and clicking on my earlier review of it. Bloody Rose is book 2 in the series and though it takes place a few years afterwards and follows a different (but interlinked) set of characters, there are various references to the first book and, in my opinion KotW has a smidge more world building. If you have already read KotW, then by all means, read on...
"GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN"
This book follows on from KotW and this time we tag along with 'Bloody Rose', frontwoman of the infamous mercenary band Fable. If KotW was set in the 70s then Bloody Rose is partying its way through the 1980s. Think Motley Crue but with dual wielding scimitars and a battleaxes rather than electric guitars. Sex, drugs and rock and troll is most definitely the order of the day.
Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.
When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It's adventure she wants - and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.
It's time to take a walk on the wyld side.
What I Loved
Tam Hashford is an excellent point of view character. She is a young girl desperate to get out into the world and find some adventure. Her dad, a former merc himself, keeps her on a pretty tight leash, having lost his wife to the Wyldlands years before. Tam has a lot of rules to abide by:
Not only was she hopelessly late for work, but her father, naturally, had yet annother rule when it came to his daughter going for drinks with strange boys. Which suited Tam just fine, since she was into girls, anyway
Tam has a great story arc, you see her develop from timid lute playing bard to a true member of the band.
I fell in love with the band and their tour bus lifestyle. They drive around the countryside in a plush Argosy / tour bus called the Rebels Redoubt and followed by their many groupies, The Outlaw Nation. In every town they stop at they fight, drink, fuck (in no particular order) and then roll on out nursing hangovers.
Their Booker (the guy who books all their arena gigs) and driver is a Satyr called Rod, as Satyr's fall under the 'monster' heading, he disguises himself with a massive silly hat (for the horns and ears) and big clompy books (for the hooves). Rod is often to be found drunk / hungover / eating the furniture. Rod definitely provides the light relief but he also gives the band a window into the plight of monsters - see below for my thoughts on this.
Throughout the book there is a constant nod to the importance of friendship. The band is a family and each band member (including Tam, who is meant to only be the bard) would die for the other.
OMG the pacing in this book is excellent, I will admit that I found KotW a little slow at some points, not Bloody Rose! There is constant action, especially after the shit hits the fan in the second half of the book. There are a number of truly EPIC fight scenes. One of Eames' talents is the ability to sending you hurtling from face splitting laughter to wiping away the tears and when the band aren't slicing and dicing, they are probably either doing something outrageous or having a 'Moment'.
Cura is the band's Inkwitch summoner. She is covered in grisly tattoos each depicting a terrifying monster. Unlike regular summoners (who usually carve small model monsters of wood / clay etc and then smash them to release), because Cura's 'inklings' are carved into her flesh they can take on fleshy physic forms and be summoned over and over again. This is so so cool in a fight scene and seriously makes me want to get a huge back-piece so I can pretend that this is a thing.
The shift in opinion
As much as I like action in the books I read, if that action can be combined with a message that makes you stop an think, then that in my opinion is where fantasy books become truly epic. In Bloody Rose, the characters each undergo a change of heart with respect to the monsters they kill. Unlike in the heydays of mercenary bands (pre KotW times when Saga was at its peak of fame), monsters aren't the threat that they used to be, in fact monsters are facing extinction by humans. As a result, killing captured or bred monsters in front of area crowds starts to feel a bit hollow, as Tam put it:
The crowd loved it, but Tam found the whole thing a bit contrived. She began to question every song she'd ever heard about heroic mercenaries and vile monsters doing battle on the arena floor. If these so-called battles were anything like the one sided slaughter she watched from the comfort of the Lair's armoury, then the work of a bard was even more difficult than she'd been led to believe.
I like that the characters in this book grow as the story goes on, I think it makes them more believable.
Usually in my reviews I then go on to write about what in the book fell flat... I am struggling to think of what to write this time so I have decided to skip straight to my conclusion.
I loved KotW and I don't know how he did it but Bloody Rose is at least 10 times better. Its got the full package for me - action, comedy, feelies, pacing and cool magic. Also, as a result of reading this I am having a 80s revival moment music wise, greatly assisted by Eames' Bloody Rose Spotify playlist which can be found here:
If you know what is good for you READ THIS BOOK!