Book Review: Bloody Rose, by Nicholas Eames
Heavy Metal may be the nerdiest of music genres.
Fantasy imagery has been baked into the genre from the beginning, ranging from ‘picture of a dude with a sword on the cover’ to ‘we wrote a concept album about the Silmarillion.’ However, apart from some spiky heavy metal imagery about vikings and stuff, the influence doesn’t go both ways. After all, it’s a lot easier to write a song about dragons than it is to capture the raw transcendence of a great musical performance in print. (Which isn’t to say it can’t be done, but I digress).
Nicholas Eames tries to fix that.
Bloody Rose is actually the second book in Eames’ The Band series, which … technically is about multiple different bands, but that’s just quibbling. Bloody Rose is a sequel to Kings of the Wyld, but at the same time it stands well enough on its own merits– a lucky thing too, as Bloody Rose was at the library but the first one wasn’t for whatever reason. Ehem.
In any case, the premise of The Band novels is pretty simple: “what if D&D adventuring parties got treated like rockstars?” See, in Eames’ novels, bands (see what he did there?) of mercenaries roam the land, fighting off monsters and such. In the glorious old days, you’d find your monsters ‘free range,’ but by the time of Bloody Rose, most mercs earn their coin through sold-out arena shows. It’s an interesting equivalent to actual rock shows– and at the same time, Eames makes it a point to highlight how screwed up it is to keep goblins and orcs and such prisoner for bloodsport.
Bloody Rose centers on Tam, the daughter of former adventurers. Like any teenager, she yearns for something bigger than what life has to offer her, so when she’s offered a chance to accompany the famed adventurer Bloody Rose and her band to chronicle their latest (and final) quest, she leaps at the opportunity. A hard-partying coming of age adventure ensues, complete with sex, drugs, and rock & roll. And, y’know, dragonslaying. Bloody Rose has lots of slam-bang action sequences that are really fun to read. Eames has a talent for ass-kicking action scenes, done by well defined characters– guy sets out with something specific in mind, and does exactly that.
It’s all wrapped in semi-goofy fantasy trappings; their manager is a satyr, their tour bus is a giant armored wagon, and so on, and so forth. As if that wasn’t enough, Eames even has made spotify playlist “soundtracks” for his books, which is a nice touch.
The musical influence just isn’t in the structure, either. Bloody Rose is absolutely littered with references to 80’s music, from Prince to Men Without Hats, to a whole bunch I probably missed on my casual read-through. The whole ‘musicians with swords’ gimmick is a tricky one to manage without getting too goofy with it, but Eames thankfully never devolves into the “Hey, look at THIS reference!” level of obnoxiously forced nostalgia like, say, Ready Player One does.
The key difference that keeps Bloody Rose from turning into a reference-fest is that the underlying story works even if you take away all the jokes and Easter eggs. Because, first and foremost, Bloody Rose is a fantasy novel. More specifically, it’s a particular KIND of Fantasy novel: a D&D-esque fantasy adventure about some roving adventurers who wind up having to save the world from a horde of undead monsters led by the obligatory Dark Lord of Darkness™. There’s even a map at the start of the book! It’s the kind of novel that I read over and over again in different forms as a kid– but made fresh with more modern sensibilities.
Sticklers might argue it’s a bit too modern, with all the snark and smoking and coffee that one typically doesn’t see in a more ‘historical’ fantasy pastiche. The whole vibe is similar to the Rat Queens comics, or any other number of RPG-inspired fantasy works out there. Like, I want to come up with a name for this– ‘Snarky Sunglasses Fantasy,’ maybe? But that’s a bit clumsy of a term.
In any case, Bloody Rose is a solid, rollicking read, and one I’d suggest for anybody who can appreciate a bloody monster fight. It’s enough to make me want to track down a copy of Kings of the Wyld sometime, and I’ll eagerly look forward to the third book in the series (whenever it comes out).