“Writing a book as an aspiring author and writing as a published one are,” as Nicholas Eames notes in the acknowledgements of his new novel, “two very different journeys. You think you’ve got the lay of the land, but in fact the map has changed and you’re wandering blind into a territory you thought you’d conquered.” I’d extend Eames’ assertion to the process of reviewing a book, too. Though you’re critical of both, of course, you look one way at a debut—with a willingness to forgive if not forget issues that arise during what is the literary equivalent of an open-mic night—and another at a novel by an established author. Expectations have been created by that stage, so when, for instance, a familiar fault rears its hydra of heads again, you can no longer just look the other way, especially if that author has established himself with a book like Kings of the Wyld, a marvellously metaphorical first novel about a band of mercenaries that wield instruments of war as opposed to song. Now, on the back of “the funniest and finest fantasy debut in ages,” Eames is not the unknown quantity he was before he broke out in early 2017: rather, he’s a real rock star, and happily, that’s a part he plays with appropriate aplomb.
Bloody Rose, the second of the Books of the Band, is a bigger and by some measures better book than its predecessor. I say “some” because, as a sequel of sorts—a standalone set in the same world and featuring some of the same characters—it’s inherently less surprising than said, and like Kings of the Wyld, it’s awfully slow to start. That’s a far harder thing to accept here than it was there—but by all other accounts, Bloody Rose is bloody good fun, and rather beautiful, too.