“When the candle burned out she returned Hiraeth to the seal skin case and stowed it away. She stood for a while, swaying with the ship and listening to the hull groan. Inexplicably, Tam found herself at the door to her cabin. Her heart was drumming in the dark. When she reached out to lift the latch, a spark licked her hand. She swore quietly (at the latch, and at herself) before going back to bed.
Tam dreamed she heard footsteps outside her door. She saw the glimmer of candlelight, the shadow of feet. But then the light went out, and the feet padded softly away on a floor that sang like a nightingale.”
Synopsis: Years after the events of Kings of the Wyld, the world is moving on. Mercs no longer tour or go on grand adventures; instead, they fight monsters in arenas for the entertainment of the masses. Tam Hashford, singer and waitress, dreams of touring the world as a bard. When Fable, the world’s greatest band, rolls into town, Tam gets her chance to fall in with Bloody Rose and her crew. She thought she knew what to expect, but when Fable runs into trouble, will Tam be able to remain on the sidelines?
If you’ve read Kings of the Wyld before this (and you absolutely should for clarity, though this story is able to stand on its own), much of this novel will be familiar to you. The setting is the same, though time has changed more than a few aspects of it; several of the characters from KotW make an appearance, and their actions in the first book have shaped current events. Several themes from Book 1 are still present here as well… so what’s different? Well… a whole lot.
Our primary protagonist this time around is not Clay Cooper, the brooding warrior getting on in years. No… this time, the perspective shifts from an older man reliving their glory days to a young woman who has yet to taste the best life has to offer. Our gang of protagonists do not cast an enormous shadow quite like Saga did, but rather spend their lives seeking to rise up from under that shadow. I like Tam Hashford. I like her a lot (she’s a bard, after all…). She has never been in a fight, faced danger, or left her home, but she still strikes off with Fable into all sorts of unknown danger with barely a second thought. This is not a hardened, jaded person: Tam is full of hope and aspirations. She is the personification of the hope our characters from KotW left us to expect, with a healthy lust for life and some solid sense thrown in.
The musical motif is still present as it was in KotW, but in Bloody Rose the style has shifted from 70’s rock to 80’s glam-rock (check out The Soundtrack). The themes of the novel are also a direct progression from KotW, which is very satisfying; the idea of “monsters” versus “people”, something which was briefly touched upon in the previous installment, is the core of this particular novel. It is a particularly important topic given the prolific stigmatization of “the Other” in recent years. In such times, it is good to be reminded that our similarities significantly outweigh our differences. Trauma is also examined in detail; Fable carries (as a group and individually) a great deal of baggage, and the common thread seems to be the importance of not facing it alone. I would argue that this story’s protagonists are significantly more fleshed-out than Saga were in KotW, but that is to be expected; this story is more character-driven and introspective than its predecessor. This may be disconcerting if you are expecting more of the same, but I assure you that it is worth it.
LGBTQ characters are handled well in this story: Tam, the primary protagonist/point-of-view character, is a lesbian and her love interest appears to be bi/pan-sexual. This is not something which characters seem to dwell upon much, and it is treated like every other relationship… just as it should be. Disclaimer: I am a straight white male, but I appreciated the way this was written. The characters deal with enough trauma and hardship without their relationships being further complicated. One of my favorite moments was a play on the “there’s only one bed…” trope, whereby one of the characters actually throws an entire bed out a window in order to ensure there would only one bed, and the intention was obvious and unsubtle. It always brings a smile to my face.
Just like Kings of the Wyld, this book is sold in paperback for 20.99$ CAD (15.99$ USD). Bloody Rose edges out Book 1 in terms of length at 510 pages. No hardcovers on this one, but as I mentioned in my KotW review Anderida sells a matching hardcover pair of Kings of the Wyld and Bloody Rose, signed and numbered, for 300 British pounds (or a signed and numbered Bloody Rose for 30 British Pounds). Is it worth it? I don’t know: that’s entirely up to your collecting needs! The matching certainly out of my budget for the moment, but I’ll see if I can snag them some day when I have a bit more disposable income. I’d prefer to have the matching pair over Bloody Rose alone, but that’s my personal preference and you may have a differing opinion.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable read. If I had to choose between Bloody Rose and Kings of the Wyld, I’d have to pick Kings… but that’s more a reflection of where I am in my life than a statement about Bloody Rose (especially because Bloody Rose is “Bloody Good”). I’m at a point where I can’t help but think about the glory days, and for Golden Gabe to show up at my door one last time. Bloody Rose is for those who are at the threshold, that important point of realization where one finds oneself, and the madness of youth gives way to the realities and responsibilities of friendship and family. Give this a chance, and try to keep a dry eye; you’ll have your work cut out for you.