My rating: 6 of 5 stars
The world is big, the young are restless, and girls just want to have fun.
Bloody Rose made me feel all of the feelings; I want to follow Tam’s lead and sing its praises from the rooftops. Kings of the Wyld was incredibly fun, and I expected the same from its followup, but Eames managed to pull on my heartstrings with Bloody Rose in ways that his first novel did not. I picked up Bloody Rose excited to embark on an Easter egg hunt for classic rock and other pop culture references. While I found what I was looking for in spades, Eames delivered so much more than that. I read the last twenty pages or so through a veil of tears, which is the opposite of what I expected going in.
“Glory fades. Gold slips through our fingers like water, or sand. Love is the only thing worth fighting for.”
There were so many amazing aspects to this book that I almost don’t know where to begin, but I’ll start with the musical references. While I caught quite a few of the references in KotW, the musical references in Bloody Rose were more based in the 80s music scene instead of the 70s, and 80s rock was a gigantic part of my childhood. There were lines of dialogue taken from songs by Queen and Guns and Roses and so many more, and mercenary bands whose names riffed off of groups that I still love. Men Without Helmets and the Duran twins and The White Snakes were just a few of the brief references that made me grin from ear to ear when I came across them. There was a frontman whose name was a combination of two men who fronted the same band in the 80s. There was a character who sure played a mean pingball (yes, I spelled it like that on purpose). Mortal Kombat was referenced at one point, which made me laugh out loud. There were a few different references to one of my favorite movies of all time, The Princess Bride. There was even little tips of the hat to Robert Jordan, George R.R. Martin, and Joe Abercrombie.
You didn’t get to be the villain of one story, she supposed, unless you were the hero of another.
As much as I enjoyed all the references, the thing that blows my mind about this book is that you could have removed every single one of those references and it would have still been an amazing story. I thoroughly enjoyed Ready Player One, but the references used in that book were the story’s glue, and I don’t think it could have stood without them. The references in Eames’s novels have been like sprinkles on top of an already delicious cake; they’re fun, but not necessary to the plot.
Most people, she figured, sized up the truth when it came knocking, decided they didn’t much like the look of it, and shut the door in its face.
However, something that was essential for me, and is definitely one of the reasons that I have loved both of these books so fiercely, is the portrayal of mercenaries as this world’s rock stars. Eames actually gave us more of a backstage pass to band life in Bloody Rose, and he absolutely nailed it. Fable is the epitome of what a rock band should be, and Bloody Rose is a killer front woman, both figuratively and literally. I’ve fronted a band before, and lived on a tour bus, and played a show in one town and awakened in a different city to a repeat of the previous day with a different backdrop. Bloody Rose nailed every single one of those elements. We didn’t have groupies or guzzle gallons of alcohol a night since we were a Christian rock band, but Eames’s portrayal of life lived in close quarters, of being lulled to sleep by the bumps in the road, of even the most fascinating of careers losing some of its shine when it becomes too repetitious or when you gaze too often behind the curtain, of bandmates becoming closer than family, of paring your life down to what can fit under your bunk, of losing yourself in the persona you’ve built and forgetting who you are at your core, were all incredibly spot on. I related to all of the band elements on an almost spiritual level.
When you fought alongside those whose lives meant more to you than your own, succumbing to fear simply wasn’t an option, because nothing…was as scary as the prospect of losing them.
What I didn’t expect was how powerfully emotional Bloody Rose ended up being. Eames did an impeccable job of reminding readers that the term “tragic artist” evolved for a reason and is generally at least somewhat true. Almost all art, in whatever form it takes, stems from an emotion so vast that the artist has to pour it out in some fashion or they’ll explode. This is especially true of music, and the songs that touch us the most deeply are those that are raw and visceral, like the artist melted the heart in their chest and poured it from their lips for all the world to experience. Eames gave us larger than life characters with absolutely tragic backstories that had shaped them into the powerhouses the audience expected to see. Through Tam, we got a glimpse behind the personas and were able to bear witness to the tragedies, which cemented my attachment to the characters.
“I was raised on my father’s stories, spoon-fed glory until I hungered for it-until I thought I’d starve without it.”
Speaking of Tam, I absolutely adore her. Her character development throughout the book was incredible, in my opinion. But what really sold me on her was the fact that she’s an actual musician. I feel like the fantasy genre is sorely lacking in novels written from a musician’s perspective. (If you have recommendations, please comment them below! I’d love to read anything with a musician protagonist!) I’ve read a few in the Christian fantasy subgenre, which makes sense because music is so closely tied to worship, but I can’t think of many secular titles outside of The Name of the Wind. I also love that Tam is from a musical background, and that she often is requested to play a famous song written by her mother. This song, “Together,” sounds like “We Belong” by Pat Benatar in my head. There was a scene where this song was magically amplified through every flame in a city and it was one of the most magical moments I’ve ever read. Outside of her music, Tam is feisty and funny and loyal and brave, and not content to just sit back and write songs about Fable’s exploits, like a regular bard. I really love her.
“There’s a whole wide world out there. It’s messy, and ugly, and strange…But it’s beautiful, too.”
I know I’ve already spent nearly a thousand words gushing, but I just have to mention how epic the big final battle was, and how moved I was by the ending. It was sad and poignant and hopeful, and I wouldn’t change a word. This War of the Roses was so much more epic than the factual British war of the same name. And while I’ve only really discussed Tam and briefly mentioned Bloody Rose, every single member of Fable was incredible and so well-written that I’m surprised they didn’t physically burst to life from their inked pages, like Cora’s tattoos raging to life. Cora and Brune and Freecloud and even Roderick were all so tangible, and I would give almost anything to sit around a fire with them and hear their stories. I could wax poetic about how Cora spins fear and pain into something magical, about Brune’s search for his true identity even when he would rather just live life not knowing, about Freecloud’s selfless love and how it bordered on addiction, about how Roderick had made a home for himself in a world that viewed him as monstrous, about Rose’s inner war between her thirst for fame and her need to keep her loved ones safe, but I’ll spare you those extra thousands of words and beg you to please, just read their story. And their roles in the aforementioned final battle were among some of the most epic I’ve read in my life. I read with my heart in my throat and tears on my cheeks, and I gloried in every sentence.
There is nothing, I think, so wasteful-or so pointlessly tragic-as a battle that should haver have been fought in the first place.
If you couldn’t tell, I enjoyed this book immensely, and I’m so sad that it’s over. I can’t wait to see what Eames writes next! I heartily recommend this book and its predecessor to literally everyone. Bloody Rose is fun and heartfelt and will have you singing “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of your lungs. Or, at least, inside your head. Fable is headlining, and seeing them is more than worth the cost of admission. They’ll rock your world.
The bards tell us that we live so long as there are those alive who remember us. In that can, I think it’s safe to say that Bloody Rose will live forever.
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