Title: The Grey Bastards
Author: Jonathan French
Published by: Orbit
Publication date: 21st June 2018
Source: Private Collection
Series: The Lot Lands
BRING ON THE ORCS . . .
Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man’s-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.
But as Jackal is soon to learn, his pride may be misplaced. Because a dark secret lies at the heart of the Bastards’ existence – one that reveals a horrifying truth behind humanity’s tenuous peace with the orcs, and exposes a grave danger on the horizon.
On the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal must scramble to stop a devastating invasion – even as he wonders where his true loyalties lie.
The Orc book that kicked it all off! I’ve been waiting for my book blogging/reading/reviewing slump to wear off before writing this review as I really want to do this book justice!
The Grey Bastards is a fantasy novel like no other. Focusing on the Half-Orc race, a race that has dire origins for its offspring and has been given The Lot Lands to fight over – purely so that they can keep their full-blooded kin from entering the realm of men and slaughtering them all. But there is a darkness at the heart of the Half-Orc race that none want the truth dragged to the surface.
I first started trying to read The Grey Bastards at the beginning of the year. I knew it was the right book for me, but not at that particular time. So I waited. I am so glad I did because this book is so close to perfection that it’s unbelievable! The main character, Jackal, is proud of his heritage, origins and place in The Grey Bastards; one clan of Half-Orcs among many. He is filled with an ambition that drives not only himself forward, but the plot of the novel too. Alongside are his two friends, Fetching, a female half-orc that feels she still has to prove herself worthy of her place in The Grey Bastards and Oats, a big, brute of a Half-Orc. Together, they, along with the rest of The Grey Bastards, share some crass banter that spans the entirety of the novel – an aspect that I cherished. Author, Jonathan French, doesn’t pull his punches with the language used within the novel; the title should give a clear indication that this novel is for adult readers and not for the faint-hearted at that! The wording of the title is echoed throughout the novel and gets decidedly worse as things go on!
I fully admit I was hooked from the first chapter. There is a level of intrigue planted right from the word go and the pacing of the novel doesn’t let up. No sooner do you think Jackal and his friends are in the clear, then something else comes along to blindside the reader. In many respects, The Grey Bastards is an exhausting read. The plot is fast and furious, so action-packed it often left me reeling. At times, I wondered if elements of the action were implanted in the novel to fill space, but everything happens for a reason. The plot is so intricate and well-considered that every snippet of information, every action scene, and every character is so carefully placed and well planned out, that it’s nothing short of inspiring.
Each of the characters has its own merits and motivations that all play a part in the wider narrative. Their actions drive the plot forwards in a manner that is equal to their individual desires; Jackal has his sights set on being the top dog of The Grey Bastards clan and, initially, he’ll do anything to get there – witnessing his actions, successful and not, is entertaining in its own right and at times my eyes-rolled pretty hard at his blind stupidity. It makes for a good read when you see a self-assured, cocky character fall from grace and Jackal does it spectacularly! Unfortunately, he drags down some of his friends along with him; whose tests of loyalty push them in different directions. Again, it’s all masterful plotting by the author and all the trials the characters face play a part in the larger, overarching plot.
As a favourite character, I adored Oats. Jackals friend and the role of guiding conscience; even if he goes ignored more often than not. A ‘thrice’ Half-Orc, physically imposing, brutal and loyal to a fault. He is also one of the few characters that seemed to have a genuine feeling of compassion coming from him; the only one that didn’t shy away from his feelings, which made him stand out from the rest of the Hoof. He’s the sort of character that I adore reading about and some of his scenes had me reeling!
The book does have a slight obsession with male genitalia! After the recent slew of Orc-related books, clearly, I do not mind this, but I can understand it putting off some readers. To have a character’s name be ‘Roundth’ after the thickness of his… erm… penis, was honestly rather amusing! And it’s a sense of ironic sort of humour that I take particular delight in. As mentioned, The Grey Bastards doesn’t pull its punches, which is rather refreshing to come across. But, it’s not going to suit every reader out there – especially considering some of the language borders on the offensive in terms of homophobia; the insult ‘backy’ is thrown around between the half-orcs when emotion other than anger is shown. In a self-contained world setting is such a camaraderie attitude acceptable between those who all act in the same manner? It certainly fits the tone of the book which can be ultimately described as; laddish.
So, ladies. I’d like to take a moment to address something. The woman in this book are not heroines; they’re whores, they’re mothers and nursemaids. If they are lucky. If not, then they’re captives and abused. That’s about it. With the exception of Fetching, who got her hoof name under dubious circumstances. It’s sexist. It’s unfair. I took it to be part of the world-building and strength of the novel, rather than a weakness. Not everything in fiction is idyllic and The Grey Bastards reflects that. The Lot Lands, where the novel is set, is meant to be a hard-earned life where those that live there eke out whatever existence they can and the world is skewed towards favouring the masculine. This brings things back around to the overall feel of the book, outlandish and laddish. There are a lot of dick-jokes, even beyond that of Roundth!
There is a language to this book, other than the crude, that took a bit of getting used to. Slang terms for various day-to-day objects and the only one that currently jumps to mind to use for an example is cod; their word for dick… but once past a few pages of this use of language, it was something that I felt added to the building of the world. It helps to add a personal flavour to the setting, elevating it beyond that of ‘just another fantasy book.’
After finishing this book, I was hyped to learn there are another two in the series. Needless to say, they’re going on the reading list!
An unusual fantasy novel that is written from the perspective of half-orcs. An intricate plot that doesn’t let up and twists and turns with every interaction. Women are not considered highly in the world setting which may make this an uncomfortable book for some readers. An emphasis on laddish behaviour and banter is reinforced by the use of slang words. Interesting and frustrating main character supported by loyal friends. Unlike my other orc-related books, it’s not smut, but there are sexual scenes within!