The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French #SPFBO
The Grey Bastards was the third out of nine books that I’m reading in the final stage of the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off and before I go any further I have to say that I loved it. I want more of this world and these characters. If I’m going to be honest I expected going into this a bunch of characters who were all tough nuts, I expected coarse jokes, maybe a touch of false bravado and perhaps even a few pissing contests – and, yeah, there is all of that going on in here. This is without doubt a brutal world and the writing here doesn’t pull any punches in that respect. But, what really took me by surprise was the amount of affection I felt for the characters. Particularly the Jackal. I tell you I was right there with him living through the wtf moments. I really did share his pain and his sense of betrayal as certain aspects of the story unfolded and equally I shared in his moments of exhilaration and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of reading a book and being totally besotted with the characters. It really is the best feeling even if it does result in a terrible book hangover when it all comes to an end and you just want more. Anyway, enough of that. To the review woman and don’t spare the hogs!
The Grey Bastards are a brotherhood made up of half orcs that patrol the Lot Lands keeping it’s borders safe from marauding orcs and other menaces such as centaurs. Each of these brotherhoods are known as Hoofs and the Lot Lands are divided up into eight segments each with it’s own Hoof.
There’s a long history here involving wars that raged many years ago between the nobles of Hispartha and full blooded orcs. Prior to that half orcs were kept as slaves until there actions in the war led to their freedom and the gift of the land that they now patrol. Of course there’s a lot more to this than meets the eye with plenty of deceptions that will be slowly revealed as the story progresses. Put bluntly none of the inhabitants of this world seem to get along well, there are elves, orcs, humans, centaurs and half orcs and they all seem to spend a good deal of time just barely keeping threats from each other at bay.
As the story starts we’re introduced to Jackal and his merry band made up of Oats – a giant sized, more than half Orc (a thrice) and Fetch – the only female amongst the Hoofs. A position that wasn’t easily won and even now causes some emotions to run high. These three have been constant companions since childhood and enjoy that easy going banter that you would hope for and expect.
The GB’s warlord is a plague-ridden Orc called the Claymaster. You fairly quickly come to the conclusion that he’s not enamoured of our young and ambitious Jackal, nor is he a fan of his two companions and so the fact that the three of them have just returned from a mission that seems to have gone spectacularly pear shaped has soured the mood somewhat and the three of them are in the hog house! Now on top of this, and as a result of the aforementioned spoiled mission certain things begin to come to light. Certain betrayals that need to be examined and of course as the Jackal is the main culprit he gets sent to do the dirty work. At the same time another slightly suspicious character (or is he, maybe his arrival is just coincidental) arrives on the scene. A half orc with magical ability. A sorcerer no less and something that the Claymaster has had a long hankering for – for what reasons nobody knows. And finally, throw a she elf into the mix and not only do we have a very compelling mystery but also the unravelling of the Jackal’s world.
I’ve probably made it all sound terribly convoluted but I promise you it isn’t. In fact it’s a very easy book to get on with and the author has managed to find the perfect balance (for me anyways) between world building, characterisation and plot. The pace is well planned, it’s not too breakneck that you don’t have time to regroup and at the same time it doesn’t suffer from any lulls that make you want to put the book down and not pick it back up again too quickly.
So, to my favourite aspects of the book. The characters. I’m always banging on about loving a book where the author makes me feel for the characters and this book achieved that and then some. I felt like I knew our little band of three so well. The plot – which really wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be! It’s not that I necessarily want a book to be unpredictable, I’m quite happy with some predictability providing it’s a good book, but the levels of untruths, deception betrayal and other hidden elements going on here were really good. I loved that everything was turned on it’s head and the life that Jackal was living was not quite what he thought. Anyway, that way lies the way of spoilers and I really don’t want to go down that route.
Suffice to say that this was a thoroughly entertaining, down right excellent, read. I loved it and definitely want more. The ending does conclude on a note of possibility in that respect – although it also kind of wraps things up so all I can do now is raise one eyebrow expectantly in the author’s direction and try and outstare him until he caves in and comes up with more from The Lots!
In case I didn’t make it clear I recommend the Grey Bastards without reservation.