Book Review: The Grey Bastards, by Jonathan French

The Grey Bastards is a shining example of SPFBO winner, and I’m reading through them to get all the best indie voices. This novel didn’t disappoint — the accolades are well deserved!

What to expect

A classic epic fantasy, starting small and building up to a grand finale, through many twists of betrayals, revelations, and battles. Following the adventures of Jackal, a half-orc warrior that together with his fellows is all that stands between the orcish invasion and the kindom of the humans.

Riding a hog (the animal, not the motorcycles — though I doubt that’s a coincidence), and dreaming of usurping power, Jackal’s schemes involve, alienate, and confuse his friends. In true epic fashion, what starts as local events and some general background is slowly revealed to be interconnected and immediately relevant.

What I liked

I loved the world building. There are definite inspirations from medieval Spain (a few names and terminology, shades of the history and the geography), mixed together with some Mad Max / Western constant riding and camaraderie for an interesting combination.

I loved the plot line, as French reveals the history and nature of the world and then chnages that as Jackal learns more, and it all becomes relevant.

What to be aware of

The book does contain rampant sexism. While one character is a particularly strong-willed female half-orc, there are barely any others. While a fantasy trope loosely based on (perceived) historical reality which is (thankfully) becoming less common in modern fantasy, this story is very much a testosterone-infused “band of brothers” type of adventure.

Also, don’t come here looking for deep character development arcs. While there are twisty revelations (some more obvious than others) and a bit of growth for Jackal, the focus of the story are the adventures and wars.

Lastly, while it may be a personal fetish, food and drink are conspicously absent from the story. The half-orcs must be able to survive on minimalistic unnamed rations, which is probably a blessing because one has to wonder about the lack of agricultural and economic supply chain to support them and their hogs.

Summary

It’s a great sword & sorcery type adventure. If you enjoyed anyting from Conan through Elric to their modern cohorts, this is a book for you.

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