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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

SPFBO: The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The Grey Bastards HERE

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jonathan French was born in Tennessee, and spent his childhood reading comics. He spent his childhood and teenage in the UK and US which fueled his curiosity and spurred his writing roots. His greatest literary influences are Robert E. Howard and Lloyd Alexander. He loves D&D and publicly speaking on topics that are dear to him. He currently resides in Atlanta with his wife, son and cat.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.” Such is the creed of the half-orcs dwelling in the Lot Lands. Sworn to hardened brotherhoods known as hoofs, these former slaves patrol their unforgiving country astride massive swine bred for war. They are all that stand between the decadent heart of noble Hispartha and marauding bands of full-blood orcs.



Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. Supporting Jackal’s dangerous bid for leadership are Oats, a hulking mongrel with more orc than human blood, and Fetching, the only female rider in all the hoofs. 



When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil. He finds himself saddled with a captive elf girl whose very presence begins to unravel his alliances. With the anarchic blood rite of the Betrayer Moon close at hand, Jackal must decide where his loyalties truly lie, and carve out his place in a world that rewards only the vicious. 

FORMAT/INFO: The Grey Bastards is 442 pages long divided over thirty-six numbered chapters. Narration is via third person solely by Jackal throughout. This is the first volume of the Grey Bastards saga.

16 November, 2015 marked the e-book and paperback publication of the book and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design by Raymond Swanland.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Grey Bastards is a book with a brilliant cover and an unconventional blurb that focuses on a half-orcs and their lives. It’s a fantasy book that’s different in every sense of the word and was a finalist selected by the Bibliotropic blog.

The story begins with Jackal, a half-orc who is a member of the Grey Bastards (one of the eight hoofs *read gang/tribe*) which are present in the lot lands. The Grey Bastards are a group of nine half-orcs who take care of their region in the lots and are on tenuous relationship with most of the other lots. Our protagonist is Jackal who along with Oats and Fetching are doing ranging rounds and we discover their friendly yet competitive relationship with each other. Jackal is a person with ambition in his heart but he needs votes and a plan to dislodge the Claymaster (the head of the Grey Bastards) from the hoof’s chair. His best friends are Oats a thrice-blood (three fourths of an orc and human) and Fetching who’s is the only female half-orc ever to be a Grey Bastard.

Jackal’s plans are gestating however they have to take a backseat as he encounters a sorcerer who’s also akin to their kind. While reeling from this shocker, he discovers that they are soon betrayed by someone who has no reason to do so. Plus there’s the whole mystery of the elf girl who might hold the answers but is unwilling or unable to provide them. There’s also the undercurrents about the hoof leadership which leave Jackal a bit tenuous with his bid. Ultimately all of this will boil down to a few events upon which the history of the Lot lands will be laid bare as well as the injustice meted out by Hispartha that gets uncovered in this opening volume.

Here’s why I enjoyed this story so much, beginning from its unorthodox roots, having half-orcs as the main characters and having biker gang culture shown in a dark fantasy setting is very, very impressive. Kudos to Jonathan French for writing such a different story and having the guts to follow through and not take any easy routes with his characterizations, world history and even politics. This is a murky world and someone has compared it to the biker gang crime drama Sons Of Anarchy which I feel is very, very apt. The characters are mired in shades of grey, there are betrayals, scheming and lot of background/historical details which are slowly laid bare. This is very similar to the Sons Of Anarchy saga and also hearkens to David Dalglish’s Half-Orcs series (but with a lot less magic). Jonathan French’s creations are tortured souls who are just trying to find a semblance of peace, power and parity in their lives.

Let’s talk about the first strength of the book beginning with our protagonist Jackal and all the characters introduced within. Jonathan French makes each one stand out with their unique personas. Jackal is cunning yet not Machiavellian, Oats is steadfastly loyal but not farsighted. Fetching is vicious but not cruel in her ways. The Claymaster and the rest of the hoof mates are equally intriguing as are the various other characters introduced. All of these characters are heroes and villains in their own ways and even though we aren’t given everyone else’s POV besides Jackal, I felt that each and everyone could have been a strong lead protagonist. Secondly the bawdry nature of the story and characters is very true and is constant throughout the storyline. I liked this aspect and while it might not be for everyone, but for those who don’t mind a solid dose of darkness and cursing, this tale will fit right in.

Thirdly the world-building is done very well and what I mean is that the author slowly unveils the world (first the Lot lands and later on Hispartha). Also this world has other races such as Orcs, Centaurs, Elfs and humans who all are far away from the classical epic fantasy tropes and share the darkness imagined by the author. The Centaurs are bloodthirsty and have an interesting way to express themselves via one night (titled the Ravager's Moon). The Elves are contrarians and are also reticent enough to kill folks who disturb them. The Orcs are deadly and war-mongering, not to mention the progenitors of the half-orcs and I believe the readers will learn more as to how they view each other via the story. There’s also the cool aspect of the hogs who function as trusty steeds, deadly battle machines and just are fun to read whenever they are featured in the story. The pace of the story never slackens and the plot twists are not that frequent however they come and shake up the story vigorously. The cover by Raymond Swanland is the icing on the cake and surely a solid reason to buy the book on its own.

The only thing which I thought was the drawback for this story was that the world history wasn’t revealed quite to my satisfaction. This was a very personal observation as the author does reveal a lot but I felt that more could have been unveiled. Of course the author might be waiting to unleash more in the sequel and I can’t wait to read it.

CONCLUSION: The Grey Bastards is a rough gem of story that’s certainly not for every reader however I believe most SFF fans should read it. Jonathan French has to be lauded for his plot ingenuity, bawdry charm and vicious characters. The Grey Bastards has instantaneously catapulted him into my must-read list and the sequel to the Grey Bastards (currently titled The True Bastards) is one of my most anticipated books for 2018. 

1 comments:

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

Oh wow. Sounds like a great blend of elements here. And it is a wonderful cover. :)

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