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Friday, October 30, 2009

“The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” by Jesse Bullington (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Jesse Bullington Website
Order “The Sad Tale of the Brothers GrossbartHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Reviews HERE
Read A Dribble With Ink’s Interview with Jesse Bullington HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jesse Bullington is a folklore and outdoor enthusiast who holds a bachelor's degree in History and English Literature from Florida State University. “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” is the author’s debut novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: In the plague-wracked and devil-haunted darkness of Medieval Europe, an elite few enjoy opulent lives while the majority eke out a miserable existence in abject poverty. Hungry creatures stalk the deep woods and desolate mountains, and both sea and sky teem with unspeakable horrors. For those ill-fated masses not born into wealth, life is but a vicious trial to be endured before the end of days.

Hegel and Manfried Grossbart couldn't give a toss. Being of low birth means little, after all, when the riches of the mighty wait just inside the next crypt. The grave-robbing twins know enough about crusading to realise that if one is to make a living from the dead, what better destination than the fabled tomb-cities of Egypt? But the Brothers Grossbart are about to discover that all legends have their truths, and worse fates than death await those who would take the red road of villainy...

FORMAT/INFO: ARC stands at 453 pages divided over thirty-one titled chapters, a Preface and a Bibliography. Extras include an interview with the author Jesse Bullington and an excerpt from K.J. Parker’sThe Company”. Narration is in the third person, mainly via the Grossbart twins Hegel and Manfried, but the cast of characters also includes Heinrich, Captain Alexius Barousse, the Arab Al-Gassur, Rodrigo, Ennio, Father Martyn, Nicolete, etc. “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” is self-contained.

November 5, 2009/November 16, 2009 marks the UK/North American Trade Paperback publication of “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” via Orbit Books. Cover art provided by Istvan Orosz.

ANALYSIS: First things first. If you are easily offended, have a weak stomach, or can’t stand foul language, graphic violence, sadistic behavior, deplorable protagonists and the like, then Jesse Bullington’sThe Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” is not for you. On the other hand, if you possess a strong constitution, like to try out new things, and are not afraid to embrace your dark side, then “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” can offer a rewarding reading experience.

Of course, to fully appreciate what “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” has to offer, it’s important to first understand what kind of book Jesse Bullington has written. At its simplest, “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” is the diabolical story of twin brothers who corrupt the lives of everyone they come into contact with on their incredible journey from Europe to ‘Gyptland’ in search of tombs and treasure. Look past the book’s vulgar exterior however, and you’ll find a much more complex beast made up of many different layers including folklore (witches, demons, sirens) interwoven into history (the Black Plague, crusades), superstition versus theology, fiction trope subversions and satire, and a wicked sense of humor. The end result is a novel that is very hard to classify, embracing everything from folklore, historical fiction and black comedy to pulp fiction and outright horror. For me, “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” is what would happen if the Brothers Grimm, Clive Barker, Chuck Palahniuk and Warren Ellis all came together and wrote a novel...

Character-wise, “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” revolves around Hegel and Manfried Grossbart, two of the most vicious and appalling protagonists I’ve ever set eyes on. Crude, selfish, and nasty, the Brothers Grossbart are characters that filled me with disgust and who I would root against at every opportunity. Yet for all that I disliked Hegel and Manfried Grossbart, at the same time I found the twins to be quite fascinating thanks to Jesse’s wild imagination and detailed rendering. In particular, I loved each brother’s quirky traits (Hegel’s dislike for four-legged beasts, etc), their preverted sense of holiness, their theological & philosophical debates, and their lingo:

So monsters, in our experience, is part man and part beast, although the possibility exists they might be parts a other things all mixed together, like a basilisk. Part chicken and part dragon.”
That ain’t no basalisk, that’s a damn cockatrice.”
A what?!Manfried laughed at his brother’s ignorance.
A cockatrice. Basilisk’s just a lizard, cept it poisons wells and such,” said Hegel.
That’s a scorpion! Although you’s half right—basilisk’ll kill you quick, but by turnin its eyes on you.
What!?Hegel shook his head. “Now I know you’s making up lies cause any man a learnin’ll tell you straight a scorpion ain’t no reptile, it’s a worm."
What worms you seen what have eyes and arms, huh?
Sides from you?

Negatively, the plot in “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” is embarssingly simple with the ending easy to map out, but I was reminded of the old adage, “it's the journey that matters, not the destination.” While definitely true in this case, I was still underwhelmed by the brothers’ final comeuppance. Other issues I had include the novel only having two stories-within-stories in it—Nicolete and Father Martyn’s tales are highlights of the book and really show off the author’s writing prowess—and Jesse’s tendency to jump from one POV to another in the middle of the narrative, sometimes from one paragraph to the next. I got used to this after awhile, but there are moments when this transition is jarring and causes some confusion, especially when he uses every character in the book as a POV, no matter how minor a role they might play.

Apart from these minor complaints and the fact that “The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” will only appeal to a certain kind of audience, Jesse Bullington’s debut is a very impressive novel—one that will get a lot of attention, deservedly so I might add, and promises a bright future for the author...


Calibandar said...

Interesting review Robert, though this one was already a buy on publication for me. One of the most highly anticipated books when I first read the synopsis and the advance word has been positive.

Burn me deadly, the new Alex Bledsoe Sword jockey novel will be out next week, you'll probably be looking out for that one as well?

Robert said...

Hi Calibander :) I was interested in the Brothers Grossbart, but I wouldn't say that I was really excited about it. So I enjoyed it a lot more than I was expecting to.

As far as Burn Me Deadly, I actually read an ARC of that 3-4 months ago. It was enjoyable, but I didn't like it as much as the first one. Thought the second book lacked the novelty of the first one, the central mystery was weak, and the fantasy elements were lacking. So I didn't review it.

Speaking of reviews, I don't think I've mentioned this on the blog, but I'm only going to be reviewing until February 1st. That's when our second child is due :D After that I'll be MIA for who knows how long since I'll be staying home with the baby. Until then, I'm going to try and review as much as I can, time permitting. Right now, I'm actually working on 2010 titles. Finished Dragon Keeper, Jade Man's Skin, and Spellwright recently, and currently reading The New Dead. FanLit has actually posted my review of Spellwright here:

Anonymous said...

It's one of those books I keep reading over and over. Grows on you more and more...


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