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Monday, October 7, 2019

The True Bastards by Jonathan French (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The True Bastards over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Grey Bastards
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Jonathan French

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: Half orc. All badass. A female chieftain in a brutal wasteland society fights to take what is hers in an action-packed, foul-mouthed fantasy adventure from the author of The Grey Bastards

Fetching was once the only female rider in the Lot Lands. Now she is the proud leader of her own hoof, a band of loyal half-orcs sworn to her command. But in the year since she became chief, the Lots have tested her strength to the breaking point. The Bastards are scattered, desperate, their ranks weakened by a mysterious famine, their fortress reduced to smoldering slag. And their troubles are only growing. A pack of ravening beasts circles their camp, while grasping human nobles hatch a plan that will shift the balance of power in the Lots.

Fetch and her comrades are still standing defiant—they’re Bastards, after all—but even the toughest half-orc can take only so much; and Fetch knows they’re on the verge of ruin.

As she strives to lead her hoof to safety and unravel the plots set against them, Fetching must journey through forbidden elven lands, overcome long-standing hatreds, battle a monstrous wizard of terrifying power—and, worst of all, delve into the dark truths of her own existence.

She’s no stranger to fighting the world, but on this journey, sharp steel and a strong hog won’t be enough. To survive these trials, she’ll have to defy not just her foes but the very nature of the Lots.

The True Bastards is the sweeping, ambitious second entry in the Lot Lands series, an irresistibly thrilling, gritty, foul-mouthed adventure that deepens, expands—and again upends—the Bastards’ unforgettable world.

FORMAT/INFO: The True Bastards is 584 pages long divided over forty-three numbered chapters. Narration is via third person solely by Fetching throughout. This is the second volume of the Lot Lands saga.

October 8, 2019 marks the e-book and hardback publication of The True Bastards and it being published by Crown Publishing. It will also be released in the UK in both Trade paperback and e-book versions on October 8, 2019.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The True Bastards is a sequel that has been heavily anticipated by all those folks who read Jonathan French’s 2016 SPFBO winning title The Grey Bastards. The Grey Bastards was a revelation with its violence, unabashed action and uncouth language. It also showcased Jackal, Oats, Fetching, the Claymaster, and all the other hoof members that lived, squabbled and patrolled the Lot lands alongside the other hoofs. The True Bastards as a sequel not only expands the world scenario but also furthers the insight into characters which we love.

The sequel begins with Fetching who’s now the hoofmistress of the newly re-named True Bastards. Smart, tough and a bad-ass warrior, Fetching has her hands full as she tries to grow her hoof. Maintain diplomatic relations with the others and find out what happens next in the Lot Lands after the Orc incursion. Things however are never as smooth as the True Bastards realize with the loss of their stronghold (after the climatic events of The Grey Bastards). There’s a new entity in the lot lands and they have a target in mind. Things are going from bad to worse as Fetching finds out how heavy it is to bear the crown.

First things first, as sequels go, the first traditionally published one by Jonathan French is a tour-de-force. Let me be clear this sequel will have its fans and detractors, there are some things that fans are expecting which they will not find. They are things that are revealed out of the blue which while stunning, add even more depth to this burgeoning world. So let’s begin with what this book is not, primarily this book is a very different title to The Grey Bastards. That book was an action packed monster, this one is its more contemplative cousin who’s equally deadly but simmers slowly. Fetching as a narrator is very starkly different to Jackal, where Jackal was attack first and ask questions later, Fetching is equally effective at defense and offense. She is also an able leader whose skills get stretched to their limits with all the troubles the True Bastards face.

The action in this series is more personalized as we get lots on one on one sequences as well as some mass scenes. The book however is equally filthy, coarse and gory as was its predecessor. It’s better than predecessor in its overall plot as we get more details about certain specific events from the first book as well as the magic system gets more insight. There’s some huge potential revelations that left me hugely excited for what come in the future.

Going on to the characterization, with more than 500 pages and just one POV character, the author has to really nail down the tone. Jonathan French goes above and beyond in presenting Fetching as more complex character than Jackal was and having a lot more stress placed on her shoulders due to her gender, her birth as well events beyond her control. But face them with aplomb, she does, while being as foulmouthed, tough and brilliant as she’s shown to be in the first book. Jonathan’s decision to shift the focus really pays off as we get to see the bastards truly become a hoof through hellfire (mostly figuratively and some cases literally). Jonathan French also expands the cast as we get a few more female half-orcs (including one who I hope gets a much larger role in the future books).

I was impressed with how the author choose to take a much different path with its sequel. This view might not be appreciated by all the readers as many might want a book similar to the first and it’s this group that’s going to be heavily disappointed. However I believe this book while being different is part of the necessary growing pain that the saga will need to become a special one indeed (and if the last third is any indication, things are about to get very, very brutal and scary with more magic, battles and godly meddling).

With regards to the drawbacks, the book’s place is also sluggish for the first nearly 40-50% as the author lays down a lot of tracks for the book’s plot arc as well as the series arc. While I didn’t mind it that much, there will be those who might not enjoy this slow pace at all. The story revelations that come, create more questions and there are no easy answers to be found. Then there’ Jackal’s reduced role and there’s one particular thread which just barely references what Jackal was upto and it is so very, very tantalizing. I wish the author could have included more of that in this book but it would have this one an even bigger monster. I hope he releases a novella or side-quel that showcases all that Jackal has been upto. Lastly there’s a Dimidium-orc ex machina situation which resolves a complex issue very neatly and this is where that side story would have been very helpful.

CONCLUSION: The True Bastards is a true sequel, it compounds the mysteries, amps up the action and makes you want the next book now. Jonathan French ups the ante as he increases the character cast and showcases how he has improved his already excellent writing skills. Read this book and then like me, count the days until we get the thrice born sequel in the Lot Lands saga.



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