I read this book exactly a year ago. I wrote a review then, too. ‘Bout time I posted it…
Heard of The Grey Bastards (TGB)? Nope? Well, here’s a bullet-point review.
- Don’t like frequent swearing? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like violence? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like books where nasty things happen? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like books with multiple characters? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like plots that twist and turn but somehow come out making sense? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like sex scenes and/ or sexual references? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like a sense of humour which ranges from clever to crude to banter to juvenile? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like magic? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like disturbing, skin-crawling (literally in some cases) events? Don’t read this book.
- Don’t like orcs or whores or shaven-headed elves or mad centaurs or devious humans and power-crazed wizards? Don’t read this book.
- Do like all this stuff? Go read this book.
Now for the wordy version…
The Grey Bastards is nice twist on the classic coming-of-age tale. In this case our protagonist is not a human but a half-orc. The book follows Jackal and his friends as they struggle to deal with the fate of their home and their ‘hoof’ against a multitude of enemies and, in some cases, friends.
The novel has plenty of twists and mashes up dark fantasy/ epic fantasy/ cowboy stories (cow-orcs?) and murder-mystery-suspense tropes. Friendships become enemies and enemies become allies. Those partnerships are made and broken seemingly from page to page. This, plus short chapters, makes for a fast-paced novel which is very easy to keep reading.
That pace, paradoxically, was one of the things that I found a little wearing at around the three-quarter mark. Ending each chapter on a cliff-hanger is a very effective way to keep people reading but I find it grates if used too much.
The other thing that niggled was the main character: Jackal. He’s nice. There were some utter reprobates amongst the ‘mongrels’, but Jackal and his friends are the half-orcish equivalent of whores with a heart of gold (who also crop up in this book). Jackal always strives to do the right thing and is always prepared to make the required sacrifice. I would have preferred him to be a bit more, well, orcish I guess. (Or human, depending on your view of humanity…) Jackal almost always gets the lucky escape, too – something else that I would have liked to vary a little more. Despite that, he is a solid main character and develops well, as evident by his role in his own fate.
My last mini-gripe would be to tone down the descriptions. Most of the prose is great and suits the book perfectly, but there are a few places where it felt forced.
I feel churlish pointing a lot of this stuff out as it is a very good book. Any fans of grimdark or dark fantasy will enjoy TGB. There are a lot of genre staples here dealt with in a refreshing way e.g. flipping the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from human to orc, the centaurs, elves and wizards, etc. I particularly like the way the author manages the half-orc world: from the reason for the hoofs and their existence (that’s a great plot twist), their hierarchy and names, the hogs (I want one!), to their levels of orcishness: frailing/ half-orc/ thrice/ thick.
The other impressive feature is how it all comes together at the end. There are so many reversals of fortunes and loyalties and reasonings along the way, that I wondered at one point how the author would tie it all in. He does, and the book ends with a satisfying conclusion. It also leaves enough teasers dangling for book two – which has recently been released and looks as good as the first.
In conclusion, The Grey Bastards is well worth your time. But this recommendation comes with one final warning…
- Don’t like the word c**t? DON’T READ THIS BOOK!