- The Grey Bastards (The Lot Lands #1).
- Jonathan French.
- 432 pages.
- Fantasy / Epic Fantasy / Dark Fantasy / Grimdark / Fiction.
- My Rating: Hell Yeah Book Review.
Jackal is proud to be a Grey Bastard, member of a sworn brotherhood of half-orcs. Unloved and unwanted in civilized society, the Bastards eke out a hard life in the desolate no-man’s-land called the Lots, protecting frail and noble human civilization from invading bands of vicious full-blooded orcs.
But as Jackal is soon to learn, his pride may be misplaced. Because a dark secret lies at the heart of the Bastards’ existence – one that reveals a horrifying truth behind humanity’s tenuous peace with the orcs, and exposes a grave danger on the horizon.
On the heels of the ultimate betrayal, Jackal must scramble to stop a devastating invasion – even as he wonders where his true loyalties lie.
I received a free copy of this book courtesy of the publisher, Orcbit (it’s really Orbit but there are orcs in the book ergo Orcbit) in exchange for an honest review.
The Grey Bastards of the book’s title are a hoof which is akin to a biker gang think Sons of Anarchy and Biker Mice from Mars (yes, I went there, it was a cartoon from my later childhood) only they ride actual hogs rather than motorcycles and are tattooed half-orcs.
Eight hoofs including The Grey Bastards reside in and patrol the Lot Lands, the barren and brutal wasteland that lies between the realm of humans and the realm of orcs. Being half-breeds the hoofs are outcasts, shunned by humans and hated by the full-blooded orcs.
The Lot Lands are a leftover remnant of the Incursion (the war that took place between humans and orcs). Gifted in the aftermath to the hoofs (including half-orcs, the former slaves and servants to the humans who took their chance in the Incursion to break the chains of oppression, becoming warriors, aiding and fighting alongside those they had once called master) and now acting as a barrier, separating the kingdoms of Hispartha, home of the humans and Dhar’gest, home of the orcs. The hoofs protect the humans and keep the Lot Lands and the borders safe from attacks by the full-blooded orcs.
There are eight hoofs each with their own territory in the Lot Lands, you keep to your own lot and everything is fine, stray onto others and there’s a good chance you’ll end up as carrion. The Grey Bastards make their home in the fortress known as the Kiln. Yes, it gets its name from a kiln that fires clay, that’s what it’s based on. The Kiln has a central inner fire that can superheat the walls to repel any invaders who try to climb them and the entrance tunnel can also be used to funnel the steam from the fire to stop anyone from trying to get in, cooking them alive.
With the hoofs, their individual territories, and the colourful cast of inhabitants that reside in the Lot Lands the setting is vividly realised coming to life in your mind and is reminiscent of a Mad Max influenced lawless landscape only with fantasy races (half-orcs, thrice-bloods, orcs, centaurs, elves, rokhs and sludges, yes, you read that last one right) and trappings alongside the humans.
The Grey Bastards starts off quite small scale with inner disputes and some exceedingly erratic and strange behaviour (things like showing mercy and leaving some orcs from a raiding party alive whereas usually they would all be killed for trespassing on Bastard territory) from the hoof captain, the Claymaster besetting the Bastards.
Then the arrival of Krafty, a half-orc wizard with unknown motives from outside of the Lot Lands at the Kiln and the rescue of a female elf captive set a series of events into motion and things inevitably come to a head when Jackal, a young and ambitious Bastard (he already had designs on being captain) throws down his axe and challenges the Claymaster for the leadership of the Bastards. Jackal loses and ends up being exiled, becoming a free rider and a hoofless nomad of the Lot Lands.
After Jackel’s exile, what first began as a small-scale story revolving around disagreements in a single hoof gradually escalates in scope as long-buried secrets and hidden truths are revealed uncovering more about the origins of The Grey Bastards themselves and the real history of the Lot Lands. The story gradually builds to epic in nature as not only will Jackal need to save the Grey Bastards, making sure that there is a future for the hoof but the fate of the entire Lot Lands is also at stake.
The hogs that the half-orcs ride are war hogs and are known as barbarians with names like Hearth and Ugfuck (yeah, I sniggered at that name too). Animal companions, in my opinion, are always a welcome addition to a story and in the case of The Grey Bastards, the hogs and the relationship between rider and beast is pivotal to the way of life for the Bastards. After all, their war cry is:
Live in the saddle!
Die on the hog!
Hearth is Jackel’s hog and Ugfuck, Oats (Jackal’s best friend). If I ever get myself a pet piggy, sorry, barbarian war hog then I’m calling mine Bacon!🥓😂🐗
With only a small cast of characters, there is time to focus on and develop the bonds and relationships between them. To me, each character was believable and felt real with their own unique personality. I found myself rooting for Jackal and The Bastards feeling the loyalty that they have for each other, the pain of betrayal and understanding the motivations for the actions that they take. I especially loved the banter, good-natured barbs, quips and insults that are often traded by the characters particularly those between the trio of Jackal, Oats and Fetching. They catered to my sense of humour perfectly and always managed to elicit a smile from me.
The Bastards are half-orcs, we aren’t dealing with humans and their personalities here. Anyone with the smallest amount of passing knowledge on orcs will know that whilst not wholly bestial they are savage and have different values to humans. Orcs aren’t polite, well spoken and eloquent with poetic and flowery words peppering their speech. Oh no, orcs are coarse, lewd and loud and, as such, there is plenty of profanity, vulgarity and a few terms that some people might find offensive to be found coming from the mouths of characters in The Grey Bastards. There certainly is a lot of fucks to be given!😉 For example, full-blooded orcs are referred to as thicks, humans as frails and centaurs as horse-cocks! – did you choke on your drink?!🤔😂
Profanity and crudeness aren’t for everyone. It doesn’t bother me and I have absolutely no issue with it (even dabbling myself on the rare occasion). It’s 2018, foul language is part and parcel of the world that we live in and it is an every day common occurrence. If it doesn’t bother me, you might ask why am I mentioning it?! Simply put, for this reason, if you are of a delicate disposition and it is something that does bother you then I would urge you to look beyond its inclusion. Whilst, to some (I had an immediate affinity towards them) the Bastards might initially come across as uncivilised beneath their often ribald and gruff demeanour the half-orcs themselves are a fully developed set of individual and unforgettable characters. Jackal is one hell of a hero and The Grey Bastards one hell of a book and deserves to be given a chance to impress (which in my opinion, it undoubtedly will).👌📚
There is copious amounts of visceral action, emotion (surprisingly, there are a few moments that creep up on and sucker punch you right in the feels), humour, magic, a gritty and harsh well realised world with stellar world building, a surprisingly deep and layered story with plenty of twists and turns, strong storytelling and complex characterisation all to be found within the pages of The Grey Bastards.
The pacing in The Grey Bastards is unremitting throughout and when you hit the final stretch, around the last 80 (or so) pages business really picks up. It is certainly what you would call a ‘fast-paced read‘ but the quality of both the storytelling and the writing doesn’t waver throughout and it’s never overly fast or rushed.
The Grey Bastards is bold, brash and crude and filled with excitement, heart and feeling. It is riotous and rowdy oozing more machismo than Razor Ramon in his heyday and it will give you a shit ton of fun for your buck! You will find yourself balls deep in The Grey Bastards and be loving it!
Side note: the author uses the term “balls deep” in the book, how cool! As soon as I read the phrase I knew that I had to incorporate it into my review!😱😂
From the start I was pulled in by The Bastards, this hogtastic wild ride of a book was made for me, I can’t fault it and absolutely I loved it. I have found my calling and I am home. The Bastards make me seem polite, courteous and well-mannered, I will fit in with them perfectly, sign me up now!
The Grey Bastards is fantastically filthy fun.
Pre-order The Grey Bastards (The Lot Lands #1) released June, 19th (US) 21st (UK) 2018.
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