Live in the saddle. Die on the hog.
High action, vulgar humour, and sexy half-orcs. That’s right, this book is funny and sexy. And, well… it actually makes slimes and gelatinous cubes cool too.
Described as the fantasy version of ‘Sons of Anarchy’, ‘The Grey Bastards’ is the tale of Jackal (Jack) as a young and impulsive member of the Grey Bastards hoof (gang). Along with the other hoofs (yes, that’s right, hoofs, half-orcs don’t talk pretty) they watch the Lot Lands, keeping the human kingdoms to the north safe from the full-blooded orcs to the south.
Along with Jackal, there’s his best friend Oats (who could be Opie but that’s a bit of stretch) and Fetching, the only woman in all the hoofs, who enters the story in probably the worst way but then gets better as the story goes on. Their hoof is lead by the Claymaster (that’s right…Clay), but that’s about the end of the direct ‘Sons of Anarchy’ references.
Ooooooh wait, no. There are the hogs. Instead of bikes, these bad ass half-orcs ride around of huge hogs bred for combat. These mounts, called barbarians, have as much personality as many of the characters, and I loved seeing the hogs get their fair share in the story. Most fantasy books gloss over the horses and mounts, so this was a welcomed addition to the book.
Alright, that’s the end of the SOA references.
The book begins when Jackal, Oats, and Fetch uncover a mysterious betrayal and end up rescuing a captive elf. A mysterious half-orc wizard arrives and ruins Jackal’s plans, and soon the hoof is thrown into turmoil and war.
French has done an incredible job of blending humour and gut wrenching action. The violence is gritty and the losses severe. But the camaraderie between the Bastards is brilliantly maintained, the trust they have in each other and the joy these characters have in riding into battle alongside their friends is perfect. The language is colourful, with lots of swearing and a truly low brow sense to the half-orcs’ lives. There is a raunchy sex scene that might be over the top for a lot of readers. But that never lowers the quality of writing or the impact of the story. This book is like a tusk tearing through your guts while the Three Stooges poke you in the eye.
The book was initially published as an indie book with this amazing cover by Raymond Swanland. Sadly, it is no longer available, as it has been picked up by Penguin/Random House and will be released as a new edition sometime in 2018. (June, I think.) I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the new edition, and the upcoming sequel.
For more about Jonathan French check out his social media and such: