Live in the saddle, die on the hog
Jackal rides with the Grey Bastards, one of eight hoofs that have survived the harsh embrace of the Lots. Young, cunning and ambitious, he schemes to unseat the increasingly tyrannical founder of the Bastards, a plague-ridden warlord called the Claymaster. When the troubling appearance of a foreign sorcerer comes upon the heels of a faceless betrayal, Jackal’s plans are thrown into turmoil.
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4 / 5
The Grey Bastards in one word: filthy. Here’s another: amazing. This rip-roaring read of half-orcs, hogs, and wild lands was an absolute page-turner. Live in the saddle, die on the hog indeed!
Fetching stood upon the roof of the brothel with a stockbow in each hand, both loaded and trained on the riders. She was stark naked
Jackal is a half-orc and he rides with a hoof, a half-orc gang that roves the wasteland of the Lots, clashing with the human law and keeping back the invasion of the full-blooded and war-loving orcs. Jackal is cunning and eyeing up the leadership of the hoof as their current chieftan and founder, the Claymaster, issues orders that Jackal increasing disagrees with. Jackal is backed up by his two best friends, tough guy Oats and the only woman in the hoofs, Fetching. Together the trio are rude, violent, sexual, funny, and entirely endearing.
What helps The Grey Bastards stand apart from other fantasy novels from the perspective of the more “monstrous” species? First off, there are the aforementioned awesome characters. Then there’s the action – the physical and epic battles themselves, but also the verbal sparring, the intrigue and the unexpected betrayals. The suspense of not knowing who Jackal should trust, and the frustration when you think he’s being a fool. I also loved the hogs. Humans ride horses, elves ride horses or elks or something, but French’s half-orcs ride battle pigs. It was refreshingly original and also kind of sweet.
“So maybe you see why it took me years to throw my axe. Because it meant challenging the leader who carried me into the light”
The only question marks in my head whilst reading The Grey Bastards were on the character of Starling – a captive elf girl who mistakenly falls into Jackal’s hands – who is far too passive and in the way of the action and the narrative, and sometimes the pacing felt too slow.
The Grey Bastards is an excellent example of how fantastic and original self-published fiction (that has now been picked up by a main publisher) can be. This book is a dirty, filthy, rude, and hilarious riot.
My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of The Grey Bastards