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The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French
Book Name: The Grey Bastards
Author: Jonathan French
Publisher(s): Crown (US) Orbit (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy
Release Date: June 19, 2018 (US) June 21, 2018 (UK)

In my review of Phil Tucker’s The Siege of Abythos, I felt like that guy at a sports stadium, trying to start the wave, in my attempt to make the hashtag #TrollsArePeopleToo go viral.

No such luck.

Well, in honor of Jonathan French’s Big-5 release of The Grey Bastards, I’m going to try again with #HalfOrcsArePeopleToo.

As many avid fantasy followers know, The Grey Bastards won the coveted Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016—something I know all too well, since it left boar hooves all over my own submission in the second round. Luckily, I had snagged a copy on Amazon before Mr. French signed an eye-popping publishing deal (rumor has it that the CEO of XXX offered his own kidney during negotiations. Okay, confession time: I tried to start that rumor, and like #TrollsArePeopleToo, it never took root), and took his sometimes-raunchy, frequently-irreverent, and always-imaginative masterpiece down.

Whether it was jealousy, bitterness, or busyness (more confessions, it was laziness), I didn’t get around to reading my vanquisher until mid-2017. In my pettiness, scrutinizing it any and all faults, I gave The Grey Bastards a 4.99 stars out of 5 because of Mr. French’s frequent use of said-isms.

Needless to say, I was quick to jump at the chance to grab a galley and join the Bastards. Though annoyed at the plain cover (they could have at least made it grey), I delved right in and fell in love again with of all things, a half-orc.

The Grey Bastards is a guilty pleasure: a fun adventure with first-rate worldbuilding that hides a complex plot. As a former D&D player, I am drawn to stories which break the stereotypical molds of fantasy races with spectacular worldbuilding. The Grey Bastards does that, and so much more, telling a tale from the perspective of a half-orc, Jackal.

Throughout most fantasy worlds we’re not supposed to like half-orcs, but we can’t help but root for Jackal. He is utterly loyal to his “hoof,” one of nine half-orc clans that defend the badlands between orc and human territories on their war boars. If anything motivates him more than protecting his friends, it’s a pretty face, and an overconfidence which gets him in trouble. These foibles make him all the more endearing; while helping to move the plot along in a dangerous place, inhabited by insane Centaurs who go on murderous rampages, Halfling religious fanatics, marsh demons, wild elf tribes, and various humans.

To the half-orc vernacular, each of these groups, and everything around them, has a unique name. Frails, Thicks, Waddlers, Ticklers, Hoofs, Thrice-Bloods… Mr. French organically works the slang in through the dialog and point of view so that it becomes second nature to the reader.

The large cast is mostly memorable through chemistry and witty dialog, none more so than the mysterious Half-Orc wizard who arrives out of nowhere and turns Jackal’s life upside down. Each twist and turn in the plot left me awestruck in the brilliance of the story.

The prose isn’t flowery or embellished, and Mr. French is more prone to use a curse word than SAT vocabulary. It fits perfectly with the kind of story and character The Grey Bastards tells. With Big-5 editing, the already-smooth narrative runs like gears lubricated by half-orc fluids. Gone are the said-isms and tells of the original version, leaving nothing short of a masterpiece. However, since I am still bitter over The Grey Bastards rampaging all over my book in SPFBO2016, I’m going to take off .001 points out of pure spite, giving it a score of 9.999.

And remember, #HalfOrcsArePeopleToo.

The Grey Bastards is out June 19th in the US and June 21st 2018 in the UK.


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