Book Review: The Grey Bastards (The Grey Bastards Book 1) by Jonathan French (published by Ballymalis Press)
This epic fantasy is a boisterously good read – it’s rude, sweary, has lots of crude sex references and macho male banter, women are often referred to as ‘quim’ or ‘cunny’ (or worse) and it opens in a brothel! But despite that, the (majority male) characters are believable, likable and clever, the setting is well realised and intriguing and the action-packed pace carries the plot along well, with a few surprises here and there.
This novel tells the story of Jackal, a half-orc living in the Lots, or Badlands, or Ul-wundulas, as part of a brotherhood called The Grey Bastards. This brotherhood ride hogs called barbarians who have been bred for speed and battle with tusks dubbed swine-yankers. The Lots have a number of hoofs living in them, and these mongrel half-orcs (half human, half orc), protect the humans (frails) on one side from the orcs (thicks) on the other and a kind of peace is kept with the elves (point-ears), halflings and centaurs (horse-cocks) who live in the area too.
Jackal has two close friends in the hoof: Oats who rides a barbarian called Ugfuck, and Fetching – the only female hoof rider in all the Lots. Their leader is called the Claymaster who is riddled with a mysterious, but not contagious, plague. Jackal has his sights set on the leadership, but the arrival of a wizard, the discovery of a female elf and the mysterious healing of Jackal’s injury by a halfling all put a spanner in the works.
The story is told from Jackal’s point of view, and I immediately rooted for him, and enjoyed following him whilst he uncovered lies or discovered the real history of the Lots. As well as being crude and a bit bumbling, diving headfirst into situations before carefully considering them, he’s also – in his own way – considerate and honest and is driven by a motivation to do right by the people he loves and respects. I also liked Oats and Fetching, and each of the characters was well rounded and had intriguing and believable back stories.
I thought the writing was good and the dialogue, nicknames/slang and swearing suited the characters and the world perfectly. However, I was thrown by some of the odd word choices, and the overuse of the word ‘drug’. Not in the narcotics sense, but in place of ‘pull’ e.g. ‘they drug her down to be butchered’, ‘Jackal was only drug a stride or two before managing to stop the beast’, ‘For one terrible instant she was drug along’. Say what?!
This novel does have a deeply misogynistic tone, which did grate on me a bit. Thankfully, it’s part way redeemed by Fetching, who is a strong, determined, intelligent female, the she-elf is a survivor who could take the easy way out but doesn’t, Oats’ mother and boss at the orphanage is a sensible, highly respected female (even though her job is just to bring up the kids) and Jackal’s favourite whore does something brave (to save him).
I thought the ending was spot on, and I’m excited to read book two. The Grey Bastards is all kinds of vulgar but it’s also an original, enjoyable, fast paced fantasy.
My rating: 4/5
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**My debut novel, an epic fantasy called MELOKAI, is out now! Available from Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Read more about my books here.**
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