I received an advanced reader copy of The Grey Bastards in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Orbit Books and Jonathan French.
In French’s debut release, readers follow Jackal, an attractive half-orc who is a key member of his gang which is known here as a hoof. The hoof is called The Grey Bastards and they operate in similar fashion to how a biker gang might, offering protection to local businesses, riding around their turf, and getting into skirmishes with rival factions but instead of motorcycles, they travel on giant and vicious war hogs. The war hogs are more than just vehicles, they are closer to pets and are incredibly loyal and a huge asset in any conflicts with fully fledged Orcs. One of the hogs is lovingly called Ugfuck!
Alongside Jackal, the standout additions are – Oats, a giant thrice-blood who is Jackal’s banter-buddy and loyal best friend, and Fetch, who is fierce, amazing with a bow and arrow and also the only female member of the hoof. The camaraderie and banter of the Bastards’ is top quality throughout and reminiscent of the crews in Malazan or The First Law. Orcs are often presented in fantasy as brainless brutes but with half human emotions thrown into the equation as presented here they often extremely likable and relatable. The majority of the characters are fully fleshed out and each have detailed motives and opinions. Another notable mention goes to the Half-Orc Wizard Crafty.
The worldbuilding is excellent throughout with the environments and its inhabitants brimming with details and intricacies. Although The Grey Bastards includes a fair amount of fantasy tropes including wizards, elves, orcs, halflings – it is crafted in such a way that combined everything feels new, fresh, exciting and original. There are many different nations, races, and factions each with their own religions, hierarchies, and histories which are all well-crafted, however, I still believe we’ve only just touched the surface of what The Lot Lands trilogy has to offer. A moment that stood out as a highlight to me was when information regarding the half-orcs’ pasts and how they came to be placed where they are in this worlds current hierarchy was revealed.
This novel is filthy, dirty, and gritty but in the best possible way. It is dark fantasy done right. The Grey Bastards is extremely adult in nature featuring certain moments of vulgarity and also the swearing count is high from the very first page. There are a plethora of standout scenes dotted throughout this sharp brilliant debut. Ambushes, swamp-battles, and an assault made by beasts straight out of mythology are but a handful of occasions that spring to mind. There are many exquisite and dramatic confrontations but a scene that stood out the most to me was a conflict battled with wits and words rather than javelins and swords. The character dialogue throughout is unbelievable tight, not just for a debut novel but for any top fantasy novel. In The Grey Bastards, just when I thought I knew what was going to happen next I was blindsided and then the chaos, twists, drama, and unpredictability gave me an Orc-powered punch to the gut! French has composed a stunning opening chapter to his trilogy that is well worthy of the hype that has been garnering. If you have been living under a rock and haven’t heard about this book yet then I’d definitely recommend putting it on your radar.