Title: The Grey Bastards
Series: The Lot Lands #1
Author(s): Jonathan French
Release Date: June 19th 2018
My Overall Rating: ★★★★★
The winner of Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016 contest turned out to be The Grey Bastards. It then quickly got snatched by bigger publishers to get the royal treatment. If it wasn’t for that contest and all the praise this book has been receiving since its triumph, it would have unfortunately failed to appear on my radar. I can now gladly say that I have however turned into one of those fans who will sing the praises of this book in my grave and beyond. The Grey Bastards reimagines the world of biker gangs with bikers as half-orcs and bikes as giant hogs, and straps you in for a road trip that will leave you feeling dirty, vulgar and charged with adrenaline for days on end.
The story focuses on Jackal, a proud member of The Grey Bastards, a hoof that forms a brotherhood like none other. Living in the Lot Lands, away from humans, protecting them from invading orcs is what they wake up to do every day. It’s being a half-orc that punished them into exile, away from civilized population, but it is no reason to believe that they are all incapable of abiding by moral codes and doing the right thing during the tough moments. Unfortunately for Jackal, the time has come for him to discover that certain secrets are about to flip his world upside down and put his loyalty to the hoof to the test.
What I love to find in the stories I read is a particular attention to friendship. When it is done perfectly, it always successfully elevates the quality by tenfold. With a constrained number of characters being the center of attention, Jonathan French manages to play around with the depth of each of their bonds and add a complex array of emotions to every key moment, tragic or comic, that emerges from the trials through these desolate lands. To amplify the strength of their kinship, an unrestrained profane banter is present, and it is impossible to overlook. While it is vulgar and very often alludes to sexual implications, it is always prone to send the reader into a relentless cackle that takes forever to put an end to.
It only makes this novel tale even more exquisite when the world-building is developed almost flawlessly. Riddled with races that fantasy lovers are accustomed to find in their stories, The Grey Bastards brings them back to life in a brand-new dynamic in a world that has plenty to offer. In fact, the world might seem ruined and bleak, but Jonathan French still manages to turn it into something that is a sight for sore eyes, even with all the danger that lurks within it. With the clever inclusion within the main narrative of both the history behind the half-orcs and the stories that are rumoured about the elves, the centaurs and what not, Jonathan French also makes it difficult for readers not to be immersed in all the ruckus. Not to mention that the action scenes deliver some of the most cinematic, detailed and violent sequences that could ever be imagined. I promise that this author knows how to put an image in your head. Dirty and savage. Trust me.
The Grey Bastards is a fantasy story that you should not sleep on. Watch as it puts the idea of getting yourself your own hog and to ride through mud and dirt to live your life rowdily without any societal restraints. If only there were orcs and centaurs around to make this slightly more irresistible. Or maybe they’re already out there and just waiting for the opportune time to wreak havoc. Be ready to saddle up, guys.