This is based on a proof copy and contains mild spoilers for the previous instalment, The Grey Bastards.
After the events of The Grey Bastards; the hoof, renamed the True Bastards, is in difficulty. They’ve lost their home, they can barely keep everyone fed and they’ve lost a number of brothers. None of them feel it as much as Fetching, their new chief. Having long been looked down on for being the only female half-orc in the hoof, she is determined to do everything she can to keep her brothers alive, even if it means keeping her own illness from them.
Given that The Grey Bastards made the list of my favourite reads of 2018, it’s safe to say I was looking forward to this one. The shift in protagonist from Jackal to Fetch was unexpected but is well-handled and makes a lot of sense given the on-going plot. Fetch is every bit as tough, if not more so, than Jackal or any of the other Bastards, with her stubbornness and fierce protectiveness coming through as her defining characteristics. In most cases, she’s also more level-headed and capable of thinking her way around a situation. This is something she desperately needs as the Bastards are beset from various sides and in various ways.
One thing that I especially liked about The True Bastards is that you’re given an even greater sense of the bonds between the members of the hoof. Unlike The Grey Bastards, where there were factions pushing against each other, here the half-orcs are generally united and working together. One of the parts that stayed with me was when one character was dying, the group gathered around him, carefully lifting him onto his mount so that he could fulfil their creed, “Live in the saddle, die on the hog.”.
Another thing was my impression that the world was broadening, with new characters giving new information about the lands beyond the Lot and returning characters revealing unsuspected back-stories, some of which is of vital importance to Fetch.
Like the previous instalment, the action is hard and brutal, the conversations often funny and laced with curses, and there is plenty of both. But it feels as though the characterization is deepening, becoming surer, giving the book an even great impact. Definitely recommended.
5 out of 5 thrums.