The Grey Bastards was the champion of SPFBO (Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off) 2016 and in my opinion, it totally deserved the winning crown and all the praises. This review is based on my experience of reading the indie edition which I stumbled upon in my good friend’s shared kindle library. For those of you who don’t know, the self-published edition of The Grey Bastards has been removed from sale as of June 1st, 2017, and will be re-released by Penguin Random House on June 19th, 2018. I hope the cover will remain the same because man, that’s Raymond Swanland’s art! But enough about that, let’s get on with the review of the book.
The Grey Bastards can be described as Lord of the Rings meet Sons of Anarchy. Instead of motorcycles, the characters rode hogs (called barbarians), and instead of humans, the characters are half-orcs. The book can be filthy to read at times, with a lot of sex jokes, foul language, and plenty of violence, Out of all the books I’ve read, The Grey Bastard's filth level is comparable only to Fletcher’s Manifest Delusions. Simply to say, Jonathan French pulls no punches and if that suits your reading preferences, then this is the book for you.
The Grey Bastards has plenty of great action scenes, but like all the books I’ve read, characters' personality and development is the most important factor. The plot revolves around Jackal, a cunning and ambitious half-orc who is one of the members of the Grey Bastards. The Grey Bastards is a brotherhood of half-orcs who patrol their country to make sure their lands are safe from full-blooded orcs. The main highlights of the book for me were definitely Jack’s relationship with his two best friends, Oats and Fetching. It was truly a delightful experience to read their crude banter and well-written relationship development. However, it’s not only the main characters that were great; the side characters received proper backgrounds and the relationship between the hogs and their riders was a huge plus for me.
Live in the saddle. Die on the hog.
I am a huge lover of human-animal friendships in literature. Fantasy books usually have the bond between human and dogs/wolves to satisfy their readers, but this was something totally different. It’s the first time I've read about a bond between a half-orc and a hog and I really think it was refreshing. Jackal’s and Oats’s hog, named Hearth and Ugfuck, managed to steal the spotlights in every scene with their appearance.
The world-building is also intricate; the Lot Lands has a rich history and although it’s not really grand yet in scope, I loved reading this take on half-orcs protecting humans rather than the usual trope of humans protecting themselves from those with orc blood.
Although the book wasn’t an immersive experience for me at first—mostly because I had to get used to French’s prose—everything changed when the novel neared its halfway point. That was when the book turned from okay to amazing for me. There were quite a lot of typos, however. Although they didn’t distract my reading experience, I hope these will be fixed in the rerelease of the book.
I’ve read both the runner-up and the third place of SPFBO 2016, The Path of Flames and Paternus respectively. Both are great in their own way, but The Grey Bastards is slightly a superior in comparison and it totally deserved to win the crown. I look forward to the re-release of the book because I need to have this book in physical form. The Grey Bastards is simply an exhilarating book filled with great characters and awesome action scenes. Highly recommended.