Our main character, Jackal, is amongst the "hoofs" of half orc gangs that prowl the borderlands, unofficially tasked with protecting the human kingdom of Hispartha from outside threats.
Their mantra: "Live in the saddle. Die on the hog."
The Grey Bastards first crossed my radar as the winner of Mark Lawrence's 2016 Self Published Fantasy Blog Off Competition. It has since been picked up by Crown Publishing, which is a subsidiary of Random House.
Having judged in SPFBO 2017, I have no trouble at all seeing how this book was a standout submission that ended up taking home the prize when the dust settled.
From the very first page, this story hits the ground running & doesn't let up. It's savage, full of off-color language, & abounding with jokes about male genitalia.
Vulgarity to this degree can be a fine line to walk, as I feel it can easily turn into overkill. When I get the notion a book's primary goal is to shock its audience instead of tell an interesting story, I can't help but disengage.
I'm happy to report this is not at all the case with The Grey Bastards.
Any foulness or obscenity ends up serving the novel's dark & hilarious tone, blending seamlessly with author Jonathan French's assorted characterizations.
Even with such crude subject matter, the writing style is classic & smooth. From believable, diverse fight scenes to fantastic, lush descriptions to distinct & believable dialogue, French's writing reads like the perfectly spiced dish with all the right ingredients.
Specifically, I really enjoy how scenes are crafted to highlight tension & create anticipation. At times I felt myself flying through the pages, desperate to see how the action would unfold. I had to consciously stop myself from flipping ahead to the end of each chapter!
The plot of this one certainly didn't develop in the way I expected, & it was a refreshing feeling to be caught off guard. I've read quite a lot of Fantasy & that usually means noticing certain common patterns. But I was constantly guessing about who to trust, what would happen, and whose intentions were pure vs. whose weren't.
That unpredictable element makes for an exciting experience, regardless of whether you're a new or experienced Fantasy reader.
This is a super entertaining first novel in the Lot Lands series & I can't wait to see what more is in store. I consider myself someone who is rather hesitant when it comes to Grimdark Fantasy, but I'm here to tell you this one is worth giving a shot!
***I received a copy of The Grey Bastards from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Special thank you to Jonathan French & Crown Publishing for this opportunity!***
Publication Date: June 19th, 2018