“LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.”
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The Grey Bastards. Or, as I have been calling it, Sons of Anarchy in Middle Earth.
Everything about this book screams biker gang. And that totally does not sound like something that would fit in a fantasy world but Jonathan French does it very, very well.
Seriously though the SoA references were insane. From the MC, Jackal (Jax) to the current chief of the hoof, Claymaster (Clay) and even to the new cover by Orbit. I mean, just look at it and then look at this blu ray cover for Sons.
But while the cover may be a little bit of a rip off, the story itself is definitely not. The beginning of the book starts out like it might have originally been some Sons fanfiction but then it grew into something wholly its own.
Jackal is a member of the Grey Bastards hoof, one of eight half-orc clans that lives in the borderland area between the human lands and the mindless, violent orcs. After a seemingly minor altercation with human soldiers the misunderstandings and mysteries begin piling up.
The plot grows so much throughout the course of the book that truly giving a quick snapshot of what it is about without giving away any spoilers is insanely hard. One thing leads to another which leads to another and so on until the story is barely recognizable from what it started out as.
Part of this is because of Jackal himself. He is relatively young and looking to overthrow the Claymaster who he believes has becoming tyrannical in his old age and is beginning to make decisions that, in Jackal’s eyes, are dangerous for the hoof. Because of this he jumps to conclusions about things and throws around some accusations pretty recklessly that make an already bad situation worse. He has the best of intentions but is too headstrong sometimes to let something go until he has more information.
While this was frustrating to read at times, ultimately flawed characters that don’t always do the exact right thing are a joy to read because it can be difficult to predict exactly what they will do or how they will handle a situation. The character development in this story I definitely felt was one of its strengths because while Jackal made mistakes they never felt forced, they were always true to his character.
And the relationships between the characters are just as good! All of them are complex and grow and change over the course of the book. There are betrayals and love and lust and everything that you could hope for in a story.
The worldbuilding as well was something that I was truly impressed by. While the story hosts pretty much the same cast of creatures and humanoids you see in many fantasy stories (humans, orcs, half-orcs, elves, halflings, centaurs) the relations between the various races was presented so smoothly with the story that by 10% into the book, I had a pretty good grasp of the backstory of the world without the story suffering or having to be stopped for exposition at all. This history being related so easily paved the way for reveals in the later parts of the book that dove deeper into that history and meant more to me as a reader because I truly felt like I understood these characters’ place in their world.
In short, this book has some gut-wrenching moments and characters that I got absorbed reading about and, though it does get violent and sexually explicit at times, I highly recommend it for any fantasy fans.