The True Bastards by Jonathan French

The True Bastards by Jonathan French

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The True Bastards is the follow-up to Jonathan French’s riveting first Lot Lands adventure, The Grey Bastards. This sequel expands on the story left partly unfinished at the end of the first book, but not in the ways you might expect.

This volume switches to the viewpoint of Fetching, now chief of the half-orc mongrel band that had been named the Grey Bastards before its calamitous destruction at the hands of its old chief and the scheming of the mongrel wizard Crafty. The previous main protagonist Jackal has gone off to search the world for the wizard, leaving Fetch to lead the survivors in a bid for survival in the harsh land of Ul-wundulas. As the first and only female chief she faces threats both external and internal, as well as a new enemy even more terrifyingly powerful and personal than the hordes of full-blood orcs that they guard a resentful human kingdom against.

The world-building of a second novel in a series has a tough needle to thread, and French has done a great job. You want to expand upon the setting in interesting ways, but you don’t want to throw too much at the reader such that it’s too hard to follow. This world feels lived in, with familiar characters returning (Hoodwink in particular is an even more terrifying badass), but with new ones added on top. We learn more about the orcs, much more about the elves and their strange ways, and especially about Fetch’s parentage. The humans are despicable as always, and I was actually a bit irritated at their depiction in this book as in the last one. But of course this is the mark of great narrative, since I actually forgot for a moment that it’s a work of fiction, and the species of the work’s author.

It’s hard to describe the plot in subsequent novels without spoiling it, so the most I can say about it is that Fetch is first consumed with finding food and safety for the people under her care, while struggling with the burdens of leadership as well as a lingering disease brought by the confrontation in the first book. She also faces opposition to her position from the other mongrel bands and incursions from the human garrisons to the north, even as new foreign settlers with unknown intentions are spotted in the Lots. The first half of the book feels like a lot of setup, and even though it takes its time the pace is never slow. She then encounters a new gigantic orc that no one can defeat, adding to their woes. The second half more quickly ties up loose ends from earlier as well as from the first book. This includes some you didn’t even know were loose ends, which was surprisingly satisfying. There are also a few things set up which will presumably be addressed in the third book.

Another thing French does well is training the reader to expect things to go from bad to worse, so there’s always a feeling of suspense even outside the action scenes. The sense of tension in the sections dealing with the elves was particularly effective. Their strangeness and their magic give this foreboding feeling that’s like okay, now we’re safe and have food and even baths…this is too good to be true. Something terrible’s going to happen and these pointy-eared dudes are gonna be the cause of it, and you’re just waiting for things to go bad.

This entry is long compared to the last one. I thought I was going to say that this could’ve been broken into two books, but I don’t really think that after getting through it. Maybe some of the long tracts concerning Fetch’s self-doubt could’ve been tightened up. It’s not too bad, but it is something I’ve noticed particularly about subsequent books in series coming from Orbit. I also felt the ending was just a bit needlessly brutal. Maybe I’m a hypocrite with too much sensitivity to violence written by people who aren’t me, but the overwhelming strength of the mongrels compared to humans as well as the lack of much from the human POV made it seem just a little easy and over the top. Personal preference, really. I also had a big gap in time between reading the first and second half thanks to real life stuff getting in the way, so that likely affected my impression. I still think the most sympathetic characters are the hogs. Poor Little Orphan Girl!

This book succeeds incredibly well in the way that a second book of a series needs to, in that it expands on the story and characters and world that it introduced in the first while keeping the same feel and sense of progression while paying off what was set up. What you thought was story A-B-C, set within area 1-2 is revealed to be in fact story A-B-C-D-E-F expanded to area 1-2-3-4, thus giving the feeling of increasingly epic scale that makes the reader want to read more. The next entry is apparently to be titled The Free Bastards, and will I assume feature a much more explosive story set up at the end of this one.

 

Review of The Grey Bastards

Jonathan French’s website: JonathanFrenchBooks.com

 

Pairs well with: Dark Horse Brewing Rain in Blood Orange Pale Ale

 

Spring has finally arrived, though in some places you wouldn’t know it. The groundhog predicted an early spring, but considering it’s only been right 41% of the time that’s not necessarily a good thing. Warm days are popping in here and there, even if you’re on lockdown and stuck inside so you might not know it. Dark Horse Brewing’s Rain In Blood Orange Pale Ale is as good a choice as any for welcoming the season, assuming it’s one of those warm days. This is an orange-flavored pale ale, not an IPA. It’s got a moderate head and lots of carbonation, though I wouldn’t quite say too much for this kind of beer. It has a hazy orange color with orange and citrus aromas. Shocking, I know. Some malt as well. It has a delicate orange flavor with a light sweetness, not at all like a shandy or anything like that. It has a slight tang and little to no bitterness with 12 IBU. At 5.5% ABV with a light body it’s easy to drink and won’t knock you out too quickly. This is a good summer beer when you grow tired of the usual suspects, but you could likely crack one open now on the right day. Fresh oranges are one of the few pleasant surprises the characters in The True Bastards get to enjoy, so it pairs well with the bitterness of the rest of the book.

 

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