THE TRUE BASTARDS by Jonathan French (Book Review)
‘The Lot Lands shaped you, and often its molding hands were cruel. But any form that survived its touch was one better suited to endure its next caress, next crushing fist. It mattered not at all that you might not enjoy what you became. What mattered was that you lived.’
The True Bastards by Jonathan French is the much anticipated sequel to The Grey Bastards, which was published by Orbit last year. This sequel offers the same gritty, treacherous, and filthy world of the first book, but exceeds it with an elaborate bold plot, and downright awesome characterisation.
The True Bastards picks up shortly after the finale of the first book. The Bastards are on the brink of utter ruin; they are starving, weak, and if that wasn’t bad enough, they have creatures and other clans intent on annihilating them. Fetch, the female half orc, is their new leader… but for how long? Can she find a solution to save her hoof? And when a new, bigger threat to The Lot Lands emerges, can she uncover the truth behind it all? With all this burden upon her, Fetch certainly has her work cut out, and finding a way to be the best leader she can for her loyal hoof riders is certainly no easy task.
I’ll start by mentioning what I love most about this series, which would definitely have to be the world building. The Lot Lands is not exactly what you would call a picturesque place to live, and this second novel further establishes that fact. The Lot’s brutal, scorching terrain is filled with blood thirsty centaurs, volatile elves, orcs, ravenous hyenas, and human military forces that believe their rule is supreme. Our story centres around The True Bastards hoof; a ragtag of foul mouthed, brash half orcs who ride hogs known as Barbarians. Although they seem savage on the surface, they are in fact intelligent and incredibly endearing with their bond towards each other. Underneath it all, they work tirelessly to sustain their clan. I’m so impressed with how amazingly epic French has created this biker gang-esque world, it was frankly so much fun to be immersed within it.
Now, if I’m being honest, I didn’t think I would enjoy The True Bastards quite as much as I did with The Grey Bastards. I wasn’t overly keen on Fetch in the first book, and knowing that she would be the main character in the sequel felt kind of disappointing. I WAS WRONG! Fetch was such a superb character. She showed an abundance of strength, courage, and she had such a fiery attitude – every time she was humiliated or degraded, especially by males, it truly was a pleasure to see her put them in their place. Fuck, she had such a way with words!
‘I am Fetching, leader of the half-orc hoof known as the True Bastards. I need to know who you cocksuckers are and what you are doing in the fucking Lots.’
‘Aw, hells,’ Mead said under his breath.
However, throughout the book, we see that Fetch is more than just her hardened exterior as she illustrated her caring and loyal side too. In fact all of the Bastards appeared to be rough neck brutes, but at their core, they were genuinely charming towards one another. This is where French really made this sequel into something quite special, because he managed to greatly increase the depth of each character. Mead, Polecat, Shed Snake, Hoodwink and my beloved Jackal, Oats and Fetch all made an incredible cast of friends who I became so attached to by the end. One of my favourite scenes was when the Bastards were playing games with the children from their orphanage in a lake. The children were reluctant to wash, as children are, and so to entice them into the water they made a sport of it. This scene just perfectly cut through all the grimness of the book, and showed such a beautiful light-hearted side to each one of them.
I’m just going to briefly mention here that much in the style of The Grey Bastards, the levels of profanity, sexual references – including of genitalia – and crude behaviour are just as high in this book. Personally, I found it entertaining as it created some cracking banter and much humour, to again juxtaposition the darker scenes. I also felt it rightly fits this world that French has created where the half orcs are carnal by nature. However, I realise not every reader is going to be comfortable with it, so I think it’s important to know this before diving in.
So, what else made this book a remarkable read? Well, that resides in the action sequences. I previously found with the first book that there was a bit too much politics introduced, and at times I felt this became overly complex and confusing. In the True Bastards, French aptly delivers a balance between the politics, which is still central to the plot but brought more clarity, and in between those sections we also get exceptional combat scenes. Towards the end when the Bastards were reunited with two of their most fiercest deadliest riders to face a few formidable foes, that was a fantastic game changer for me. My attention turned from intrigued, to holy sheeeeet, to please don’t let anyone die, to fucking hell I can’t put this book down! How dare you make me feel so many things for orcs, French!
I firmly believe that French has raised the bar in The True Bastards as this was one awesome hog ride. If you’re looking for a filthy, fierce, fun-fuelled read, then the Bastards have got you covered.
ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!