The Grey Bastards is an excellent start to an adult epic fantasy that follows the genre's tropes in a very refreshing way. Rather than making the main character another elegant elf, or magical human, Jonathan French chooses the half-orc, giving a rare view into the lives of this unconventional group through Jackal, the main character, and his "Hoof" (group of half-orcs).
French does a fantastic job of dropping the reader into a fantasy world with seemingly ordinary characters. Jackal, Oats, and Fetching, half-orcs—outcasts to human and orc societies—who have known each other since childhood. They travel, laugh, sleep, kill together, and, most importantly, have each other's backs.
This story’s unconventional ways of adding magic into a fantasy setting—not having the main character as the all-powerful mage—is well done. It allows the reader to discover the magic systems within from the same perspective as Jackal, which is to say, knowing very little to nothing at all and learning about it as we go along simply by watching the magic in use.
The plot is heavily driven by Jackal through his bold choices and subsequent consequences. Almost every decision Jackal makes is immediately followed by a negative result, which leads to him reacting just as poorly as the first. In his mind, however, he believes he is doing the right thing. Leading him to be rather self-righteous and quite arrogant. Because of this, I both like him and find him quite frustrating. Mainly because, at the end of the story, he doesn’t seem to grasp that, in many ways, he was wrong in how he gained his victory. However, that does not mean he hasn’t completed his arch. In fact, considering there are two more books in this series, I am hopeful that his arc takes place throughout the trilogy and is not just isolated to one novel. Which, in modern fiction series, isn’t exactly orthodox, but it has the potential to work rather well. For example, Jon Snow from A Song of Ice and Fire is an excellent example of this style.
Overall, I enjoyed this story and am excited to read the rest. I recommend this one if you want a new and unconventional fantasy series. Gritty, funny, witty, and well-written.
Read October: 2022