You may recall last year when I reviewed Jonathan French‘s The Grey Bastards. (If not, you can find it right here.) At the end of the article, I demanded a second novel posthaste. Well, he failed to listen to me, but I am glad he chose not to rush a sequel. Because, without a doubt, The True Bastards is more than a fitting return to the Lot Lands. In fact, this second book expanded the series in directions I could never have imagined. Curious? Well, of course you are! Read on for more reasons why you are going to be rushing to grab your own copy!
We begin this tale a year or so after the last book ended. In that time, the reader is informed of the breakdown of what little society existed in the Lot Lands. The mighty stronghold of the Kiln has fallen, as you know. But the aftermath of its destruction has created a tenuous pile of needed stones and hypersensitive earth that can explode without warning. Limbs and lives are lost as the once fearless group (called a hoof) renamed the True Bastards seek to extract as much from their former home as they can. But life in the Lots is seldom merciful, as every known group around them seems to seek the end of the Bastards. There is a small glimmer of hope though. The cruel former leader Claymaster has been replaced by the witty and ferocious Fetch. Many faces return from the first book to give the reader a sense of familiarity. But we also get the chance to meet new characters throughout the novel. An interesting point that I must make here is that while the first book was from the perspective of a Bastard named Jackal, this one is obviously focused on Fetch as she struggles to protect those dear to her and give them a safe haven.
A female chief has to work twice as hard for half as much, in the eyes of allies and sometimes even her own hoof. But Fetch rises above it all, always keeping her eyes focused on what must be done for the good of the hoof. The trials in this book, however, are enough to test the mettle of any half-orc, regardless of who they might be. As events unfold, we see Fetch struggle to keep herself and her riders alive, not to mention all the frails, the humans, with whom she has been entrusted. An evil greater and stronger than ever before has risen and no one seems able to stop it from consuming everything it touches.
But this enemy is more akin to our heroes than we might know at first. As the Bastards meet, fight, and ally themselves with others, they find themselves turning to groups that have often been resistant or even hostile in the past. But fear of the common enemy can make bedfellows of those once shunned. It is during this time that long kept secrets are unveiled and much is made clearer by way of the truth. Will it be enough for our mighty Bastards to survive the coming battles, only time will tell.
The True Bastards, much like the first one, is full of foul language, violence, and the more than occasional reference of sex and sexual organs. In truth, I could not imagine half-orcs in any other way. They are spurned by both races and loved by few. They build their own families and are terrifyingly protective. Fetch is a perfect example, loyal and dangerous at every turn. So when others conspire to hurt her hoof, she strikes back in the most cunning of ways, to hurt them the most. Not everything goes smoothly, of course. You will be as surprised as I was when you see who shows up to try to save the day near the end of the book. It is both heartwarming as well as heart wrenching.
If I have said it once, I have said it a hundred times: French knows how to write in ways that drag you into his world and make you laugh and cry alongside the characters. This story would be just as astounding if it was a contemporary tale with no magic or fantastic creatures. The dialogue is foul on occasion, as I have previously written, but it is authentic. I have no doubt the language is meant to express the environment and upbringing of the half-orcs. It is not used to denigrate the characters, for they are as intelligent and as flawed as any others. No, French built this world to create a backdrop for his story in the most realistic way possible. The nuances of his choices are subtle, but give the series a sense of realism that helps the reader suspend their disbelief. If you do not believe me, then pick up this book and see for yourself. I absolutely loved everything about The True Bastards, up to and including the cliffhanger at the end. Now, go get it. You know you want to!
Fetching was once the only female rider in the Lot Lands. Now she is the proud leader of her own hoof, a band of loyal half-orcs sworn to her command.
But in the year since she became chief, the Lots have tested her strength to the breaking point. The Bastards are scattered, desperate, their ranks weakened by a mysterious famine, their fortress reduced to smoldering slag. And their troubles are only growing. A pack of ravening beasts circles their camp, while grasping human nobles hatch a plan that will shift the balance of power in the Lots.
Fetch and her comrades are still standing defiant””they’re Bastards, after all””but even the toughest half-orc can take only so much; and Fetch knows they’re on the verge of ruin.
As she strives to lead her hoof to safety and unravel the plots set against them, Fetching must journey through forbidden elven lands, overcome long-standing hatreds, battle a monstrous wizard of terrifying power””and, worst of all, delve into the dark truths of her own existence.
She’s no stranger to fighting the world, but on this journey, sharp steel and a strong hog won’t be enough. To survive these trials, she’ll have to defy not just her foes but the very nature of the Lots.
The True Bastards is the sweeping, ambitious second entry in the Lot Lands series, an irresistibly thrilling, gritty, foul-mouthed adventure that deepens, expands””and again upends””the Bastards’ unforgettable world.