Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the The Grey Bastards.
Earlier this year, I read Jonathan French’s The Grey Bastards (read my review here) and I loved it! And so, I was pretty f*cking excited to read the sequel, The True Bastards… And guys and girls, it does not disappoint! Every bit as crude, violent and funny as the first book, it was a real joy to return to the Lots and spend time with these biker-gang-inspired half-orcs.
The story starts roughly a year after end of The Grey Bastards, though, this time we don’t follow the story of Jackal – instead we follow the story of Fetch. She is not only the first female half-orc to be admitted into a hoof (one of the warrior brotherhoods that patrol the Lot Lands) but is also, to the best of anyone’s’ knowledge, the only half-orc-half-elf too. Oh, and as well as this, she has risen to the position of chieftain within the newly re-named True Bastards. However, things aren’t going well. The Bastards are close to starvation, Fetch is ill – a secret she keeps from her ‘brother Bastards’ and a mysterious foe hounds their every move. From here, things go from bad to worse as the story repeatedly and unrelentingly slams Fetch and the Bastards with problem after problem.
Thankfully, these problems come from new quarters and fresh faces. This means that the story, while the setting and characters are frequently the same as in the previous book, doesn’t feel stale or rehashed in anyway. We get to explore a lot more of the Lots and find out more about each of the other hoofs and tribes that inhabit the setting – which makes the place feel well grounded, well throughout and fully realised. World-building is always one of my favourite things about reading fantasy, and this is no exception here. Plus, at least to me, the Lots have a slight ‘Warhammer Fantasy’ feel about them, which means they strike a really good balance between humour and tongue-in-cheek jokes and being gritty, violent and harsh. I hope Jonathan French sees that as the compliment that I meant it to be! My only complaint om this front is, ‘Why is there no map!?!’ I love a map!
As well as getting to explore the world, we get to meet a whole bunch of new characters alongside reacquainting ourselves with the old ones. I will admit that, because there are a lot of names and characters, I needed a bit of a refresher on some of the characters from The Grey Bastards, but this wasn’t really a problem and after a few chapters I was straight back in. While each individual character is well written and rounded, with their own pasts, world views and ambitions,, what really makes them shine, and what really makes both this book and The Grey Bastards shine, is the relationships and friendships that French writes. Fetch is a good character on her own, as are her fellow Bastards, but when all together, they all really come into their own with a warmth and comraderie that oozes from the page.
A quick word of warning about this book: it is crude, rude and violent. The characters swear constantly, battles and blood-shed are sprinkled very liberally throughout the story, and sex and sexual innuendo are definitely not off-limits. If these aren’t your thing, then this book won’t be for you, but they don’t bother me, and if they don’t bother you, then I think you will thoroughly enjoy this book and would definitely recommend it! After reading the The Grey Bastards, of course.