*I received an ecopy of this book via NetGalley. This has not influenced my review.*
I have a confession to make: I haven’t read much epic fantasy. I’ve stuck to mostly urban, and when I have read high fantasy, I’ve usually erred on the romantic side. So I can’t tell you if this book will meet your expectations, or how unique it was. But what I can tell you is that I didn’t know I could love epic fantasy this much! This was a witty, gritty burst of awesome with the perfect blend of complex world building, intricate plotting, and developed characters, and I was so immersed in the story that I didn’t want it to end.
Basically, there are all different creatures, as well as humans, but this book focuses on the half-orcs, specifically the group (aka hoof) that go by “The Grey Bastards.” These hoofs protect the humans and half-orcs on their land from the orcs and centaurs and anything else that might attack. Also, instead of riding horses, they ride giant hogs, and for some reason I just love it when characters ride non-horse animals.
So there was a whole complex world with different species and lands and societies, but the information was scattered throughout the book in a way that never felt overwhelming or confusing. (And this is coming from someone who has a very hard time concentrating.) I loved all the little details that made the world feel real and filled-out.
The plot was also complex and really had a lot going on for one book. A lot happened, but it never felt rushed or chaotic. It did, however, feel a bit slow-paced and meandering at times since I didn’t know what exactly the end goal was. That’s one of my only complaints, and it’s a small one. And don’t worry, there were plenty of action-packed battle scenes too.
I also really liked the writing. It’s hard to explain because it wasn’t lyrical or “beautiful.” It was simple and uncomplicated but had a maturity to it. This is an author who knows how to string words together and make them flow.
Most importantly though, the characters were fantastic! I loved these half-orcs from the very first page, especially Jackal. He was witty, playful, intelligent, likeable, and badass all at once. He wasn’t perfect, he could be a bit impulsive, naive, and vain, but he tried to do what he thought best in the situations he ended up in, I understood his decisions and why he made them, and he grew over the course of the story. He may have been half-orc, but he was just as realistic and relatable as any human. I was rooting for him.
Oats was great too. I thought he would fall into the dumb brute stereotype, but he didn’t. He was big and strong but also smart and loyal. Then there was Fetch, who first showed up buck naked on the roof with all the confidence in the world and shot someone dead after he tried to hurt her friends. I mean, as far as making an entrance into a book goes, that is top notch. She was tough and badass because she had to be for the men to accept her, but she wasn’t cruel. And all the rest of the characters, including minor ones, felt just as developed and believable, even if I didn’t like them all or get to know them very well.
I will give a warning about the characters though: they could be very vulgar, crude, and offensive. A few things they said might’ve been a bit problematic, but it was fitting and believable for the rowdy group of characters. Update to add: I didn’t mention this specifically in my original review, but I want to give a warning about some homophobic remarks made by the characters (mostly jokes about not wanting to seem gay), in case that might be harmful to some readers.
Last but not least, I felt more emotion than I expected to while reading this. There was humor, there was frustration, there was tension, and I could feel all of these things. Bad things happened too, not every character survived, and I shed a tear over one death in particular. If you’ve read the book, you can probably guess which one.
Overall, I thought the world-building, the plot, the writing, and the characters were all amazing, and I’m definitely glad I gave this book a try!
Anyone who likes high fantasy, half-orcs, complex plotting and world-building, and badass, likeable, developed characters.