There are many ways to die, but only one way to survive: just keep going. Is starvation decimating your ranks, with food a constant scarcity? Just keep going. Is there a new, ancient threat that leads a terrifying race of creatures to hunt in ways never seen before? Just keep going. Has your lover and protector deserted your clan, have you sent your best warrior far away, and is a sickness corrupting you from the inside out? Just keep going and don’t stop until there’s nothing, and no one, left. Such is the plight of hoof leader Fetching as we rejoin her in the Lot Lands nearly two years after the events of The Grey Bastards in Jonathan French’s intense and massively entertaining sequel, The True Bastards.
When we last visited the Lot Lands, the Orc Incursion has thrown the surviving half orcs into chaos. The Bastards’ home was decimated, and Jackal has left to hunt down the wizard who is behind the plague and incursions. The battle with the centaurs under the Betrayer moon combined with the encroaching full-blood thicks from the south has sown chaos among the ranks of the surviving hoofs. Fetch has become the de facto leader of a new hoof, the True Bastards, and takes in new hopefuls and free riders and anyone else who fought bravely against their enemies and could help fill out the ranks. But a female leader of a hoof does not sit well with others. The humans are starting to muster their strength to the north, new visitors appear in the south, and enemies are hunting down the Bastards in all directions. Fetch’s duties would be difficult enough if she didn’t have to deal with the day-to-day challenges of feeding the orphans, guarding their walls, hunting, mining, and training their meager forces. Hundreds of half-orcs and humans depend on her decisions for survival, and now forces both ancient and familiar are revealing secrets that could cause Fetching to lose everyone and everything she’s fighting for.
Fetching was my most beloved character in The Grey Bastards, so I was excited to learn that she was the primary POV in The True Bastards. She is a natural leader, but constantly questions her place in a male-centric society. She’s a warrior but uses her wit before her blade whenever possible. She’s still dealing with the after-effects of her battle with the Sludge Man and her weaknesses may threaten her ability to lead. Above all, she’s willing to make unprecedented life-or-death decisions to keep her hoof and followers alive. These decisions bring her followers into uncharted and dangerous territories that were fantastic to discover. Although Fetch is the primary focus of the narrative, the story just as much about surviving the surrounding Lot Lands as it is about the Bastards’ journey through them.
While the foul language and obscenities are still prevalent in the sequel, it seems like they’re used more sparingly and have greater bite when deployed. Once again, French captures the graphic nature of gang camaraderie with a heavy dose of humor and heart. The tone and sense of harrowing dread stays consistent throughout the story, and it makes for an excellent, page-turning read. There are quite a few surprises in store that caught me off guard, and I’m looking forward to discussing them when this hits the shelves.
The True Bastards is an immersive and gripping tale of survival and sacrifice, and does an exceptional job further developing The Lot Lands in surprising and interesting ways. If you have an interest in reading a series based on non-human protagonists as they battle and claw their way through an unforgiving environment while forging bonds of brotherhood, this series checks all of those boxes, and so much more. Highly recommended.
ARC via Edelweiss. This book will be released on October 8, 2019.
Review by Adam Weller
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