Trampled by the hoof… run over by hogs… All that French had done in The Grey Bastards and MORE! If TGB was an introduction to this world, The True Bastards is a sequel that takes the badlands to the ranks of a great fantasy epic.
Things have not gotten any easier in The Lots since the last lines of The Grey Bastards… with Jackal out of the picture and being the new hoofmaster, it is up to Fletch to lead and protect: the inner conflicts of the hoof, the responsibility to feed the people of Winsome, the need of a new wet-nurse, dealing with her own sickness contracted from the Sludge Man… It’s the life of a hoofmaster after the kiln is gone, the regular shit you have to deal with in The Lots.
But I didn’t trust French for a minute… I knew something big and juicy had to change the course of this book. Something that would make the hoof so desperate that the plot would shake and tumble out from under this easy exposition. Two things force Fletch to turn her sight outside the walls of Winsome and to the attention of the other hoofs: Djinn, ‘Devils in animal guise…’ have come to the lot. Some sort of supernatural hyenas! And a tribe has migrated into the badlands, invited by the wizard, Crafty. Another faction to be worried about and another group in The Lots for Hispartha, Bermudo, and the Cavaleros to try to grind under their heel. Will these conflicts be too much for Fletch and The True Bastards? Will any of the old crew be back to help?
This series is the grimdark Western you never knew you wanted. Like all great books, I can see the many layers or ways it can be read and enjoyed. There’s tightly-written fighting scenes, the sarcastic crude dialogue, the political manipulation of the Empire and opposing hoof, but what I connected best with is the brotherhood of the hoof. The way French writes about these half-orcs: the hierarchy, the showdowns around the table, and the way they have each others’ backs.
Here’s a couple other things that caught me in my reading: The world that you thought was sufficiently explored in TGB is expanded in such wonderful ways. From city to caves deep under ground to the dangers of The Lots, French adds and adds to the adventure. Also, this book sees Fletch is thrust into the forefront, she shoulders the work of adding to the now thin ranks of the hoof. Will she advance from her own ranks of slops or from the outside? Ok, one more thing: A fucking cyclops!!!!!
At the end of the book I felt beat up, trampled, yet I knew that I’d be back in The Lots soon in Book 3.
‘LIVE IN THE SADDLE. DIE ON THE HOG.’
5 out of 5 stars.
Thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and Jonathan French for an advanced copy for review.