The Grey Bastards, by Jonathan French (40:00)

Today we see that names giveth and names taketh away.

What I gleaned about the story: Jackal is a half-breed orc whose competence and roguish charm are usually enough to keep him in favor with his hog-riding outlaw clan. But when he’s forced to make a difficult decision in the heat of the moment, their network of shady deals and allegiances begins to unravel, and now Jackal has to fix it, or face expulsion from the life he loves. This is Gentlemen Bastards meets Sons of Anarchy; a full-boar biker-gang crime drama, but with orcs on pigs instead of actual bikers. How awesome is that?

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Kudos #1: Delightful opening scene

Details: In the ongoing struggle between orcs and humans, the half-breeds work the gap between, part outlaw, part outrider, and in the process keep things from spilling into open war. Our hero is just such a demi-hero, and what better place for us to meet him than in a brothel after a night of entertainment, when he is accosted by an ill-trained group of the king’s men? The confrontation serves not only as a humorous bit of roguery, but it also gives us a deft introduction to the main forces in this world’s political scene, and introduces the protagonist and his friends in a way that reveals their personalities and the strength of their friendship.

Kudos #2: Great nouns

Details: There are things to love about the naming of things here. A gang of half-orcs is called a hoof, which to me denotes their tendency to trample their enemies. A full-blood orc is called a “thick,” which suggests both stupidity, toughness, and size. And I absolutely love the name of the biggest, meanest hog in the group: Ugfuck. It’s crass. It’s guttural. And it fits perfectly with the tone of this culture.

Word choices like this do so much to flesh out the world-building without having to spend even a single syllable on exposition.

WTF #1: Distracting noun

Analysis: But as much as I like most of the labels here, it just makes the weak ones stand out all the more. In this case, I really dislike the term they use to refer to the kind of hogs they ride: barbarians. I understand the wildness and violence that term connotes, as well as the allusion to the barbed tusks these warrior mounts possess, but every time I read the word “barbarian” it suggests its normal meaning for me: human savages, and I can’t help but picture half-orcs riding piggy-back on captured human tribesmen. And that image completely disrupts the immersive illusion for me every time it’s used.

Final note: I’ve continued reading since I wrote this report, and although I’m not finished yet, I’m loving every step of the way. This is one of those great examples of a clever concept executed with humor and style. I mean, half-orc bikers riding the plains on tricked-out hogs with big tusk handle-bars? What could you possibly not love about that?

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

Loose Threads: A Short Story Collection, by Luis Filipe Alves (2:30)
Defragmenting Daniel, by Jason Werbeloff (21:13)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.