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Review – THE FREE BASTARDS by Jonathan French

The Free Bastards by Jonathan French

 

“Time To Return to the Lot Lands”

 

Time to return to the “Lot Lands” for the third and final, blood-soaked, Kirkus Star-winning installment, in Jonathan French’s unique trilogy, entitled “The Free Bastards”.

“You’re wrong. Today, on this hill, we showed Hispartha that they can kill us, but they cannot cage us. We showed them that we will accept death before we will return to chains. We showed them that we will come for our own and slay armies to liberate a handful. Remember that. The frails will.”

The half-orc hoofs of the Lot Lands are rising above oppression by humans. Typically, those creatures, born of orcs forcing themselves on humans, had been ostracized by both human and orc parentage, yet obliged to protect the humans who look down on them, and fight the orcs who see both humans and half-orcs as prey.

But now the day of the half-orc hoofs, has come.

This book, the final book in the series, is designated as Oats’ book, inasmuch as Book One “The Grey Bastards” was Jackal’s book, and Book Two “The True Bastards” was Fetching’s book.

Though Oats is the biggest and strongest amongst the trio of siblings-in-name, by the events of this final book, he is the only one whose powers merely lie in natural strength, as opposed to enhanced abilities, like his dear comrades.

Fetch has become a legendary warrior and hoof-chief, who has united the entire Lot Lands under her banner, and who has tapped into her magical heritage. Jackal is god-touched, and seemingly invincible, off on his own lofty side-quests. Yet steadfast Oats, though the most ordinary of the three in terms of capability, is certainly the match of Fetch and Jackal in guts and heart.

And Oats is no physical weakling, for he is a giant thrice-blood, the scion of a full orc on one side of his parentage, and a half-orc on the other. Such orcs are imbued with immense physical power.

Oats will need all that brute power, his fighting prowess, smarts, and of course his loyal war-hog Ugfuck, if he is to survive the coming storm. For full-scale battle has come to the Lot Lands, with the inevitable war between the humans (frails) of Hispartha and the half-orc tribes of the Lot Lands. Oats, enforcer for Fetching’s hoof, takes his muscle and menace to the thick of the fighting. His first task, however, is beyond daring, and dangerous. Oats leads a desperate rescue mission into the belly of Hispartha in order to save some captured hoof-mates.

This mission leads in unexpected directions, and Oats later finds himself on a diplomatic endeavour, mingling and liaising with the highest echelons of Hispartha, in an effort to bring about peace between the human nation and the hoofs of the Lot Lands, and free the half-orc tribes that have so long protected the humans from destruction from the threat of invasion by the mighty full orcs.

But Oats soon learns that freedom comes at a high cost, that the negotiating table can be just as deadly as combat on hog-back, and that one part of his family may need to be left behind, to save another.

The characters, both human and non-human in this book, as in previous installments, are fabulously well-drawn, extremely complicated, and highly authentic. There are plenty of morally grey types, yet by this point in the series, the half-orcs stand head and shoulders above most of the human characters, in terms of displaying nobility. The camaraderie, sense of duty, honour, and fairness, and adoration of their beloved hogs have made them truly endearing. A very different type of orc than those depicted over half-a-century ago in Tolkien’s masterwork “Lord of the Rings”, where those creatures were – unfailingly – inherently evil.

Oats is perhaps the most easy to like and admire, of the previous hoof riders who enjoyed their perspectives represented in this series’ books. Jackal is extremely ambitious, arrogant, and more conniving. Fetching is irascible, aloof, and exacting.

Oats, on the other hand, fierce warrior though he clearly is, is also the strong, silent, sensitive type. We also see how incredibly Oats responds when he is seriously wounded, and vulnerable, or when others around him are. His bravery and compassion shine through.

French writes Oats to be very cerebral, extremely loyal to his friends and colleagues, and someone who has natural parental instincts, as we see through Oats’ relationship with the orphan Muro. Oats ended up supplanting Fetching as my favourite character in the series, by just hair, after I finished reading this finale.

In terms of supporting cast, it’s a bit strange after the first two books to categorize them as ‘supporting’, but Fetching and Jackal are more on the periphery in this book. Still, they both continue to be awesome characters. Polecat, Sluggard, Anvil, and of course Ugfuck maintained very strong showing as auxiliary players. Crafty is wonderfully treacherous, devious, complex, and hilarious as usual. He ALMOST stole favourite character from Oats, for me.

“I ask you, I ask all of you, what is in your heart for this place?… When a land and its people hate you so, how can you be anything but stained by that hatred and begin to reflect it?… No matter who has ruled from that seat, their intention has ever been to enslave you. And to kill you if you dare rise. How can you feel ought but hate when confronted with such a truth?”

What can I say about how great the worldbuilding has been in this book, and overall in this series. Just the huge barbarian war-hogs alone, the faithful and nigh indestructible steeds of the hoof, were worth the price of the book to me. But add a dark and diverse world filled with rampaging crazed centaurs, humongous birds of prey, malevolent wizards and dark sorcery, god-touched soldiers, half-orc protectors, full-orc marauders, demons, elves, and more, and you have a incredibly-realized setting that is unique and filled with adventure, malevolence, and wonder. I can’t forget to add: THE MAIDEN SPEAR! Wow, not a foe one would ever want to tangle with!

There were so many wonderful thematic elements I could chat about in this book, but readers will love the found family thread that permeates throughout the book.

The pacing is brisk, but French doesn’t scrimp on those quiet moments that will touch you, and make you think. The battles are appropriately visceral, absolutely bloody and thrilling. Crudeness and rudeness remain standard fare, and there will be an expletive, rest assured, in every few lines. There are betrayals, there is bawdiness, and the bombastic mongrel Free Bastards fight, fornicate, and fall into the reader’s hearts, as unforgettable literary characters.

The poignant ending will have many readers reaching for the tissue box, but rest assured, French sticks the landing, and gives Oats, Jackal, and Fetching the rousing conclusion they deserve.

This is one of the most unashamedly ribald, dark, and ultimately fun series I have ever read, and “The Free Bastards” was a delightful way to wrap things up.

Five stars!

“Live in the saddle, die on the Hog!”

Read The Free Bastards by Jonathan French

 

Check Out Our Other Reviews of Jonathan French

Review – THE TRUE BASTARDS by Jonathan French

Review – The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French

Review -; The Grey Bastards (The Lot Lands #1) by Jonathan French

 

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