I don’t read a great many fantasy novels. And amongst the fantasy novels I have read, I prefer urban fantasy. Charles de Lint comes to mind as one of my favorites of the genre. Books like Moonlight and Vines, The Ivory and the Horn, and Dreams Underfoot take place in a modern city where the magical and the mundane live side by side. Only a few are able to peer through the thin veil that separates these two worlds.
However, last year I read a fantastic fantasy book, which has become one of my favorites. Beyond creating a new world with new creatures, the author created characters so rich and authentic, that they were as familiar to me as my friends. The writer is Jonathan French, and the book was called The Grey Bastards.
The Grey Bastards submerged me in such an amazing world that I was loath to leave it. Hell’s bells, I wanted to be one of the Grey Bastards — half-orcs, loyal, fierce, proud and foul-mouthed. (Well, I got the loyal and foul-mouthed parts down, at least.)
Today, going through new books in the library, I saw a similar title that caught my eye, and almost whooped out loud. I picked up a thick hardback called The True Bastards, another tale in the series, and I was already anticipating traveling back into that amazing, hard, magical world.
It’s not difficult for me to pick my favorite element of these stories — it’s the hogs. The orcs (half-bred) ride specially raised hogs, bred for battle. I mean, they’re actual hogs, pigs that are trained, and they become more than horses, more than just mere transportation. They are best friends, bodyguards, really an extension of their riders. As a sword was a part of a samurai’s soul, these swine are part of the souls of the Bastards. If one of these hogs is slain in battle, they are given the full honors of fighters. There is a reason that the Bastards’ rallying cry is, “Live in the saddle. Die on the hog.” It’s a bit like “Sons of Anarchy” marrying Lord of the Rings, producing this magnificent … bastard.
Right now, I am drooling just a little bit, sneaking peeks at the book on the table in front of me. The anticipation of diving in, reading before bed, while waiting for an appointment or at work, is making me squirm with pleasure. This book is library Xpress checkout — this means that I only have three weeks to finish it. I know that will not be a problem. I don’t have National Novel Writing Month to distract me, there are no more holiday suppers: Hanukkah and New Year’s are in the rearview mirror. I’ve even been asked to work a few extra days, which generally means that I will have plenty of time to read (as there are big gaps between customers at the little bookstore). It’s almost as if, for a week or so, I’m back to being a kid, in school, with the whole summer in front of me and a whole stack of delightful books beside me. Another plus — it’s an extra incentive to go to the gym. I get on the elliptical, place the book in its holder, with a book weight that holds the pages open. Thirty minutes on the elliptical fly by when I am reading a good book. Exercise of body and mind is a win-win, one of the best things, ever.
So read de Lint and read French. Trust me, I get no money from plugging their books. I am not remotely related to anyone who worked on these books. But for the pleasure of entering another world, and living with these characters, I would shout from the rooftops about their books. This post, it is my rooftop.
I completely understand if fantasies are not your cup of tea. It’s usually not mine either — considering that 95 percent of the books I read are mysteries. But every once in a while, I escape into non-reality, to cleanse my palate, as it were. Otherwise, all my who-done-its tend to bleed into each other. So, I ask — nay . . . I beseech you, give these series a try. You’ll thank me later.