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WesternSFA


The True Bastards
The Lot Lands #2
by Jonathan French
Crown, $27.00, 573pp
Published: October 2019

I enjoyed the first book in this trilogy so very much.  Epic fantasy where half-orcs ride real hogs and patrol a desert against incursions of orcs and insane centaurs - what's not to like?  There's also the occasional wizard and elf.

In the first book, Jackal made a play for control of his hoof, or brotherhood of half-orcs, when the Chief proved too old, too untrustworthy, and maybe too crazy to lead.  But it didn't turn out as Jackal hoped and he ended up a nomad.  In the aftermath of a huge, insanely crazy debacle when the Chief and his pet wizard attempted to keep and protect their lot; Jackal's best friend, Fetching - and the only female rider in the Lots - ended up as Chief.  But their home and fortress is a smoking ruin and their ranks have thinned; Fetch isn't sure she can lead and protect both her hoof and the nearby town that looks to them for protection.

Fetch had put herself in harm's way in the first book and exposed herself to the Sludge Man and his nasty goo.  She counted herself lucky to have escaped but now isn't so sure she escaped unscathed; the sludge appears to have taken up residence in her lungs.  On a pretext, she journeys to see someone who might be able to diagnose and treat the infection before her hoof brothers know how weak she's become.  On her return, she encounters a couple of nomads, one of whom used to actually live in the city and worked as a sort of gigolo. Since her hoof is so short of riders, she accepts them as provisional riders.  Shortly after they return home, an alarm is sounded when three running people approach being pursued by something.  Fetch allows them, all women, to enter; behind them a rider being more closely pursued by what she initially takes as mad centaurs but which turn out to be something more hideous and unexplainable.  The rider is one known to her whom she had cast out; but he's done all he can and more to save the three women.  Unfortunately, her efforts to save him fail; but not before she and the hoof have a very close and good look at what the Lots have thrown at them this time - creatures that resemble nightmare hyenas and they appear to be controlled by the biggest orc any have ever seen.  The women have all come to Fetch's banner, so to speak; they wish to be riders.  Her decision to allow them to try will cost her later.

All the hoofs are summoned to send their Chiefs to see Zirko. Zirko worships a god - the same one that now claims Jackal as one of their own - and it is Zirko's god that gives warning when the centaurs are on the move; so the hoofs do tend to listen when Zirko calls.  Once they are all assembled, Zirko shows them what has happened to the nearby lot that once belonged to a hoof that was destroyed:  the lot had been taken over by strangers from outside the Lots. The threat that this incursion represents speaks to the contempt the cities feel for the hoofs who protect their doorstep; that they would give away land that didn't belong to them.  But none of the hoofs can agree on a course of action and most preferred to forget what they saw and just tend to their own interests.  Fetch takes the opportunity to acquaint Zirko with the monstrous orc and his hyenas; hoping for some intelligence to help defeat him.  She's disappointed in this, as well.

Returning to her hoof with supplies from Zirko to ward off starvation but not with support against the orc and the hyenas, she is then faced with an unimaginable attack - from another hoof!  Captured, Fetch does manage to kill and escape - right into a second attack from the giant orc and his deadly hyenas.  After the utter destruction of the fort and the town, Fetch and the survivors actually find safe haven with the elves - something that Fetch would never have believed.  The time with the elves brings all sorts of explanations - the truth about the sludge, the orc, Fetch's origins, and the return of Jackal.  But things are changing very fast and the things they all took for granted are being swept away.  She still struggles with overcoming the sludge infecting her but at least she has the support of her hoof after she told them the truth.  Fetch keeps coming back to the idea that the wizard is responsible for everything bad in her life but he's nowhere to be found; although she fails to account that many of the changes are her responsibility. The wizard represents all those in the cities who look down on the Lots and the hoofs, who think they owe nothing for the protection afforded them, who think they can take land as they will.  And Fetch is determined that the cities will never grind them down again; and she has the will to bring the fight to them.  The cities will never know what hit them.

I continue to love this series.  The characters and the dialogue are wonderfully coarse and vulgar.  The plot was convoluted with quite a few side-trails to flesh out this world.  This story was even more grim than the first one; poor Fetch never really had time to catch her breath.  Really looking forward to the last book which promises to get even bloodier. ~~ Catherine Book

For more titles by Jonathan French click here

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