REVIEW: The Free Bastards by Jonathan French

The Free Bastards from author Jonathan French concludes the Lot Lands trilogy started in The Grey Bastards and The True Bastards. The pig-riding half-orcs attempt to finally attain true liberation as they wage war on the humans standing in the way of freedom. The Free Bastards, like the novels before it, is a gritty fantasy masterpiece that proves orcs are not just for the world of Middle-earth.

The Free Bastards by Jonathan French The Free Bastards switches the story to the perspective of fearsome but loveable half-orc Oats. The big difference with the change of perspective is how Oats is much humbler than his best friends, Jackal and Fetch. In The Grey Bastards, a cocky Jackal introduced readers to the Lot Lands and the brutal life of the half-orcs who lived there. His path led to him becoming a legendary god-touched warrior able to inspire those around him. In Free Bastards, it was Fetch’s turn to become something more as she learned about her heritage and struggled on the path to being a great chief. Oats, a thrice-blood (son of an orc and a half-orc) is one of the largest characters in his group but he is also one of the most caring. Though there is as much action in the conclusion to the trilogy as the other books, Oats’ perspective allows the reader to see more of the effect that the brutal way of life has on the vulnerable people just trying to survive. Not everyone is strong, blessed with magical powers, or even remotely healthy. Oats is a character who is always looking out for the people who aren’t able to look out for themselves (like the beaten and abused boy Muro) and that instantly makes him an interesting character to follow. This is Oats’ story now and following the emotional, caring thriceblood is the perfect way to end this incredibly dark but touching trilogy.

The world in The Free Bastards opens up and allows French to showcase his brilliant worldbuilding skills. Divine warriors, magical beasts, wizards, and the ever-faithful barbarians fill up the interesting and diverse world that French has created. The focus in The Free Bastards is wider than the previous novels but the writing is just as tight and the action bloody and visceral. The language is as hilariously crude as it always has been and any excuse for a half-orc to whip his ‘cod’ out is jumped at. The camaraderie between the rebels and the strong bonds between the main cast of characters is written with such care that it is impossible to not cheer with every victorious battle and wince with every strike that lands on our heroes. The Free Bastard takes you on a ride worthy of Ugfuck and by the end of it all, you’ll be exhausted but glad for the experience.

The Free Bastards is a fitting conclusion to a brilliant trilogy that breathes fresh life into the world of orcs. French’s novel is proof that writers have come a long way since orcs and goblins were always the mean, snarling bad guys and humans the bright heroes we had to root for. The Free Bastards is a gritty but touching novel that closes out this magnificent trilogy in bloody, curse-filled style.

Read The Free Bastards by Jonathan French

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Aaron Jones

Aaron Jones

Aaron S. Jones is the author of Memories of Blood and Shadow, and The Broken Gods trilogy. He is Head of School at a school in Kent, UK and when he is not tearing his hair out at students struggling with their, they're and there, he is tearing his hair out as he dies for the thousandth time on Elden Ring. You can find him on Twitter @HereticASjones where he is most likely procrastinating for hours at a time instead of focusing on his Orc murder mystery.

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