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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Yo, the Marines! A Review of Mary Gentle's Grunts

When it comes down to it, books about orcs are anything but gentle, and Grunts is no exception.

I make no secret of loving the monstrous races. orcs, goblins, troggs, trolls, and my own grenndrakes. So when I see an orc on the cover of a book, and come to learn that he's the main character I'm pretty predisposed to reading it.

Grunts is the story of Ashnak, the leader of the Man-Smart Agaku in the days leading up to the last battle. On orders from his master, the Nameless Necromancer, he infiltrates a long-dead dragon's horde to find a cache of weapons and equipment kept in the the dragon's collection of artifacts from across time and space.

The contents of this cache will be immediately familiar to fans of Vietnam era movies. M16s, M60s, humvees, Hueys, and an assortment of odds and ends from the 1960's era US army. Capable of shrugging off magical defenses, the Nameless Necromancer's hope is that these weapons will give Ashnak and the orcs the edge against the forces of Light in the coming apocalypse.

But things aren't quite so simple. The weapons carry the dragon's curse, that only those steeped in the training and attitude of the gear's origin are capable of employing it. And so very quickly, the orcs begin to take on the qualities of cinematized Vietnam Era Marines.

Naturally this is not without a great deal of hilarious juxtaposition between the high fantasy and modern military tropes expertly jumbled into a great genre mashup. The book is deliberately and successfully funny, playing off genre stereotypes and expectations to great effect. It's very easy to fall in love with Ashnak and his varied and versatile orc compatriots, but they will very quickly remind you of what they really are. This book is not for the young'ns. Gore, profanity, and even some sexual violence abound in this story about Orcs being the leanest, meanest forces of darkness around. It's all handled in a very cavalier and casual attitude that completely honestly made me a bit uncomfortable at times. But I do not consider that a strike against the book in any way, shape or form. Rather, I feel it was the intent. Despite the light-hearted tone of the book, there is some very dark subject matter to be aware of going into the experience. But it's an experience I wholly recommend. I have never read a book quite like Grunts, and to say I devoured it would be something of an understatement.

Read this book if you like: Rooting for the bad guys, orcs, Apocalypse Now, genre mashups.
Avoid this book if you do not like: Extremely dark subject matter, classic tropes.

And as always, feel free to let me know your thoughts on the novel as well. I greatly enjoyed this book and I think you will to.