Thursday, January 17, 2013

Rosy's scrawled book recommendation: Grunts by Mary Gentle

Mary Gentle

The eternal battle of good versus evil takes on a decidedly modern tone when the evil orcs steal modern-day weaponry from the dragon guardian. It's a wild free-for-all, with the forces of Light struggling to overcome the denizens of Darkness in a story full of humor and heroism. From the author of Ancient Light and Left to His Own Devices.
The usual last battle of Good against Evil is about to begin and Orc Captain Ashnak and his war-band know exactly what to expect. The forces of Light are outnumbered, full of headstrong heroes devoid of tactics, but the Light's still going to win. Orcs will die by the thousands, and no one cares. Not even the Nameless Necromancer who hired them.

Bantam Press


Rosy's scrawlings on Grunts
This has to be one of my favourite fantasy books even though the ending isn't something you could expect in the least. Grunts is very much in line with some of Mary Gentle's other works so if you've read any of those don't be too surprised to find yourself faced with alternative realities. That aside though, Grunts is the only one of Mary Gentle's (that I've read at least) to show continued comedy and satire, tearing apart as many fantasy conventions as possible, rather than being an epic fantasy story with many unexpected features. In an age where Lord Of The Rings is the dominant fantasy story with clear lines of right and wrong, good and bad, moralistic and immoral etc, Grunts is the antithesis. In Grunts you cannot expect an orc to be bad, murderous or mindless, a white wizard to be righteous and the side of good to inevitably win out. Instead, expect the unexpected.
Grunts is a story of survivalism told from the perspective of a group of orcs bound for the front lines in yet another, seemingly the last, great battle between good and evil. They know full well that they'll be sent to their deaths without care or consideration from either the white or dark wizards and war leaders. They know they are just bodies to be throw into battle, essentially cannon fodder there only to catch spells and weapons and their deaths of little bearing. So what do these disgruntled orcs, the grunts of the dark forces, do? They arrange to escape their fates, of course, and in doing so they send the typical machinations of light versus dark into chaos.
Grunts is about the little man, the soldier to first stare down the barrel of a gun or first shoved over the top. It is about our expectations and understanding of good and bad, right and wrong, and the real motivations of the little men within the big system. It also clearly highlights that being on the side considered wrong or dark or evil doesn't mean you're lost, evil or corrupt. There are plenty amongst the grunts who are just doing as their bosses and boss's bosses tell them, nothing more. Their beliefs and hopes and desire to survive are as ignored on the side of the dark as they are on the side of the light. It also clearly shows that being a grunt does not, in the least, make you stupid or incapable of surviving by thinking of alternative solutions.
This book is one I keep revisiting every few years and I've read it enough that the cover is now sticky taped back on. I'll get a new copy one day but the current copy can probably take a bit more punishment before I do so. It is also the book that got me hooked on Mary Gentle's work, alone with one of her earliest epic fantasies called Ash. I'd highly suggest you read Grunts if you love fantasy as it will have you thinking of the little people who aren't hobbits and wondering just how much you truly understand them.

I'd recommend this book to: those who love odd and comedic fantasy. Also, those who like stories of underdogs winning out, fantasy monsters and creatures as well as old battle styles.

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