Grunts (Mary Gentle)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Grunts is a strange mix of traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy with modern military marine corps ideology. The plot is a bit chaotic, as it follows a group of standard fantasy orcs who stumble upon modern military equipment cursed to transform whoever uses it into US marines. I enjoyed the imagination and unique blend of contrasting styles, but the story wasn’t especially satisfying or engaging. The book relies on a constant stream of both absurd and dry humor, which is something of an acquired taste. I found it quite funny, but I recognize that others probably would not. There is quite a bit of over the top violence as well, which may unsettle many readers. I’m not exactly sure if there is a more engaging way to bring these two very different concepts together, but as a reader I always felt somewhat removed from the story, like an audience member rather than a participant. I would still recommend this book, despite its flaws, to those not averse to gratuitous violence, due to it being quite readable and very imaginative.

Greater Detail:
As an orc preparing for the final battle between good and evil, Captain Ashnak is relegated to the role of expendable cannon fodder. Despite this grim fate, he steadfastly soldiers on, delighting in what few crude and violent amusements he can wring out of his wretched existence. When he is ordered to raid a dragon’s horde for strange new weapons, he finds himself transformed into an unparalleled fighting machine and begins to question whether there isn’t more in life than for him to take orders until his death.

This is one of the most brutally violent books I have read. This might dissuade a lot of readers, and for good reason. If you are uncomfortable with random horrific violence, then this is definitely not the book for you. I personally found the fact that the violence was so over the top rather funny, and it didn’t detract from the book for me, but any potential reader should be warned that this book isn’t for the faint of heart.

The humor, which is the main selling point of the book, is kind of hard to describe. It feels very dry, while at the same time being very absurd and delivered at a manic pace. The author breaks the book up into numerous sections that occur sequentially, but she pretty much cuts out all the transitions and set up, so you are just thrown into one chaotic melee of a farce after another. It probably isn’t my favorite style, but it was done well and certainly felt unique.

The characters could have done with a bit more depth in my opinion, but they work tolerably well. I suppose the book is designed to poke humor at both contemporary martial disciplines and traditional fantasy elements, so there would have to be some absurdly overdone elements in the characters, but I found myself wishing that they were a little bit more relatable. The characters are secondary to the story overall, though, in this type of book, and I still think the author did a good job of telling exactly the distinctive and unique story she wanted to.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
This book is a bit hard to compare to others. The closest I can come is to think of the sections in Terry Pratchett’s books, such as Moving Pictures, where everything sort of goes off the rails and the story turns into one absurd thing after another coming at you at a frantic pace.

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Posted in Sci-Fi/Fantasy

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