I finished Orcs by Stan Nicholls a few days ago. The conclusion of the trilogy very obviously opened the way to a sequel which I confirmed for myself at Nicholls’ website. The site lists a second trilogy called “Orcs: Bad Blood” with volume one, “Weapons of Magical Destruction,” apparently being published in the United States as Orcs: Bad Blood.
My previous post expressed some surprise with the adult themes in the first few chapters of the book. These scenes moderated through the remainder of the text. I suspect the sexual content was largely introduced for shock value and to differentiate it completely from more traditional fantasies such as The Lord of the Rings.
Nicholls turns the traditional on its ear by creating a world where the humans are perceived as evil invaders, and the orcs as misunderstood members of a warrior culture. Orcs, as one of the few exotic races without inherent magic (humans are the other), are born to fight and become mercenaries, hired guards, or almost self-indentured soldiers for others. It is clear, however, that wasn’t always like this.
In the years since humans began crossing the desert beyond, the world’s basic fabric has started to unravel: weather patterns have changed (a rapid ice age is approaching), relationships between the races have deteriorated, the land has been ravaged by deforestation, religious wars have ignited, and the magic tied to the land is being depleted.
Stryke and his Wolverines, a warband of orcs, are sent to capture a relic that their evil mistress wants to obtain. In that quest, they find that they can find freedom and a better life by following their own wills.
The first thing that struck me was the volume of action sequences in the form of skirmishes, battles, and duels. There are surprise attacks and incidental run-ins with other denizens of Nicholls created world every few pages. Surprisingly, they kept my interest even though there are only so many ways to describe them.
There were also several oddities I noticed:
- World size — The text seemed to give the indication that the orc warband was traveling to the far ends of the land, but everything appeared to be only several days’ walk or ride.
- Warband speed — The warband of 20 or so orcs seemed to travel extremlely slowly. Bounty hunters, warband sent to find them, and potential allies caught up with them even though the orcs always had a head start.
- Invinceability — Readers always expect that the main characters will survive to book’s end. But even “red shirt” grunts in the warband survived battle after battle; in many cases surviving overwhelming odds. Admittedly, the orcs are tough. True, many might be wounded. But, it seemed a little unrealistic.
An interesting read, but not the best book I’ve ever read. Not bad for a light read, though….
I did read this entire book on the Kindle 2: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device (Latest Generation). Expect a review shortly!
I’ve just started to read Orcs by Stan Nicholls via Amazon.com’s Kindle for iPhone interface (on my iPod Touch).
The omnibus edition of Orcs being sold in the US through the Publisher Orbit is an extremely handsome trade paperback, notwithstanding the grim face of a warrior Orc staring back at the reader. The cover has a very fine tactile feel and the page edges are colored pinkish-red. The typestyle is large and a very readable font. Nicholls’ trilogy, Bodyguard of Lightning, Legion of Thunder, and Warriors of the Tempest are included.
Although I am a traditionalist when it comes to fantasy novels, it is always refreshing when an author sets a tried-and-true concept on its ear (c.f. Villains by Necessity by Eve Forward). In this case, orcs are the protagonists.
I’m very impressed with Nicholls writing style so far. After having read the blurb on the back of the book and some of the reviews and recommendations, I was not surprised that the opening scenes describe a purposefully unnamed invading force and “defenders”. Not until the battle ends does Nicholls identify which side are humans and which are the orcs.
I was, however, a little taken aback by two early incidents: the orcish band of warriors under the influence of some sort of drug they captured in the raid and the overt sexual scene between the evil Queen Jennesta and a captured enemy. I suspect some of my surprise is the puritan American in me…. but readers should be aware.
One last comment from my early reading: I was very amused by the traditional warband marching song introducing the first book, which is obviously a parody of the Napoleonic era sea shanty, “Spanish Ladies”.
“Oh we’ll rant and we’ll roar like true orcish warriors
We’ll rant and we’ll roar for all that we be
We’ll march back from yonder all laden with plunder
Oh what treasures, what pleasures, then you will see”
On one last note, I am very anxious to receive my Kindle 2: Amazon’s New Wireless Reading Device (Latest Generation) tomorrow in the mail. I’ve used various Palm devices and my iPod Touch to read books in the past but this will be the first dedicated reader that I’ve used. I’ll post a review of my impressions over the next week or so.