You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, February 18, 2012


I've had a copy of Stan Nicholls' novel Orcs on my bookshelf for over a year waiting me to finally pick it up and read it. When I was about ready to go on vacation and needed something to read I picked it up and started it. The book is a fantasy where orcs--the standard stock bad guys--are the central characters. This is an interesting conceit, a twist on common tropes. Yet, I feel like it would have been done better by another author.

The first chapter starts out strong, with an exciting battle scene. The orc leader is Stryke, captain of the orc warband called the Wolverines. His sergeants are Coilla, a female; Jup, a dwarf; Haskeer, an argumentative orc; and Alfray, a wizened old warrior and healer. Jup is a mercenary, selling his services to the warband. He and Haskeer are always arguing and trading insults. There are about twenty other grunts who don't figure much into the plot. The group works for Queen Jennesta, a caricature of an evil character. She is completely greedy and selfish and cares nothing about her minions. She thinks nothing of having her leaders killed for not fulfilling the tasks she assigns them. She is part human and struggles for domination over her sisters and the land.

Stryke and the others take an artifact and head back to Jennesta, but are attacked by a band of kobolds. They fight them off but the kobolds escape with the artifact. Knowing that to return to Jennesat empty-handed is a death sentence, they go after the kobolds. They manage to sneak into camp and retrieve the artifact and rescue an ancient gremlin. The gremlin tells them that the magical item, which they refer to as a "star" due to its shiny gem-like quality, is one of many that are sought after for their power. After surviving an attack from a rival orc leader sent to bring him back, Stryke decides to go after the remaining stars.

There are many battles throughout the book, but they end up feeling all the same. The orcs are strong and great warriors; they cut down their enemies without breaking a sweat. There is really no suspense as to the outcome of each battle. It made me wonder how there could be any balance in this world if orcs could overpower everybody. They even infiltrate an underground troll kingdom and kill most of the trolls and steal their star. The one time it was interesting is when Coilla is tracking Haskeer after he starts hearing music and steals the two stars they have. Coilla is captured by three bounty hunters who decide they can get more money by selling her to slave traders. The orcs track them to the slave traders and for a moment it feels like they are trapped. Yet they get away with barely a scratch again.

The world is full of a potpourri of fantasy creatures, from centaurs to dragons to nayads. In this sense it felt like Narnia. Yet it doesn't have the heart of a good fantasy world. The only character with any real depth is Stryke. He is thoughtful and concerned about the world at large. He begins soon after finding the first star to have visions of an ideal world where orcs live in harmony with one another, without humans or other races to harass them. These visions start to infect Stryke with a sort of idealism, and he becomes driven to find all the stars and unite them, even though he has no understanding of the power. It all feels a bit strange and empty, as if the plot must keep moving so Stryke is forced to make inexplicable decisions.

I was hoping for an interesting story that told of brotherhood and duty, and I did not get it. The plot and characters are too simplistic to really enjoy. The one big plus of the book is the dark humor, though sometimes even that gets old. I found Jennesta to not only be unlikable, but unbelievable. Stryke's interactions with the warband, and their interactions with the other races, are mostly formulaic. Perhaps someday someone will write a great book about orcs, but this isn't it. C

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