Stan Nicholls’ ‘Orcs’ is a book that definitely strums a different string to most other fantasy books. We have no knight in shining armour, nor silver elven lord. This book caught my eye in Waterstones (I do most of my shopping in brick and mortar stores, not online), and turned out to be a really good novel. I’d reccommend this to anybody looking for a good read.
Orcs is the story of the Wolverines, an Orc warband enslaved by an evil queen ‘Jennesta’. They are set against the Unis (humans whom worship one god), their master being a ‘Mani’ (worshiping many gods). The orcs also hate the humans for bringing advancement and technology to the land, and draining the magic of Maras Dantia (the world). Sent to retrieve an artifact, the Orcs are delayed and Jennesta believes herself betrayed, so she sends a second warband to pursue them. Under captain Stryke, the Wolverines decide they must garner four more of the artifact ‘stars’ to bargain their freedom. As their enemies mount up, things become a little more difficult, however. Captain Stryke is having strange dreams, though. Dreams that mean more than he realises..
The plot of Orcs is fairly layered and complex, as there are many things going on at once; we don’t simply follow the Wolverines from victory to victory! This isn’t a light read, although it is not difficult; you need to keep the plot in mind and read actively so you don’t lose track of what is going on. There’s a few major series of events; the mani/uni civil war, the Wolverines and Jennesta herself. The plot is compulsive though, and makes you want to read on! Sure, it’s not an epic page turning thriller, but you’ll find your mind (and eyes) wandering back to the pages of the book. I think that the plot has been adapted for the protagonists of our story. It is not told in the same way as a standard fantasy novel. I really got the sense that I was following gritty, warlike Orcs. Nicholls doesn’t make a big deal of telling a story through their eyes, then treat them just like human characters. In this way, the plot has different elements and tones to it than other books. For example, there is very little in the way of emotional bonding as the plot progresses, and the politics of the Wolverines is actually quite a big thing. You can tell what’s important to the Orcs that may be slightly less so to a band of human adventurers – this is not a tale of sharp swords and tall deeds, but of survival.
I really enjoy the characters of Orcs; they’re unique and quirky. I think Nicholls has worked hard to build enough backstory so that we can see relationships between individual members of the group. The fact that the dwarf Jup and the Orc Haskeer do not get on due to disagreements over race and morale. Nicholls hasn’t painted the standard picture of a close-knit band of warriors whom would fall on their own swords to protect each other. Frankly, it seems a miracle that they don’t kill each other in their sleep! I really get a sense of how the priorities of the Orcs – especially Stryke – differs from what we might expect of a human hero. I don’t think this story would work with human heroes, as some of the decisions they make are clearly inhumane, and would be out of place for human. We still see humane traits within some of the Orcs; how they respect the elder medic, and will listen to a leader. These are not the disorganised Orcish rabble that we see from Tolkien’s work, and I can respect that.
Orcs quite a big book, and isn’t a light undertaking. It’s probably best a book that stays at home as opposed to being lugged to work and back. I think it’s definitely worth your time, especially if you’re an avid fantasy reader looking for something a little different. My brother has read this again and again and again and so on; it’s one of his favourite books. It’s a bit like LOTR in the way you can read it a thousand times, then go back and find a little gem of info you’ve missed.
This gets an 8/10 from me. Great book, sometimes it can seem a little drawn out and slow, but when the going gets hot, it’s a roasting experience!