01/05/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Gollancz. 279 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-07803-1.
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
'Chambers Dictionary' defines an 'orc' as a fierce sea-monster; killer whale; an ogre and an ogre as a man-eating monster.
Mention the word 'orc' to most readers of fantasy and they will probably conjure up the hordes of ferocious warriors in the Dark Lord's army in 'Lord Of The Rings'. Thus Tolkein is responsible for the modern image of an orc as a killing machine with no moral scruples. Mary Gentle, in her novel 'Grunts', makes no attempt to rehabilitate them. They are still blood-thirsty killers but they do travel to other dimensions. How else are they going to get hold of AK47s? 'Grunts', though, is not a book that takes itself seriously. Stan Nicholls' orcs still prefer a scrap to a gentile game of bowls (unless the balls they are playing with are enemy heads) but they have an ingrained sense of honour and loyalty to their own kind.
In his first series, 'Orcs Bad Blood', the band of orcs known as the Wolverines decide to leave the employ of Jennesta, a sorceress with designs on ruling the world, and strike out on their own. They have stolen an item that looks like a star but is one of five instrumentalities that when combined can shift beings to other parallel worlds. With the guidance of a mysterious person called Serapheim, they manage to collect them all and end up in a world where orcs are the only intelligent creature. To say that Jennesta was unhappy would be a gross understatement.
At the start of 'Weapons Of Magical Destruction' (the first book of this second series), Stryke, the leader of the Wolverines, has led his band to a world where only orcs live. He has taken a mate and sired two hatchlings. Life though is beginning to get a trifle dull. There are no real scraps any more. Then, when he and his second-in-command, Haskeer, are off hunting, they pass the cave where they had originally entered this world. From it staggers a human with a knife in his back. He is carrying a message for Stryke telling him that Jennesta has survived and is leading the suppression of orcs on a different world. These orcs have lost the will to fight and need a champion. Naturally, Stryke takes up the challenge, rounds up his old band and heads out, first to collect the dwarf, Jup, who elected to stay in the old world and then to the new one. To add complications, they also pick up a pair of humans of dubious motive. Also, there is a multi-ethnic group who want to retrieve the instrumentalities from Stryke because they don't want anyone travelling between worlds and upsetting the balances in them.
These orcs are not nice, friendly creatures. Orcs like killing. It makes them happy. They fight first and don't bother to ask questions later. Thus, there is mayhem at every opportunity. The only problem with that is that there is only a limited number of ways to describe demise by sword, axe or knife. Nicholls, though, does manage to keep the action moving at a rapid pace.
The political comparisons with the invasion of Iraq are completely deliberate. The humans' excuse for invading the orcs' lands is the rumour that they have 'weapons of magical destruction' which, surprise! surprise!, no-one can find. Despite the meekness of the majority of orcs, there is a resistance movement made up of orcs with a fighting spirit. Jennesta's agenda is different from the other humans. She wants to arouse the sleeping ferocity of the orcs so that she can weld them into an all conquering army.
These novels do not try to rehabilitate orcs. They put a different spin on them. Orcs are still mean and nasty and like killing humans but the books are an enjoyable romp for anyone who doesn't mind gore seeping from the pages.
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