01/05/2010. Contributed by Pauline Morgan
pub: Gollancz. 262 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-07806-2).
check out website: www.orionbooks.co.uk
Bad characters are interesting, often more so than the heroes and their sidekicks. To have the irredeemable characters centre stage all the time becomes a bit of a problem. The reader needs to feel a connection with the principals. If they don't care about them, they are going to lose interest. Human villains, even of the worst kind either have a protagonist attempting to thwart them or hints of humanity. Maybe their weakness is kittens. Traditional orcs would ask what sauce they were being served in.
That is the problem that Stan Nicholls faces. To keep the readers enthusiasm for his bad boys (and girl), he has had to make them more human. When this band of orcs, the Wolverines, were introduced in the first series they were tough, blood-thirsty mercenaries in the employ of the wicked queen, Jennesta, and quite happy to get out of their skulls on a drug called pellucid. Their only redeeming feature was their loyalty to the band. Gradually, they have softened and though they would all disagree vehemently and make the point with several sharp implements, become more than a little human.
At the start of this second series (starting with 'Weapons Of Magical Destruction' also reviewed this month) they had settled down. Stryke, the leader of the band, had taken a mate and had two hatchlings he was enormously proud of. Then they were induced to travel to another world, where Jennesta was up to her old tricks. Having a score to settle with her, they went after her. Being orcs, they did not turn down the chance of a good, gory fight, and in the first volume of this series, they found plenty. The orcs in this world have become unwarlike over centuries of peace. When the humans invaded, they did not fight back. Stryke's band, though, fall in with the resistance who intend, with the omen on an approaching comet, to awaken the orcs fighting spirit and take the land back.
At the end of 'Weapons Of Magical Destruction', Jennesta had stolen the instrumentalities that had transported the band to this world and were their only way back home. In 'Army Of Shadows', with the uprising well under way, Stryke is told that Jennesta is making a run for it. The band pursues, then for some reason Stryke cannot fathom, Jennesta gives the instrumentalities back.
There is another group, powerful sorcerers who are Guardians of the gates between worlds. They want the instrumentalities because, in the wrong hands, they are very dangerous. The Wolverines are caught between them and Jennesta's army. Stryke uses the instrumentalities and after briefly visiting a number of very hostile worlds find themselves on an island populated by dwarfs. When the island is attacked by humans collecting slaves, the orcs help them drive them off. Unfortunately, some dwarfs are captured, including Spurral, the mate of Jup, the only dwarf in the Wolverines' band. Naturally, the band pursues the slavers.
This is the middle book of this series. The orcs get in a lot of fighting, meet some strange races - and show an increasing humanity towards them - and head into dire trouble as both Jennesta and the Guardians are after them. There is a lot of fun to be had reading this book and you are rooting for the orcs. They are not the bad boys any more.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA