The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

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The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington

Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very novel kind of fantasy, taking Quentin Tarantino into mediaeval Europe for adventures with hellish creatures and embodiments of plagues galore.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 464 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841497839

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When Hegel and Manfried are ticked off, you know about it. Returning to a town for vengeance - someone didn't like their scrumping there as children - they leave several dead, and several more corpses behind when a posse is sent off to seek its own justice. They're journeying south, graverobbing their way through mediaeval Europe, and they don't care how many people they have to kill, betray, get vengeance on, or blaspheme, or what they have to eat or drink, until their task is done.

Beyond the prologue here, which dresses up the contents as a best-effort by a scholar trying to get to the truth of the twins' tale, I have to admit to an awkward beginning to reading this. However once settling down with the style, the brashness of the anti-heroes, and the matter-of-fact violence, there was certainly a singular fantasy book to enjoy. This came across in the end as a kind of Till Eulenspiegel Germanic folk fable, as rewritten by Shaun Hutson.

The body count of the first few pages alone will tell you this is not for the squeamish, and there will seldom be a let-up until the end. And before long there are werewolves, and cat-men things, to be found, and some evils that are harder to visualise, and harder to define, as plagues and demons possess others and become entities in their own right.

The roustabout style also carries on, and people will be seriously injured by the final chapter. Another way to consider this book then is something like the Van Helsing film, or Terry Gilliam's Brothers Grimm disaster, as redirected by Quentin Tarantino. There will be ruined ears and noses, people getting stuck through with crossbow bolts, a very successful attempt to get a religious man to say the F-word copiously, and a drug scene where the characters are poisoned into delusion by regular mediaeval food poisoning.

I don't want to denigrate the book however by saying it is merely a mash-up of this meets that, or someone a la someone else. It certainly is its own beast. And while I can't really find a major problem with it, I can't exactly say it's a perfect beast. I did, to repeat, struggle with the fashion of the story and its telling at the beginning, but given a while to absorb the quirks of the narration, narrator and titular brothers, I certainly had little problem sailing through to the end.

This is a fantasy that pretty much succeeds in doing what it wants to - offering a very well imbued sense of period, a well-sustained style (I liked the way the glottal speech was spelled out for us all so vividly), and a finely nailed character for the brothers (if only they were a bit more different from each other). It was still, however, impressive and not brilliant, leaving me approving if not enthusing.

Still, I can see a lot of people finding this very much not to their taste, and a similar amount finding this superb. It certainly stands out as the work of a clever debuting author, who could easily become clever-clever, and doesn't. For thrusting dark and gory fantasy into a realistic middle-age middle Europe, this gets a Bookbag recommendation - with a final warning that the contents are definitely adult only.

Oh, and the first edition probably wins my cover art of the year award.

I must thank Orbit for my review copy.

It's at this point I generally suggest something else similar to read, either linked in style or subject. Well, I'm happily stumped here. There certainly is nothing like this out there.

Buy The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington at Amazon.com.


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