this gorgeous omnibus (the pages are lined with red gilt-- what is the word for that?) collects a series: bodyguard of lightning, legion of thunder, & warriors of the tempest. i still say that the title of the first one, bodyguard... doesn't make any sense, since they never actually are a bodyguard even a little bit. to get to the grit of the matter: i liked this. it wasn't brilliant, but it did end up sucking me in to the narrative.
the core conceit is pretty simple: lets "humanize" the orcs. the biggest problem with the book lies there, too: it really humanizes the orcs. they aren't in any way convincingly "othered." they mostly exist as a cross between pop vikings & idealized american aborigines. so yeah, there is a bunch of "noble savage" here. i will say this though: i can see the appeal of the noble savage, & maybe it is excusable in this case. see, stan nicholls doesn't make the rest of the world rose tinted. humans lay across a range-- zealots, ignorant, accepting, tolerant, whatever. the "old races," the demi-humans, also show plenty of expression, from the mercenary kobolds, to the fanatical trolls, & the proud centaurs, so on, so forth. there aren't any homilies about perfect life. you could make the argument that the orcs are taking advantage of being imaginary, non-human creatures to act as an expression of "the noble savage" that isn't offensive.
the over-story is a cross between a tolkien-esque macguffin quest ("we need the five instrumentalities!") & a colonization parable. the humans have started making headway into the new world, & the other races that already live there are feeling the crush. i'm pretty pleased with his boiling down of religious overtones: there are the "mani," who are the pantheists, & the "uni," who are the monotheists. each have their bad guys-- the mani have their witch queen (a major villain) & the uni have their intolerant firebrand (the other big villain). oh, & the bounty-hunters, who keep popping up. the plot is pretty well paced; i had no problems picking it up, putting it down, or reading in jags.
a quick note on feminism. i think this book does pretty well with females. the first case is the female orc. there is only one in the warband, & there seems to be social dimorphism between the orc males & females (the females raising hatchlings) but her gender never effects the story except when it would reasonably do so. meanwhile among the humans you see the acknowledgment of differences in how sexism can play out-- the two big cases being the daughter of the uni leader, & the leader of the "good" mani settlement. there are some mentions of rape in this books-- the bounty hunters rape a woman & decide not to rape the female orc, & the witch queen rapes some of her sacrificial victims. it is a little bit casual, but not underplayed. as in, these are very bad people doing very bad things.
narrative-wise, the end seems pretty rushed. all of a sudden they are far away! & oh, demons, even though they've never been in the book before (at least they were mentioned). & this guy & that girl, mister & miz macguffin (who also were only mentioned or briefly cameo'ed). & somehow, all of the bad guys have also managed to catch up with them! it seemed crammed together. still, it didn't wreck anything for me. i should mention before i go my favorite thing about the series! the orcs don't let themselves become tricked by cheap dramatic conventions. if one of them over hears, for instance, the bad guy praying? & that bad guy talks about how he has a sacred relic, & how he's going to go to war with the trolls for another relic, etc? the guy who heard will go to the other orcs & be like "listen, i heard this guy talk about a relic-- maybe it is that thing we're looking for! also, he mentioned the trolls-- they might have the other one? i thought it might be important." thanks for not being lazy with the foreshadowing & instead having the orcs be pretty with it.