I have to say this was an enjoyable read. If you combined Platoon with Lord of the Rings with The Last of the Mohicans, then Stan Nicolls's Orcs is what you'd get. I love texts that tell us stories from the viewpoints of either "bad" or minor charactors of well known works and Orcs sets out to do just that by telling the tale of an Orc warband called the Wolverines, led by it's captain, Stryke.
Orcs is an omnibus of three novels: Bodyguard of Lightening, Legion of Thunder and Warriors of the Tempest (and there was a very short story at the end called "The Taking"). This saga lives up to the claim on the back cover that "Nicholls will make you change the way you think about Orcs forever." One of its particularly enjoyable aspects is that it is a complete catalogue of every fantasy race or animal you've ever heard of. Nicholls includes everything from Elves, Orcs and Dwarves to Centaurs, Brownies, Gremlins, Fairies, Pixies and even Satyrs… Nicholls also has a knack for exciting descriptions of large battles, hand to hand combat scenes and landscapes that make the story come alive for the reader.
Nicholls does successfully subvert the usual tropes of good and evil and beauty and monstrosity that are common in post-Tolkien writings. He uses the viewpoint of the Other to challenge the traditional subjectivity of this genre, however, sometimes (only sometimes) it feels as if he's overemphasising the viewpoint needlessly. The loyal warband at the centre of the tale manages to convince the reader that Orcs are not monsters but as a race born to war, they are just and honourable warriors who are forced, at times, into service of those who do not uphold their own values.
Orcs has a straight-forward, linear plot that is fast moving and filled with battles, making for a quick read (which is good considering the trilogy is 700 pages!) and all in all, the saga is a fantastic page-turner with a refreshing viewpoint. Anyone who loves Tolkien and other fantasy writings will love Orcs.
PS…I think I'd like to write an extended reading of this novel elsewhere but for those who care about such things, Nicholls is not completely subversive. There is no attempt to overturn the usual gendered tropes. Typically, the big baddy is a sex and power crazed hybrid female who is dangerously alluring. I won't give away the ending for this queen but it is partly why I gave the title four instead of five stars…