Possibly the original book depicting orcs as the main protagonists, Grunts! by Mary Gentle first saw publication in 1992. I am not one to make a habit out of re-reading books, yet this is one of the few exceptions I have made. Simply put Grunts! Is a very fun book to read!
Without giving too much away, the story starts off as pretty much standard old school high fantasy cannon. The Dark Lord is gathering his forces for the Final Battle. It is at this time that we meet band leader Ashnak of the fighting Agaku. Let us just say shortly thereafter things go pear shaped and then the story takes a sharp left and heads off into non High Fantasy territory. All in all an entertaining read that I can recommend to anyone looking for something a bit different.
But that’s not the whole point of this post. I am sure far more qualified people have reviewed this excellent book since its publication.
For me the most exciting thing about Grunts! (over and above the great read) was that it depicted orcs as the heroes. Well lead protagonists or maybe anti heroes if you like. It gave one a glimpse into what orcs could be about and came up with a bit of a standard for orcish names. Marukka, Dakashnit, Razitshakra etc all found their names used as time went by when I was Game Master in our local RuneQuest group. Suddenly orcs had names and eventually, after much winging on my side, the other core GM (Willo) caved and allowed me to play an orc. But that’s a topic for a future blog.
I think the key contribution Mary Gentle made by publishing Grunts! was to prove it could be done. There were punters out there eager for this type of novel. We were not out looking for a treatise explaining how orcs were misunderstood gentle creatures, but wanted to see them in all their violent glory, something Mary Gentle achieved.
So if you have not read Grunts! Yet, go out and get it. From what I can see on the net it has been republished, so it should be easily available.
For those willing to search about for old magazines, look for Orcs Drift by the same author. This is a sort story that was published in the old Valkyrie RPG Magazine (Volume 1, Issue 3 of 1994). It also saw publication on in Odyssey Magazine Volume 0, 1997 as well as the authors Cartomancy collection which was published in 2004.
This article was originally published XXVII April MMXII