Queen of the Orcs by Morgan Howell

I can be quite a picky reader, especially when it comes to fantasy about one of my favourite species – Orcs!

A few years back I was lamenting the lack of decent literature portraying orcs as protagonists. There were some excellent works available back then, such as Mary Gentle’s Grunts! and Stan Nicholls’ Orcs – First Blood series, but when compared to other works featuring the more favored fantasy races, these were very much in a minority.

Browsing on the internet on day I got to searching for other orc related literature, and courtesy of Google Books came across an author I had no prior knowledge of: Morgan Howell, who had published a trilogy called Queen of the Orcs.

Queen of the Orcs book 1: Kings Property

My proclivity for orc related fiction lead me to obtain this series eftsoons I was able to. No sooner had I obtained the series than I set to reading them .

The tale is about a young human woman named Dar. Born to poverty in what could be described as a feudal kingdom, she is effectively the lowest of the low. The story does not spend much time on her abusive childhood, but pulls few punches either. The reader quickly gets a feel for the grim nature of daily life in the kingdom.

Soon enough Dar is recruited (sold) into the army where she and a number of other young woman find they have to prepare food for a maniple or orcs who form part of the kings army.

As the army travels, Dar gradually discovers the orcs to be far more complex creatures than the brutal monsters that they are portrayed to be.

I do not wish to delve too much into the story as I fear doing so would inevitably cause some spoilers to become apparent.

Queen of the Orcs book 2: Clan Daughter

What I can do is highly recommend this series. The author has gone to a great deal of effort to describe a complex and different culture in the orcs, going so far as to dedicate a number of appendix pages to their language and specific notes of cultural importance.

Howell’s orcs are far from being pushovers. When battle comes they prove their fearsome reputation in gory detail.

Queen of the Orcs book 3: Royal Destiny

I was impressed with Morgan Howell’s work on this series. So much so that I did a little digging and found that Morgan Howell is a pseudonym, used by author Will Hubbell.

The previous iteration of this site did not delve into much detail about books, simply providing a Recommended Reading page. I write a very short recommendation and contacted the Mr. Hubbell, congratulating him on his evocative work.

While I have lost that specific correspondence, my recollection was that he chose a relatively female sounding pseudonym so as to better get to grips writing a story about a female protagonist. It certainly had me thinking the author was a woman. I would be greatly interested to hear from any female readers out there, to hear if the authors self set challenge was met, or if he perhaps missed the mark on occasion.

Moran Howell has gone on to publish another series in the same setting, entitled The Shadowed Path. While I have obtained that series I have not yet read them. A while after our initial correspondence, I received a short note from Mr Hubbell to advise me that he had written a stand along orc related novel in the same setting. This one, Called A Single Deed, he was going to self publish. It is not easily available where I stay but I do hope to order it some time, so that I can revisit the rich, well written orc culture Morgan Howell has created.

A Single Deed
Kings Property – Revised Cover
Clan Daughter – Revised Cover
Royal Destiny – Revised Cover

Grunts! by Mary Gentle

Grunts! Corgi/Bantam - Les Edwards
Bantam(UK)/Corgi Cover by Les Edwards

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.

Roc cover - Romas
Roc cover by Romas

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.

Roc/New American library cover.
Roc/New American library cover.

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

Gateway Essentials
Gateway Essentials cover