Orbit has this little teaser video for what I can only describe as one of the most unusual fantasy novels I’ve read in recent years, Jesse Bullington’s The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, which they’ve just released this month. I’d never come across anything by Bullington before but there are times when you pick up a book and just know right away that you’re going to love it before you’ve even read a word; I’ve never been sure exactly how that works, presumably its an Awesome Power booksellers and heavy readers acquire and we should not enquire too deeply into it but simply accept it (for my part I think it comes from a papercut from a radioactive book as a child).
All I know is when I get that tingle about a new book its rarely steered me wrong. Then in SFX recently they lavished some attention on Bullington and mentioned how one of our smartest writers, Jeff VanderMeer, had been mightily impressed with the Brothers Grossbart. Regular readers will know I hold Jeff’s writing in high esteem and he’s equally respected for his reviews and championing of good new SF&F books and comics, so when he recommends a new author, we should pay attention (on a related note Jeff informs us that his new work Finch will be coming out in the UK next summer from Grove Atlantic). Yep, seems that tingle was once more leading me true.
The story itself is a gritty take… No, strike that, not gritty – dirty; deliciously so. Its rude and vulgar and nasty in places, but for appropriate effect, not just shock (it suits the historical period and characters perfectly), as it plays brilliantly with Medieval mores, foklore and the old fairy tales before they were cleaned up and sweetened for the delight of children. The brothers are an ugly pair, both physically and ethically, drawn from a line of grave-robbers and the tale starts with vicious, brutal, almost casual murders before more fantastical elements flutter in, from the darkened woods which every child knows is home to other worldly creatures and to be avoided, to bizarre creatures in a snowed in village and more. Its not for the easily offended but for those who do pick it up its one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read in years (if you loved SF writer Richard Morgan’s hardboiled, noir take on fantasy the other year then this is for you) and, much as I love the genre, it’s fair to say it has more than its share of interchangeable generic series, so its immensely refreshing when someone comes along and kicks the genre up its leather britches-covered behind like this. The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart will be making my list of best books of the year; highly recommended.