Review: The Orc of Many Questions by Shane Michael Murray

(“A book with nonhuman characters” from the Reading Challenge)

I got this book specifically because it seemed like it would have an unorthodox take on orcs, and I was not disappointed.

The story follows a young orc (a “blunc”) who unusually has a fairly sharp mind and a very inquisitive nature; not attributes that are looked on favorably in his tribe. Large, powerful orcs who can be successful in raids against the humans, elves, and dwarves of the world are the ideal, this being the only way that the orcs can procure food, weapons, goods, and “entertainment.” Talking-Wind wants to know why his people are stuck in this life of constant raiding, and even has some hints that life was not always like this for orcs, but he has more questions than answers, and little time to search for them. Talking-Wind’s curiosity draws unwanted attention not only from the other young orcs, who are all too happy to bully someone smaller and weaker, but also from the dragon that demands regular tribute from the orc clan. When the dragon comes for him, Talking-Wind needs all his wits in order to have a hope of surviving long enough to get all of his many questions answered!

This book was a lot grosser than I was expecting, which perhaps should not have surprised me given the subject of the story; there is some gore, but mainly a lot of unpleasant bodily functions! This does not detract from the story, but might be something to be aware of.

It also does a good job with starting to break down the standard fantasy trope of “orcs are evil because they are evil,” which has bothered me more and more in recent years. A certain well-known fantasy series that shall not be named recently doubled-down on this, after spending several books/years looking like they too might be reversing or at least questioning the trope, which annoyed me. Partly for that reason, I’ve been looking for stories that do better and don’t automatically go the route of saying that some races are actually evil by nature. To me, that makes for much less interesting villains/enemies. Easier to kill with a clean conscience, perhaps, but not much else.

There is a sequel which I have not gotten to yet, but do hope to read soon! I would recommend this one to anyone who is interested in a subversion of typical fantasy tropes, anyone who likes a very down-to-earth-complete-with-bodily-fluids type of story, or anyone who happens to be interested in orcs as a fantasy race.

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One thought on “Review: The Orc of Many Questions by Shane Michael Murray

  1. Years ago I read a book from the Redwall series, which seemed to have a similar problem (although elsewhere in the series there was one weasel who started off bad but changed his ways and allied himself with the good guys). In this particular book though, they find an abandoned baby weasel that they try to raise in the Abbey, and sorry to spoil the ending but he goes bad and the moral was that it wasn’t really his fault for being that way. So that was a bit of a failing of the story, but I’m glad that this topic is getting some better treatment elsewhere.

    In general though, the whole (or at least the original) premise behind having evil beings like vampires or demons is the idea that good and evil are forces at work in the world independent of and prior to man and his capacity to choose.

    I think it’s interesting how these sorts of contradictions can sort of work themselves out as different authors try to think about things from different angles. In this case, I think that as people have tried to make something with more psychological plausibility, and therefore personal relevance and depth of characterization to bad guys, they come to a description of what makes them bad which comes closer to the truth about good and evil. And I think that, the more that a character’s actions are depicted as the product of choice, the more clearly one can come to a perspective on how to judge those actions, whether positively or negatively.

    Still though, as you said, not all authors are coming to it with that perspective, so it’s good to see it when it happens.

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