Bastards of Liberty by Matthew Zorich


In the heart of the Holy Imperium, a family’s lives are shattered. Runt Ashburn, the youngest of three siblings, journeys to seek his father needing answers. His sister Alsyha, now an indentured servant to blacksmiths, plots her escape and revenge. At the same time, the oldest, Ashburn Benjamin, juggles the life of a soldier and the pressure of a father who’s the General of an army. Political forces twist around the three siblings. Could one of their deaths lead to a revolution?


*Review note, I read/reviewed Matthew’s book months before I joined the Silverstones Blog team, this is nearly word for word what I wrote then and still believe today. Some minor adjustments made to wording/phrasing/flow for clarity.*

Can we just start with that cover??? That’s a beaut right there. Made me want to pick this book up just based on the cover alone.

Bastards of Liberty is an epic fantasy that has a basis in alt-world American history, specifically the American Revolution. I think that’s an original, interesting angle and the book doesn’t disappoint. Some things are pretty obvious (aka taxes on everything, a printer named Franklin) but others are more subtle nods with bigger impact (friends/lovers turning on each other based on their allegiance to crown or rebellion). Then sprinkle in elves, dwarves, orcs, and goblins and you have this amazing melting pot (see what I did there?) of a world.

If we take a look at the three main characters Alsyha, Rhett (aka Runt), and Ben, we see three siblings with insanely different paths to tread. If I’m being truthful, Alsyha is far and away the most compelling and has the largest character growth. We watch her go from simple village girl pining after a dude (who turned out to be that douchebag who turned allegiance) to witnessing her mother and village slaughtered, to being an indentured slave, to becoming a blacksmith apprentice, to a badass who clearly has some magic by the end. Bravo Alsyha, excellent character arc. Runt has some great growth too, don’t get me wrong, but he also has a lot of friends along his journey and since this story is written in omniscient 3rd person point of view (more on that below), he isn’t always the very center of his scenes. And Ben, we don’t get much about him to be honest, so he is middling as a character for me that I know will get more screen time in later books.

The cast of characters (the bastards if you will) is not only huge but also wildly entertaining. Sure, the three main characters are the children of a certain banished general, but I think the supporting characters deserve a lot of praise for being well-rounded and each have their own motivations, which is damn important. Many times, side characters are bland and only serve small parts of the overall plot, and that is perfectly fine, but since this series is a mimic of the American Revolution, it is quite necessary for side characters to be nuanced and important, to have roles in sowing the seeds for rebellion. For me, this is why Gray Jim is the best of them all. He is an executioner but he also has this sense of morality about him. He knows what he does can be considered evil, but he also knows that it’s just a job that he was forced into. I love how conflicted he is, but then the next moment he is letting bygones be bygones and helping the bastards out. We need more characters like him! It’s also hard to not like Angus the angry line cook dwarve. I mean, I actually did chortle out loud when he corrected a character over the difference between dwarve and dwarf. Besides, his weapon of choice is a cast iron pan (Tika Waylan anyone???)

Oh, and big shoutout to Mr. Zorich for his naming of characters: Cordial, Stitch, last names such as Flatrock, Purenut, Goldthorn, etc. Pretty neat names, very fitting for this type of atmosphere.

As far as storytelling, there are a few pace issues at times but for the most part, it is a pretty decently paced story. There are no major lulls or unnecessary threads. The prose is well-crafted and easily digestible. There isn’t a lot of purple prose here. This isn’t indicative of my reading experience but I can see how it could be for others, but 3rd person omniscient can become quite confusing when jumping from one character POV to another paragraph after paragraph, especially during action sequences like the climax riot. Again, I was fine with it, but it could be jarring for some, so be advised of this going in.

I realize this might make me seem irritably pedantic, but dialogue tags at the end of a character’s turn to speak was not something I enjoyed, especially when said character had a lot to add to the conversation or was a new character I couldn’t place a voice to. It was added to the end when the character was done speaking, so many times I had to go back and reread the dialogue just because I wanted to ensure I had character and motivation correct. The pedant in me likes the dialogue tag to be within the first sentence of speech, just so that I’m armed with all the correct information as the character expands on their thoughts.

Although I love a massive cast of characters, I wish there was a bit more restraint in adding POV characters. I know the general on the Council of Crows is important and will probably play a bigger role in the next two books, but we get only a single chapter of him and thus it bears a heavy load of introducing us to someone we need to not only care about, but also to understand what role he plays in the larger story. But he just disappears after that scene. Same goes with the prince’s guards and their lustful waltz through the night. Both scenes were integral to moving the plot along, I just wish there was a way to use only one of those characters as the POV in both so that we get more of a chance to connect.

But for the big one for me, it was the info dumps. Listen, fair friends, I love me a good info dump. I love learning about these worlds authors spends days, weeks, years, decades building. I love all the little details, but there are ways and places for info dumps to exist, and it needs to be sporadic. Unfortunately, I felt there were far too many multi-paragraph info dumps dropped in spots where it killed the tension. For example, we got a military history of a side character right as said character was in the middle of destroying and butchering Alsyha’s family and town. The tension was high then sagged when you, as a reader, want that tension to keep peaking.

Bastards of Liberty is an excellent read, blending fantasy and American history into a dwarven skillet cooking over the flames of war. Despite the few minor niggles above, I absolutely enjoyed this book. I’m eagerly awaiting the second book in this series as the history buff in me needs closure, because let’s just say this book ends on a massive cliffhanger mid-scene. Well done, Mr. Zorich, well done. The sequel, Maiden of Storms, is scheduled to release later this year, so check this book out soon!