Grunts! is a a fantasy novel by British author Mary Gentle and originally published in 1992. It is told from the point of view of a band of Orcs (the titular "grunts"). It riffs on the ideas explored by Gentle and others in the anthology, Villains: Who Needs Heroes Anyway? published in the same year, writing High Fantasy from the perspective of the villain. At the time, this was a new idea in fantasy writing and Villains and Grunts! were considered pretty innovative for it.Samhain is fast approaching and the Last Battle between the forces of Light and Darkness with it. Mighty armies and noble heroes gather. The Dark Lord's forces are legion and the wings of his dragons and wyverns shall blot out the sky. The forces of Light are outnumbered and full of reckless, headstrong heroes whose idea of tactical thought is discussing which way they're going to charge. They'll win, of course. And orcs, the poor dumb sword fodder on the frontline for the Dark Lord will die in droves. This is the way of things. So it has been and so it shall be.Ashnak, a War Captain of the Agaku, is ordered by the Nameless Necromancer to steal powerful artifacts from a dragon's hoard. It turns out that said dragon is dead, and that the dragon with her dying breath cursed the hoard, to turn every thief into that which was stolen. The dragon was also the multiverse's keenest collector of weapons and militaria. Guess what the orcs steal.The novel involves a lot of Black Comedy, Refuge in Audacity, and generally reveling in subverting a bunch of fantasy and Hollywood war and action movie stereotypes. Gentle wrote the novel while recovering from injuries she suffered in a car crash, which caused chronic pain.
Tropes seen in this work include:
Abnormal Ammo: Tech-Captain Ugarit comes up with a lot of this in his attempt to get around the vulnerability of the orcs' modern firearms to simple magic; ceramic swords, teflon-coated arrowheads. Later, during a Shout-Out to Aliens a sentry gun is loaded with smart bullets.
Smart bullet:"Sir! Ready for action, sir! Shoot me at the bastards now sir!"
Alien Catnip: The bugs really love tea. When they discover it, a few of them seem to get sleepy and forget what they were fighting about.
Alternate Universe: Dagurashibanipal's cave also contained several stable portals to other worlds / universes, which is where the dragon collected her militaria from.
Anti-Magic: Talismans which create a field of this are how the orcs get around the problem of their guns being vulnerable to simple spells to stop them working. The orcs wear them as dog-tags.
Armed Farces: Military joking aplenty, oddly enough. From the hapless recruits under Gunnery Sergeant Ashnak early in the evolution of the Orc Marines to the equally hapless elf recruits and their orc trainer Sgt. Dakashnit later on. Dakashnit's advice for her recruits on what to do if their parachute fails, in particular.
Barbarian Hero: Lord Blond Wolf, is a northern barbarian; complete with wolf-fur boots and cloak, huge blond braids and a really bigaxe. However, he's only 2' 7".
Blood Sport: Orcball a game strongly resembling American Football and / or Rugby and played with the severed head of a fallen enemy. Or sometimes, when you want a game and there's a paucity of fallen enemies...
"The good news is, you made the Orcball team! The bad news is...as the ball."
— Sgt.Major Guzrak, Grunts!
Bug War: Near the end, when a race of insectoid aliens appear.
Butch Lesbian: Sgt. Varimnak and her unit of Badgurlz. Non-feminine job or attire? Well, soldiering is generally considered less than feminine and guns, fatigues, tattoos, mohawks and belts covered in spikes aren't either.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Will and Ned Brandiman, halfling thieves. Backstabbed Ashnak and his small band who were escorting them to start with and promptly sold the Nameless Necromancer's plans to the Named shortly after. Moved on to double-crossing the forces of Light. They were trying to double-cross the orcs again when they brought the nullity talismans to Nin-Edin, but hadn't banked on Ashnak still being alive and recognising them.
Curse: Dagurashibanipal's horde of weapons came equipped with a powerful curse, "You Will Become What You Steal," causing the orcs to take on the mannerisms of the original owners of the stolen arms. It was also flavoured with a geas encouraging them to teach others their ways and thus, spread the curse further.
Dark Is Evil: Exaggerated with the Dark Lord, whose footsteps kill flowers and cause flagstones to crack from age and conversed early on:
"Sir! Permission to call this squad Black Squad, sir!"
"Denied. We already have fifteen Black Squads, twelve Dark Squads, four Raven Sqauds, three Midnight Squads, one Sable Squad, one Ebony Squad and one," she glanced at a sheet of paper, "Pink Squad. Yes...we're all a little worried about Pink Squad."
Dartboard of Hate: In this case, the orcs don't use a picture; they nail one of their own to the wall and paint a target on her belly.
Mordor: A glance at the maps in the frontispieces of Grunts! quickly tell you where the Dark Lord lives. Yep, over there, in the East. Where it says "The Dark Lands"; separated from the rest of the world by a huge mountain range littered with orc forts and a Necromancer's Tower.
Obligatory War Crime Scene: After the breaking of the siege at Nin-Edin, the Orcs attack the Light's baggage train, supposed to be sacrosanct under the Rules Of War in retaliation for hardships suffered.
The Political Officer: Having spent a lot of time reading over the political philosophy texts in Dagurashibanipal's hoard, Marine Razitshakra turns into Marine Commissar Razitshakra, complete with Commissar Cap and Russian Army greatcoat, monitoring her fellow orcs for "idealogical instability".
Semper Fi: As soon as they start taking the cursed weapons from Dagurashibanipal's hoard, the orcs begin aping marine manarisms, and almost instantly become true believes in the myth of the marine as a blood-thirstypowerhouse of a warrior.
The Undead: Unsurprisingly, given they work for the Nameless Necromancer (at least initially) there are some Undead Orcs. They, being magical, can't use the nullity talismans and decide to devote themselves to covert commando operations, forming the Special Undead Services, Motto: "Death Then Glory."
Vote Early, Vote Often: Upon his return, the Dark Lord declares that war is passe and he wishes to conquer the world via politics instead. Eager to please their Evil Overlord, and ensure his victory and their own continued success, Ashnak and the orcs get down to some serious ballot box stuffing.