The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart
by Jesse Bullington
Review by Liz de Jager
Orbit Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781841497839
Date: 05 November 2009 List Price £7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /
Orbit publish this astonishing début novel by American newcomer Jesse Bullington. The Sad Tale of The Brothers Grossbart is a quite extraordinary piece following the dark adventures of a pair of psychotic brothers marauding through medieval Europe. It is a novel of great humour, deep theology and gratuitous murder and quite unlike anything I've read before. I absolutely loved it and hotly tip this hugely powerful and wickedly playful début as one of the books of the year for sure! Reviewed in this issue by Liz de Jager.
"In the plague-wracked and devil-haunted darkness of Medieval Europe, an elite few enjoy opulent lives while the majority eke out a miserable existence in abject poverty. Hungry creatures stalk the deep woods and desolate mountains, and both sea and sky teem with unspeakable horrors. For those ill-fated masses not born into wealth, life is but a vicious trial to be endured before the end of days. Hegel and Manfried Grossbart could give a toss. Being of low birth means little, after all, when the riches of the mighty wait just inside the next crypt. The grave-robbing twins know enough about crusading to realise that if one is to make a living from the dead, what better destination than the fabled tomb-cities of Egypt? But the Brothers Grossbart are about to discover that all legends have their truths, and worse fates than death await those who would take the red road of villainy ..."
This is not your average medieval caper, not by a long shot. It's rude, it's sweary, the main characters are devious, heartless, ruthless and selfish and you love them for it whilst desperately hoping that they get caught short because, they are villains!
Welcome to medieval Europe where no one looks like Princess Buttercup. It's a place riddled with the plague and people barely eek out any kind of existence from the dirt. Beasts from mythology and legend lurk in the dark, Death stalks the roads, and because of the extreme poverty a lot of people don't live very long, and to be honest, this is exactly what our two main characters Manfred and Hegel like. The dead genuinely do not need to be buried with some of their earthly treasures, right?
I maybe should have pointed out at the beginning of this that if you are of a delicate persuasion, this is not a book for you – there is a lot of foul language and fouler deeds. Certain words are used which will get you tossed out on your ear in modern society but bearing in mind these guys' background and their continued search for the big score, and you'll know exactly where they are coming from.
With the brothers Grossbart you are assured double the badnicity as they travel from Europe to Africa in pursuit of outlandish legendary treasures. As the brothers travel they engage in a constant dialogue and it makes for entertaining reading and it's all too obvious that these guys aren't high on the IQ scores but they are devious and have base instincts which sometimes leads them wrong but somehow, they manage. My biggest fear is that as the story progresses, you get to feel that you've seen how they deal with certain situations a few pages back already. Because they have this reputation of being, well, the brothers Grossbart, some of the situations they find themselves in works as a double edged sword and you get to wonder if they are really just in the wrong place at the wrong time or do they make truly rubbish choices.
As a reader I found myself both rooting for them and wishing they would get their comeuppance and some of the stuff these guys get up to is just unreal and laugh out loud hilarious.
So, enough about the brothers for now and a quick word about how achingly real the settings and world is which Jesse Burlington introduces to us. It is a dark world and a sinister place in which rumours are rife and religion and folklore walk hand in hand. The setting grows, the world accompanying the brothers is well padded, intelligently written, showcasing the author's writing prowess, whilst mirroring the vile acts these twin brothers get up to.
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Burlington is not for the faint-hearted but should you be in the mood for something different from handsome heroes that pervade our history lessons, you can do worse than giving this a try. It has everything an enquiring, literate mind could ask for - intrigue, villains, priests, theology and religion, folklore, mythology dastardly deeds, robbery, death, mayhem. And that's just the first three chapters...