Title: The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart
Author: Jesse Bullington
Release Date: November 16, 2009
I really wanted to love this book. For the first half I did, then it was just “OK, I like this, but is it over yet?” Now, this could just be me and my attention span for fantasy, but as far as fantasy goes, this has a lot going for it. Expect this review to have a lot of mixed messages, and that’s largely because I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. So much so that it’s taken me months to figure out how to write it, and I think it’s still going to be a bit disorganized. Please bear with me.
Let me first start with the plot. It is reminiscent of old folklore and fairy tale, which is to say it shows the characters in a linear story line on a journey with episodic adventures. As is typical with this kind of story, the main characters bounce from (mis)adventure to (mis)adventure. It starts out as an entertaining jump from supernatural creatures to witches, but then it becomes a story about the plague, crooked or perhaps cracked persons, and a quest to “Gyptland” to rob the graves of Kings. Somehow, the back country wanderings were more entertaining than when “civilization” was introduced. It was rambling and longer than necessary.
Manfried and Hegel are not heroes. Do not even get remotely confused about that. They are vile excuses for human beings who rob graves and take advantage of anyone and everyone who comes in their way. The brothers think themselves pious while robbing graves and killing indiscriminately. Despite all of this, however, they do have some very hilarious conversations. These conversations are somewhat difficult to follow at times because Mr. Bullington didn’t feel the need to always indicate who was talking, but there are some choice lines in there.
I think I wanted both more and less out of this book. I wanted more of the supernatural aspect, to have it be more folktale and less in the company of other humans. Interactions here and there episodically would have been fine, but as soon as we hit Venice, about halfway through the story, it was downhill for me. It stopped being as “folktale-ish” and just started feeling long. With bouts of fun conversations, disgusting bits, and the quest to rob graves, this is a story without a clear beginning, middle or end, and if you want that out of a story, or even satisfying main characters, go find another book.
After my own rambling about this book, would I recommend it? Eh, sure. It’s not a difficult read. I think the idea is fun, and there are certainly fun parts. If anything, I would say this is a fun alternative beach read and when reading in public I did find that the cover started conversation. I definitely got some interesting looks for reading a book about medieval grave robbers. This isn’t the best book of the decade, but it’s a fairly enjoyable read.
Rating: 3 / 5