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The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart Paperback – November 16, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
With liberal inclusion of vomit, gore and turnips, Bullington's bizarre debut follows two monstrous siblings across 1364 Europe and the Middle East as they seek ever-richer graves to rob. The Crusades, the papal schism and the Black Death all make appearances, as do the obligatory witches, priests and knights. In addition to robbing, torturing and murdering innocent peasants, the brothers dispatch demons and imitation popes while debating theology and the nature of mercy, e.g., finishing a victim off rather than leaving him for the crows. The mix of grimmer-than-Grimm fairy tale tropes, spaghetti Western dialogue (Yeah, can't suffer no traitorous churls to keep on bein traitorous) and medieval history is striking and often funny, but it may not be compelling enough to keep readers slogging along with the brothers' endless travels and copious letting of bodily fluids. (Nov.)
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When the Brothers Grimm published their celebrated folktales, critics took aim at the inclusion of disturbing material unsuitable for children. Modeled after the grimmest of the Grimm tales, Bullington’s debut about a pair of villainous medieval brothers throws aside any concerns for children from the first chapter, aiming instead at gross-out horror fans. Aside from plundering graves and waylaying strangers, Manfried and Hegel Grossbart’s one consuming interest is crossing plague-ridden fourteenth-century Europe to an imagined Egyptian palace, where their grandfather is hoarding stolen treasure. Along the way, the brothers cross paths with assorted brigands, witches, madmen, and fallen priests, robbing when expedient and killing where necessary. In one escapade, the Grossbarts incinerate the family of a neighboring farmer who mistreated them as children. In another, they befriend a priest who recounts his own horrific adventures during the Crusades. Bullington makes little attempt to cast his protagonists as sympathetic anti-heroes; the Grossbarts are cutthroats to the core. Yet Bullington’s masterfully engaging style marks him as a writer of considerable promise. --Carl Hays
Top customer reviews
And while it does have that sort of Grimm's Fairy Tale vibe to it, which it seems to obviously be striving for, its overall horror though is amplified with the grotesque descriptions of sex and violence. Plus, on the historical side of things, the book is really missing the mark - particularly in the dialogue. There are some jarring anachronisms (like "truckin'") and just a general vernacular that doesn't work with the time period at all. With all the gore, it just gets repetitive after a while, too. I like the twin language of the brothers, but they just aren't easy characters to root for. While I don't hate them, I don't particularly like them either... It hooked me past my 50 page cutting off point, but I can't say that I am really enjoying it as I continue reading... it just drags on... and on...
And with a cast of characters this large, you would think at least one of them would be likable! Or even fun to hate, but none of them are developed enough to feel anything for them all! The perspective shifts a lot too, which just makes it harder to connect with any of them! And some of the shifts are mid-paragraph! Not just shifts that align with the chapters! In the end, with less than a hundred pages left, I am just setting this one aside - the gross imagery and few moments of humour between its awful characters and directionless plot are all adding up to me not caring about this at all. I like the cover a lot, but I really feel like I have been wasting my time struggling to get this far into it! What a disappointment!
Their adventures take place against the historical background of the so-called 'Avignon captivity' (1305-77, involving the Papal state, the kings of France, German and Italian potentates), aftermath of the second wave of the Bubonic Plague (1361-63), and a crusade led by king Peter of Cyprus against Alexandria (1365).
The novel abounds in a cavalcade of gory life-or-death fights, encounters with human adversaries and temporary allies (yeomen, mercenaries, men of the cloth, sea captain), as well as with demoniacs (demon-possessed persons), a forest witch devotee of the sorcerer-godess Hekate, a mysterious mermaid changeling, and sundry -- some of the scenes, however, border on being disgusting if you are squeamish. As an antidote, funny situations also come into play, like the one describing the hallucinatory effects of spoiled rye (pp. 186-90):
"They broke bread and the bread broke them, that day and those that followed blurring into a harrowing passage not only through the mountains but also deeper, less explored regions. The Fire of Saint Anthony branded their brains, and only fortune spared their extremities from the toxic rye..."
Character development is present insofar as the reader is offered a chance to partly understand, although not necessarily condone, the oft-questionable deeds of the Grossbarts. The other characters, albeit realistically depicted, are rather one dimensional.
The last 50 or so pages seem to be a bit rushed (from chapter 27 onward), and the book ends not with a bang, but a whimper, leaving the reader bereft of some much anticipated grand final or catharsis. Yet, the first-time novelist's way of weaving the storyline, especially his use of the literary device of 'tale within a tale', plus impressive command of the language augur well for the future.