S.E rating: 5 of 5 stars
Gritty, Mysterious Adventure: Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company starts off a lengthy series with a large following (which I have finally joined). Thanks to a Sword & Sorcery group read on Goodreads I did not entirely miss a series born in 1984, which I had naively figured was just another fantasy series. I mistakenly thought it was just tales about silly comrades, with more brawn than brain, going from one job to another. The Company is not just some band of brutes going from one mission/employer to the next; it is a professional army for hire that has a history longer than most States/Kingdoms. Expect lots of intricate gritty warfare infused with warrior magicians dolling out spells that liquefy mountains and topple the sky. By reading these chronicles, you are (more or less) reading the Annals; well, you almost become part of the Company.
This first-person narrative is compelling: Our narrator, Croaker, is a physician and warrior, but he has the singular duty of recording the Annals of the Company. Below are a number of quotes to convey his voice. His succinct observations add an unexpected, very satisfying, level of intelligence. The Annals (as physical books) are rarely mentioned/accounted for; however, the storytelling was so engaging I often overlooked the notion that Croaker appears bookless.
Pleasantly mysteries adventure: Cook throws the reader into the deep-end from the start. Strangely even this reprint has no map (which would have been welcome to orient readers). The scale of adventure ranges from skirmishes, to grand battles, to sorties with selected members. The Company seems to range in size from one hundred men to a few thousand. Their employees and their enemies are many and complex.It becomes clear that the conflicts are many and intertwined, but thankfully consistent. Without spoiling anything, I can reveal that it will take 50% of the book to communicate that the Lady is the primary employer of the Company, and her secondary commanders are the Taken (usually undead/possessed sorcerers) which also battle one another. All these are in battle with another army led by the Rebel (and his Circle of eighteen). Somehow Cook manages to dose out just the right amount of information to keep you hooked.
Characters are interesting and a strength They have concise names whether they be the narrator (Croaker), an enemy (Rebel, or Dominator), a Company member (Captain, Lieutenant), or sorcerer (One-Eye, Catcher, Lady, etc.). We learn about everyone via Croaker’s narration which is often profound. One-Eye and Goblin are two of the Company’s few sorcerers (Silent being another Key one); they continually have contests of antagonistic sorcery, like brothers. Then there is a new addition who joins early on named Raven who has a truly mysterious backstory. Croaker voted to enlist him saying, “I voted aye. I smelled a mystery and did not want it to get away.” Which is what I feel now about these book. There are many mysterious left in the series of the Black Company … and I do not want them to get away!
Cover Confusion/Caution TOR used the beautiful Raymond Swanland cover for both (a) a release of Book #1 Black Company and (b) and Omnibus edition of Books 1-3 of the series. I recommend just buying the omnibus from the start (same cover, almost same price, more books).
Croaker’s Voice (Various, disconnected quotes)
We all have our pasts. I suspect we keep them nebulous not because we are hiding from our yesterdays but because we think we will cut more romantic figures if we roll our eyes and dispense delicate hints about beautiful women forever beyond our reach.
When I reflect on my companion’s inner nature I usually wish I controlled one small talent. I wish I could look inside them and unmask the darks and brights that move them. Then I take a quick look into the jungle of my own soul and realize that I cannot. Any man who barely sustains an armistice with himself has no business picking around in an alien soul.
One-Eye is at least a hundred years old. The Annals mention the wizened little black man’s tempers throughout the last century. There is no telling when he joined. Seventy years’ worth of Annals were lost when the Company’s positions were overrun at the Battle of Urban. One-Eye refuses to illuminate the missing years. He says he does not believe in history.
One-Eye cheats. But never when Raven is playing.
Silent smiled, shrugged, stalked over to the stone pile and seated himself. He was done with the question game. Of all the Company he is the least concerned about the image he portrayed in the Annals. He does not care whether people like or hate him, does not care where he has been or where he is going. Sometimes I wonder if he cares whether he lives or dies, wonder what makes him stay.
I am a haunted man. I am haunted by the Limper’s screams. I am haunted by the Lady’s laughter. I am haunted by my suspicion that we were furthering the cause of something that deserves to be scrubbed from the face of the earth. I am haunted by the conviction that those bent upon the Lady’s eradication are little better than she…I am haunted by the clear knowledge that, in the end, evil always triumphs.
My last glimpse of Catcher was of a weary person slumped in unhappiness. I guess it is hard for them to live up to their reputations. We all want people to like us.
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