Better late than never, as they say. Last fall, I finally read Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company, the omnibus comprised of the first Black Company sequence. I loved how the author kicked the fantasy genre in the balls on more than one occasion, dispensing with most of the tropes which made the genre what it is.
I was eager to pick up the tale of this motley group of misfits and see where Cook would take Croaker and the rest of the gang. South, I supposed. . . Unfortunately, this next sequence was not as fun and entertaining as the first trilogy.
In Shadow Games, the story picks up right where The White Rose ended. Darling, Silent, and the Torque brothers go their own way, leaving the others behind. Croaker and the remnants of the Black Company head south to reclaim the Annals and discover the secrets of the Company's origins in Khatovar.
Croaker remains the narrator, and his witty and sardonic observations are one of the highlights of this book. The man is aware of his strengths and shortcomings, and it's always a joy to follow his narrative.
"Huh?" I come armed with a whole arsenal of such brilliant repartee.
Even though the sparring between One-Eye and Goblin is at times hilarious, and the relationship between Croaker and Lady interesting, the truth is that not much truly happens in this book other than seeing the Black Company travel south. The story picks up near the end and Cook closes the show with a bang. But to a certain extent, it's a case of too little, too late.
Dreams of Steel has more to offer, but it suffers from the change of main POV character. Croaker was, for me at least, the true voice of the Black Company and his prolonged absence took something away from this second volume. Relegating Croaker to a secondary role wouldn't have been too bad had we learned more about Lady and her past. This was the perfect opportunity to get in the head of what used to be the most powerful woman in the world, yet we learn next to nothing about her. That was disappointing, to say the least. . .
Be that as it may, Dreams of Steel remains the Black Company installment which showed the most depth thus far. The Deceivers, Kina, the Daughter of Night, etc, this one sets the stage for what will follow.
But to my dismay, the stage is set for the next Black Company sequence, not the next volume. Indeed, The Silver Spike follows the misadventures of a band of rogues who steal the silver spike from the tree in the Barrowland. And though it's nice to see Darling, Silent, and other characters again, the absence of the Black Company is sorely felt. Case's narrative is entertaining, and so is Smeds'. But again, there was something missing.
All in all, The Books of the South omnibus is a fun yet uneven read. But it certainly makes you want to find out what will take place in The Glittering Stone.
The final verdict: 7.25/10
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