Chronicles of the Black Company

This omnibus is comprised of Glen Cook's first trilogy, The Black Company, Shadow Lingers, and The White Rose. Athough I've known about Cook for years, I had yet to give him a shot. During our first interview, Steven Erikson elaborated on how much Glen Cook had influenced him, and I made a mental note to finally pick up something by the author. That was two years ago. . .

Mentions of Glen Cook and the Black Company resurfaced again last spring when I hosted a giveaway for The Books of the South omnibus (Canada, USA, Europe). At that point, I promised myself to read the first Black Company omnibus when I returned from Eastern Europe.

And boy am I glad I did! I thoroughly enjoyed this first trilogy and I'm eager to read the rest of the serie. I now understand Erikson when he claims that Cook brought the story to a human level by dispensing with the cliché archetypes of the fantasy genre. Though the face of fantasy has changed dramatically over the course of the last decade or so, one must remember that Cook's first three Black Company novels were released in 1984. At the time, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Raymond E. Feist, and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman dominated the bestseller lists. Hence, Glen Cook's work must have stood out like a pornstar attending a Southern Baptist Church function. And given the state of the current fantasy market, I feel that these books will be better received now that the genre has accepted and even embraced works that go against the grain.

Malazan fans who have yet to discover Glen Cook should put the author at the top of their list, for he was an undeniable influence on Erikson's writing style in general, and on the Bridgeburners in particular. Imagine novels focusing only on Quick Ben, Kalam, Fiddler, Hedge, Whiskeyjack, Antsy, and the rest of the Brideburners, and you can picture what reading the Black Company books is like. Fun is the first word that comes to mind!

Unlike Erikson, however, Cook's worldbuilding is minimal. Instead, the Black Company novels are character-driven affairs, and it's a delight to follow the adventures of this mercenary band. Cook kicks the Good vs Evil trope in the balls on more than one occasion, and the members of the Black Company must face the moral ambiguity of trying to figure out if they are serving the "right" side of the war time and again.

The author seems to have had a ball playing with the genre's preconceptions (recall that these books came out more than 20 years ago), and you can't help but root for this motley group of misfits. Here's to hoping that more readers will discover and appreciate Croaker, Raven, Darling, Silent, the Captain, the Lieutenant, Elmo, Goblin, One-Eye, and the rest of the gang!

The pace is crisp -- these are rather short novels without a single dull moment. At times I would have liked more information and more depth, but this slight shortcoming is overcome by the characterization.

It all begins when the battle-hardened men of the Black Company are hired by one of the Taken, Soulcatcher, to fight for the Lady against the Rebels in the north. A prophecy proclaims that the White Rose has been reborn to oppose the Lady's reign of terror once more. Soon, Croaker and his companions will realize that they got a lot more than they ever bargained for out of this deal, that this conflict hides an even greater menace, and that choosing which side actually serves the greater good of the world is not as easy as it seems.

Perhaps not as groundbreaking today as they were when they were initially published, the three volumes contained in this omnibus are nonetheless as entertaining as anything you are likely to read this year.

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8/10

For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, or you can check out the first volume of the trilogy, The Black Company (Canada, USA, Europe)

8 commentaires:

n.fonseca said...

Only read the first book, but what I liked the most is the fact that the guys in the Black Comapny are far from being the good guys. Worse, they're not even nice, though we couldn't really say they are bad. Cook just waltzes through the question beautifully and knowingly and that is one of the reasons the Black Company is still refreshing and interesting today.

Tree Frog said...

Pat, you would have liked more information and more depth about what in particular?

I gave the Black Company a pretty similar mental rating.

Its exploration of people like Marron Shed and Raven was great, but I didn't feel particularly drawn to many of the characters.

Most of the Black Company itself, other than Goblin and One-Eye, is basically a name and some action anyone could do. It might be Croaker's failing, but the Lady's work in the second trilogy was kinda similar.

Maybe the Glittering Stone books might change that.

Anonymous said...

For Cook doing a very different thing, try the Garrett PI series (starting with Sweet Silver Blues), kind of a fantasy Archie Goodwin & Nero Wolfe PI novel.

However my favourite Glen Cook novel is the stand alone "The Tower of Fear" ... a little bit of Juniper, a little bit of Roman-era Jerusalem, and an entertaining read.


Anonymous said...

I read the first three books of the Black Company, and I thought they were rather average. The characters were ok but the story was really weak.
However, the Dread Empire books by Cook are totally amazing and among the best I've read in a while. If you like the Black Company books I suggest you pick up the Dread Empire collections asap.

Anonymous said...

Some of the best adventure fantasy ever written! And Croaker is probably my favorite POV character of any adventure fantasy novel.

Keep in mind that Cook was taking on Tolkein as much as anything, and I think that's got a lot to do with the lack of emphasis on worldbuilding. Sometimes I wanted to know more, but more often (say in Bk II when Croaker narrates crossing the wastes where flying whales populate the sky) the unexplained weirdness
made things seem more genuinely magical than novels with overexplained magic systems.

And even though there was minimal worldbuilding in these books, that little bit of building was influential. Jordan would never have come up with the Forsaken if Cook hadn't created the Taken, IMO.

Jebus said...

I've read the first and liked it and recently picked up this omnibus edition. It is on the "to-read" list but I might just have t bump it up towards the top a little.

Not the most detailed review ever but a nice introduction I suppose.

Pedro Q. said...

Finished this today and although it's a good book, I wasn't terribly impressed myself. There isn't enough characterization of most of the main "heroes" (as compared to, say, Fiddler, Kalam, Hedge, etc) and the story wasn't really that amazing (everyone could figure who the White Rose was from mid-book).

Also, Croaker is too much of the "good guy" for the rest of the Company.

Of course, having been written in 1984, I'm pretty sure this was a fantastic book back then.

Salt-Man Z said...

I'm a little late to the party, but I've been reading the Black Company series since the middle of September, and I'm loving them. (I just finished the 2nd book of "Glittering Stone".)

While I agree that the trilogy, though enjoyable, lacked real depth, I find that the last 6 books (the "Books of the South" and "Glittering Stone", which comprise a single, 6-volume story) fix that. The Glittering Stone books, especially, are much richer than any previous volumes.