Port of Shadows

Port of Shadows is the first Black Company installment in seventeen years. This more or less stand-alone tale was meant to be the perfect place to start for newbies not familiar with Glen Cook's signature series and an opportunity for long time fans to rejoice. Unfortunately, this new book failed to deliver on basically every front. The father of Grimdark Cook may be, but his latest effort was a total failure to launch.

Readers who have yet to get acquainted with the motley crew that is the Black Company should give this novel a wide berth and go for The Chronicles of the Black Company omnibus instead. And existing fans should simply try to forget that Port of Shadows was published. Indeed, it was that underwhelming.

Here's the blurb:

The soldiers of the Black Company don’t ask questions, they get paid. But being “The Lady’s favored” is attracting the wrong kind of attention and has put a target on their backs, and the Company’s historian, Croaker, has the biggest target of all.

The one person who was taken into The Lady’s Tower and returned unchanged has earned the special interest of the court of sorcerers known as The Ten Who Were Taken. Now, he and the company are being asked to seek the aid of their newest member, Mischievous Rain, to break a rebel army. However, Croaker doesn’t trust any ofthe Taken, especially not ones that look so much like The Lady and her sister…

The chapters "Tides Elba" and "Smelling Danger" and "Bone Candy" first appeared in various SFF anthologies between 2010 and 2014. Glen Cook fans were happy to see the author write new short fiction pieces featuring the endearing members of the Black Company. Personally, I thought that this particular story arc would continue to be explored through short stories every once in a while. But I reckon it was inevitable that a novel-length project would one day see the light. Problem is, I'm not sure the author had enough material to warrant a full novel at this point and it shows in several portions of Port of Shadows. This definitely was a case of all filler and no killer.

As far as I'm concerned, Croaker has always been the true voice of the Black Company. As a narrator, his witty and sardonic observations remain one of the highlights of the entire saga. The man is aware of his strengths and his flaws, and it's always a joy to follow his narrative. Hence, to have Croaker back as the narrator in Port of Shadows was, at least early on, a lot of fun. It felt as though Mischievous Rain would be a great new addition to the cast, but she soon became a dead end character. In many ways, it's the interaction between the members of the Black Company that has always made the characterization so special in this series. Unfortunately, fan favorites such as Goblin and One-Eye play very limited roles in the plot of this new book, and the focus remains more on the new faces comprising the supporting cast. Which would have been no problem had Cook taken time to develop them a bit. Alas. . .

Split into three distinct timelines that come together at different junctures in the plot, the structure of Port of Shadows takes a while to get used to. The "Once Upon a Time" section features the perspective of a necromancer who may have been nearly as powerful as the Dominator. The "Long Ago and Far Away" section features the point of view of young Credence Senjak. "In Modern Time" features Croaker's narrative, as the Black Company enjoys some downtime in Aloe until things take a turn for the worse.

There is no way to sugarcoat it. The pace is often absolutely horrendous. It feels as though Glen Cook is making everything up as he goes along. Port of Shadows is a meandering and occasionally downright boring work that has little in common with previous Black Company installments. Add to that all the misogynistic content, the rape, and the sexually perverted stuff like incest and necrophilia, and you can understand why this novel has many a fan, especially female readers, up in arms. There also appears to be continuity errors regarding the Senjak sisters that fans are not pleased with.

Finally, having everyone's memory wiped following the events of Port of Shadows to explain how no one can recall what happened in Aloe and in the Ghost Country was a half-assed plot device. In the end, like Croaker and the rest of the crew, I just wish I could forget about everything found within the pages of this novel. It was a chore to go through and took everything I had to reach the end. The endgame and the finale offer little satisfaction, so here's to hoping that no other Black Company novel-length projects are in the pipeline for the near future unless they can live up to the hype generated by their predecessors.

A major disappointment. . .

The final verdict: 5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

3 commentaires:

DontDriveAngry said...

That's disappointing. The Black Company series for me declined as it continued and I ended up struggling to get through the Glittering Stone series as quickly as possible so I was wondering if this would be worth my time since it was set in the era that I enjoyed the best- this doesn't seem to convince me it is.

Also, I just looked through the index and noticed your last Cook review was for the Return of the Black Company omnibus- I assume you've read them, but did you ever plan to post reviews of the final two books of Glittering Stone?


Anonymous said...

5/10 rating? What do you have to do to get below 5?

Patrick said...

@DontDriveAngry: Still have to read and review the last Black Company omnibus. Wanted to do that sooner rather than later, but this latest Black Company book was so offputting that it will likely be a while until I get to it.

@Anonymous: I will probably stop reading anything that is not even worth a 5/10. But some do get through. Check out my reviews for BLACK STAR RENEGADES (2017) and STREET FREAKS (2018) for examples. Life is too short to read crap. Had this not been by Glen Cook, I would have stopped reading before the halfway point.