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Review of The Black Company by Glen Cook

Review of The Black Company by Glen CookThe Black Company by Glen Cook
Series: The Chronicles of The Black Company #1
on March 15th 1992
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Epic, Fantasy
Pages: 320


Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead.Until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her...So begins one of the greatest fantasy epics of our age--Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company.

It was a night for screams. A broiling, sticky night of the sort that abrades that last thin barrier between the civilized man and the monster crouched in his soul. The screams came from homes where fear, heat, and overcrowding had put too much strain on the monster’s chains.

There are no self-proclaimed villains, only regiments of self-proclaimed saints.Victorious historians rule where good or evil lies.
We adjure labels. We fight for money and indefinable pride. The politics, the ethics, the moralities, are irrelevant.

They sit around together like a couple of rocks, talking about the same things boulders do. They are content just to share one another’s company.

Consider little children. There are not many of them not cute and lovable and precious, sweet as whipped honey and butter. So where do all the wicked people come from?

Little girls are twice as precious and innocent as little boys. I do not know a culture that does not make them that way.

There was always a breeze out around the Island, though it avoided the shore as if fearing leprosy. Closer at hand, the wheeling gulls were as surly and lackadaisical as the day promised to make most men.

So this was a book that I should not have liked. It kinda ticked off a pet peeve. But I can’t help myself. I enjoyed Croaker’s (yes, that’s the character’s name) voice entirely too much. I mean, with names like One-eye, Silent, and Tom-Tom how could you not at least be swept away in the entertainment? And as you can see by the above, there were some great quotes in this book.

Soooo, story? I’m not sure. I guess I can sum it up by saying that a mercenary group gets a contract to work for the bad guys and ends up going on a campaign to further their employer’s advances. Because our protagonists are portrayed as neither good nor evil, it makes for some interesting observations. And my last sentence should warn those who love old school clearly good vs clearly bad that this might not be the book for them. While I consider Croaker to be inherently good, some of those in his company are not. And he works for the bad guys. He does stuff for the bad guys. So fair warning.

What was my annoyance? Summaries. I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but some of the scenes were just lumped into a summary paragraph. I mean, to the point where it was almost like, “We went north and fought and won.” Nothing that simple, but it sure did feel like it. That happened a lot. Normally I wouldn’t mind, I mean, I’m not a fan of descriptions, but I felt a bit cheated out of some action. Matter of fact, even the action scenes felt a bit summed up. If Croaker fought, it was pretty much lumped up as that, instead of giving us a play by play of his moves, or how many bad guys he took on. I found it as enjoyable as annoying. I will say, dialog mostly advanced the story. I like dialog, so this worked.

Another thing that took me a bit to adjust to was Cook’s writing style. Scenes could be a bit confusing at times, especially the beginning. You kinda feel tossed around. It’s a lot to adjust to right from the get go. There were breathtaking sentences, but I’d say most of it read choppy. At first, I wasn’t a fan, but as the story progressed I actually found it captivating. A few examples:

One-eye grunted, discarded. Candy picked up and spread. One-eye cursed.

The list was disappointing. I gave it to Elmo. He cursed, spat, cursed again. He kicked the planks we were using as a card table.

As you can see, it’s very short, abrupt, and choppy. Somehow it works, though. It fits with the characters, and I found myself not noticing it the farther I read.

The world was fleshed out enough for me, but those crazy into world building might find it lacking. I didn’t really get a good feel for it, but then again, I’m not one to usually notice an underdeveloped world. I like a story that moves.

How about those characters? I can’t say that I love one over another. There was a group—the main group the story focuses on—that I loved. All of them. They were each well built, flawed, unique, and interacted with each member differently. I liked that aspect. Most of all, I think I enjoyed Croaker’s voice; how he spoke, how he observed, his morals and lack thereof. He wasn’t my favorite character—I’d actually be challenged to name one—but he kept things moving along. Not only were the “good” guys entertaining, but some of the “bad” guys were equally developed. Cook did a great job at portraying some pretty dark characters and I found a few of them as captivating as some of the good guys.

I will definitely be picking up the second book. I’ve heard it’s better, and I’m curious to see where the story goes. We’ve got a peek towards the direction we’ll be traveling, and I’m excited about it. But most of all, I look forward to hanging out with the gang again. The great banter and wide cast makes it delightfully entertaining. And now that I’m adjusted to Cook’s style and know what to expect, I think I’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the second one more.

Overall, this book’s got some great cussing, it moves along nicely, it’s choppy and delightfully free of lengthy descriptions, it’s got a great set of characters, and some deep thoughts. I’d recommend it to any fantasy lover.

About Glen Cook

Glen Cook was born in New York City, lived in southern Indiana as a small child, then grew up in Northern California. After high school he served in the U.S. Navy and attended the University of Missouri. He worked for General Motors for 33 years, retiring some years ago. He started writing short stories in 7th grade, had several published in a high school literary magazine. He began writing with malicious intent to publish in 1968, eventually producing 51 books and a number of short fiction pieces.
He met his wife of 43 years while attending the Clarion Writer’s Workshop in 1970. He has three sons (army officer, architect, orchestral musician) and numerous grandchildren, all of whom but one are female. He is best known for his Black Company series, which has appeared in 20+ languages worldwide. His other series include Dread Empire and and the Garrett, P.I. series. His latest work is Working God’s Mischief, fourth in the Instrumentalities of the Night series.

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