Saturday, December 13, 2008

3 in 1 Review: Chronicles of the Black Company

I like my Fantasy like I like my women; fast and dirty. Suffice to say I like Glen Cooks’ The Chronicles of the Black Company quite a bit. It’s faster and dirtier that just about any other Fantasy you’ll find in the marketplace today.

The Black Company and the following novels in this Omnibus collection (Shadows Linger and The White Rose) turn Fantasy Clich├ęs on their ear and just for good measure give them a solid kick when they’re down.


A great evil has been unleashed on the land and there is only one who can stop it. (How many times have we heard that before?) The legendary White Rose must be found at all costs or else the world is doomed. Reading that sentence one might expect we’re in for another Tolkienesque romp of good vs evil pardon me while I yawn. Fortunately Glen Cook has other plans in store for us.


In these three novels the reader is left to ponder who is evil and who is good. A difficult task indeed. The supposed “Good Guys” are the Rebels, while the Lady and her Taken are the “Bad Guys”. The thing is the Lady is not evil incarnate and the Rebel are more than happy to kill and maim anyone including the very people who they are supposed to protect if it furthers their cause. On the side of the Lady is the battle hardened Black Company. The Company doesn’t hold any lofty ideals. Like most mercenary companies they only care about being paid on time and in full.

The Black Company (Book 1)


In the world of the Black Company The Ten Who Were Taken, or just Taken for short play a major role. These Taken were once great wizards in their own right until they met their match in the form of the Dominator, the ultimate evil and the Lady’s significant other.


Now centuries after their defeat at the hands of the White Rose they are forced to do the bidding of the Lady. She’s one cold hearted bitch proven by the fact she left her husband, The Dominator, imprisoned underneath the earth while she walks freely once more upon the earth. It is she and her Taken that look to enslave the world.


The story unfolds through the eyes of Croaker, physician and historian of the Black Company. The book opens with the The Black Company in the employ of the Syndic of Beryl fighting for a lost cause. A stroke of fortune strikes just in the nick of time for the Black Company as one of the Taken Soulcatcher arrives and offers them a chance to serve the Lady. Not wanting to walk out on their contract with their current employer they must find a way to make their contract null and void. I won’t spoil it for you but these bastards are some clever fellows. With their contractual negotiations now settled they head north to serve in the Army of the Lady.


To read this novel and see the bitter back stabbing between the Taken is hilarious. As one would expect with great wizards there is a lot of ego involved. Nary a page goes by without a pissing contest between one or more of the Taken. Each looks to disgrace the other in hopes of gaining favor in the Lady’s Hierarchy. The Taken aren’t content just to be the most trusted servant however they all want the throne for themselves. The Black Company does its best not to get trickled on and they do a fairly good job staying out of harms way.


The gritty environment and characters mixed with the wonderful Fantasy elements that Cook adds is a recipe for a very tasty novel that leaves you wanting more. Luckily for you we still have two more novels to go in this Omnibus.


86/100


Shadows Linger (Book 2)


A long time ago, the Dominator and his wife, the Lady (whom we met in the first novel.) founded an empire of legendary evil which ended abruptly thanks to the White Rose. Even in defeat though the Dominator pulls strings in hopes of one day being set free to unleash his wrath upon those who have enslaved him. Fearing his release the Lady has sent her most stalwart mercenary company to guard the Barrowland the place where her husband the Dominator rests.


Upon reaching the Barrowlands a small detachment of the Black Company including our boy Croaker is flown by carpet to the city of Juniper to investigate a possible connection to the Barrowlands and more importantly the Dominator.


As much as I liked the Black Company this is the book that makes the entire series for me. In this book we are given multiple POV characters. Thanks to these varying points of view the story unfolds brilliantly with a richness and depth that is mind blowing to me.


Marron Shed one of the major POV characters is one of my favorite characters of all time. Shed, who runs a dilapidated Inn slash flophouse known as the Iron Lily is so fleshed out by Cook that he lingers in my mind months after having read the story. His story is intriguing and is just one example of the many small subplots that Cook has running throughout the course of the book that will eventually funnel into the main plot.


Besides the wonderful cast of characters that dot this literary landscape some of the scenes that are depicted in this book will make you shake your head and say “damn…that’s good.” One scene in particular towards the end of the novel with the Captain of the Black Company and a Magical Carpet is just so well done and felt so real to me; it was one of those moments I as a reader yearn for. They don’t come too often but when they do it’s a pure joy. Let me tell you these moments came more than once for me during the reading of this book.


This book is the pinnacle of the Black Company Series for me and clocks in at a healthy:


92/100

The White Rose (Book 3)


Last and certainly least in this reviewer’s humble opinion is The White Rose. Sorry but there will be no synopsis of the book as I don’t want to give anything away.


This book is solid but after reading Shadows Linger I went in with high expectations and this novel simply did not live up to it. The characterizations weren’t quite as good and some of the new characters that were introduced were just so-so. Nothing blew me away. I kept waiting for something to grab my interest and give me an experience similar to that which I got from Shadows linger. It just never came.


It’s a nice conclusion to these first three books but by far the weakest of the first three. This is the one that the cheetah’s would get.


80/100


Conclusion: This collection is a must for any reader’s bookshelf. Please step into the world populated by Croaker, One-Eye, Limper, Toadkiller Dog and Marron Shed it’s a world worth walking in.

2 comments:

  1. Good lookin' blog you've got here!

    I've got Chronicles of the Black Company sitting on my bookshelf unread, but reviews like this sure make it tempting.

    I've added you to my RSS and my blogroll, keep up the good work!

    ~Aidan
    A Dribble of Ink

    ReplyDelete
  2. Aiden thanks for the kind words and give into the temptation! You won't regret it.

    ReplyDelete