Book Review: ‘The Chronicles of the Black Company’, by Glen Cook

CBCHistorically I have loved books that focus on mercenary companies or at least heavily them, with that being my favourite aspect of Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion. Initially I found it odd that there was only limited focus on combat itself, and even more odd that I didn’t seem to mind. In the opening section of the book, it made sense to focus on character exposition rather than blunt, action scenes, both to engross the reader in the world and also to signal the perspective from which the story is being told. I really enjoyed the style, and as I read more, I found myself dwelling on the main characteristics of the story-telling, deciding that I really appreciated its subtleties.

I, the reader, felt like I was being told a story, as perhaps a medieval chronicler might have told it. In terms of subtleties, I mean the kind of quirks I look for in texts as a historian, with some obvious biases, little hints of the author’s (by this I mean Croaker) personality, as well as his thoughts and feelings. These all come together to act almost as a sub-plot in itself: trying to piece together bits and pieces to work out who Croaker is, working out his morals and motivations. What is clear is that Glen Cook has put a great deal of thought into how an annalist would record events.

The Black Company is an epic introduction to the world, ramping up the tension throughout. There was a great introduction to numerous distinct and memorable characters -a great feat- and an enormous, seemingly world-ending finale.

Having said that, Shadows Linger was still full of epic moments, such as the siege. What I enjoyed also was the character development which progressed with smaller-scale stories as well. With another epic finale, you are barely given time to process it before the end of the book, something which had me continuing straight on into The White Rose.

The White Rose includes fantastic twists and turns and magnificently achieves the moral greying of both sides of the story, presenting good and evil as a changeable spectrum rather than simply two poles. The Chronicles conclude with some truly epic-scale fantasy writing and incredibly high stakes despite maintaining a relatively small-scale cast. Such a feat is incredibly difficult, and yet Cook has managed it.

The Chronicles of the Black Company collects together Glen Cook’s Books of the North, which include The Black Company (published May 1984), Shadows Linger (October 1984) and The White Rose (April 1985). They are also collected together in the Science Fiction Book Club hardcover omnibus edition: Annals of the Black Company.

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