Monday, February 20, 2012

Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook

It's a safe bet these days that if I'm not blogging, I'm reading. Lots. Last week, I returned to the former job I had, that of "small town bartender" - that and everyone in my house being afflicted by some curious stomach ailment - which has slowed me down somewhat, pending a readjustment to my scheduling and activities.

This is where I get my reading goals caught up - for this was actually three books in one. Speaking of which, instead of labeling my posts "reading journal", I'm going to do this instead. Easier to glimpse and decide if you want to read it. Housekeeping and navel gazing, woo hoo!

Chronicles of the Black Company - Glen Cook. 2007. (Male, Fantasy, Series, New Author)

Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead. 
Then comes the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more….
The three stories of the omnibus (as seen on the cover) are The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose. While probably not the intention, I thought the first one was superior to the ones that followed.

This was straight up epic military fiction. The best description of it came from Steven Erikson's back cover blurb which reads, "Reading his stuff was like reading Vietnam War fiction on peyote."

The narrative voice was excellent - if you've ever watched a military movie, there's always some old general who does a voice over monologue, and that's how I heard it. Sharp, dry, chopped language. Some things get explained, some things don't. A lot of self-deprecation... it's that alpha male voice that looks back and says, "I coulda done that better."

Very entertaining. And despite it being primarily a military fiction, there were a great number of fantastic elements (flying whales, talking rocks, prophecies, and more) and plenty of magic. The magic was more LoTR than Codex Alera*, but this was balanced by making the practitioners relatively mortal, if not hard to kill. Moreso, the theme of The Black Company, as a military unit, was to use guile to force the enemies to make mistakes, so magic had a role and a place, and did not instantly solve the problems they faced.

Glen Cook is one of those authors that gets a lot of mention on book review blogs. I can see why. He created a solid world, with a memorable cast of well-developed characters. The stories were very fast with lots of gritty action. Having said that, this wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea, leaning more towards a Joe Abercrombie** notion on the fuzzy vs gritty scale. This much action, in a military setting, inevitably leaves less room for character development and warm fuzzies at the ending.

However, Chronicles of the Black Company wasn't all doom and gloom, and it certainly wasn't as dark as Abercrombie or GRRM. Mind you, while the omnibus edition came out in 2007, the original stories came out in 1984 and 1985, so this was absolutely pretty dark and gritty for back then.

Overall, I enjoyed it, though. Glad I read it and I'll be returning to read more of it in the future. Solid characters, interesting world, and a stimulating pace. I'm a better writer for having read this.


* & ** - I'm not doing book reviews, but I can't really help but to measure things on a scale.

On the magical realism scale, I'd place Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter on one end as the most unrealistic. Wave your fingers, chant a funny word, and something wonderful happens. On that end, magic has more to do with your age and/or destiny.

On the other end of the scale, I'm using Jim Butcher's Codex Alera as a good, balanced, realistic, magical system. In a balanced system, everyone has access to magic, it requires study and practice and it has notable costs and limitations. (Magical realism is all the buzz in bloglandia lately - probably deserves its own post.)

The other scale is the Fuzzy vs. Gritty scale. I'd use LOTR as one end of the scale again, where everyone pretty much grows up and lives happily ever after, the much more wiser for their adventure. The other end of the scale belongs to Joe Abercrombie, where sometimes the bastards win and the heroes get killed. Also, the amount of doom, gloom, blood and generally unacceptable social conditions.

I may have to rework those ideas somewhat. I'm open to suggestion.


  1. I wish I could comment on the books... but I am glad you are having your time to read. :)

  2. Well, you know, that happens. My reading these days is pretty diverse, could be that I read something that catches your fancy. Though I happen to know you're working your way through Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series lately. Thanks for stopping by. XO


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