The Black Company by Glen Cook
Review by Joshua S Hill
Every now and again I get to read a book or series of books that have not been touched by other reviewers on the site, but really should have been. The Black Company series by Glen Cook is one of those series, and I apologize for taking so long to get to these wonderful books. With them, in the words of Steven Erikson, “Glen Cook single-handedly changed the face of fantasy.”
And I totally agree; something that doesn’t always happen with such hyperbole.
The Black Company, the first book in the series of the same name, tells the story of the Black Company, last of the Free Companies of Khatovar, the last of the Twelve True Companies. They are an elite mercenary force, hundreds deep at the moment, but once numbered in the thousands. Glen Cook immediately draws us into an action packed world that is free with death, unlike so many books where the death count seems miraculously non-existent.
The Company are dragged out of one conflict, maybe dishonourably, and into another. But are they on the side of good or evil, or can you even tell? Brought into the war between the Lady’s Empire and the Rebel, the Company fight with Soulcatcher, one of the Ten Who Were Taken, they are driven back and back until the last stand is fought against the Circle of Eighteen and the Rebel.
But all is not what it seems, and machinations between the ten Taken and the Lady might bring everything to ruin if the Company can’t help soon.
Told from the first person point of view of Croaker, the Company’s physician and historian, we’re taken deep into the folds of the Company, what makes them tick, the honour that they hold close to their hearts and the strength that makes them unstoppable.
Cook makes the most of his US Navy career, including a tour in the Vietnam War, in bringing us a story ripe with realistic fight scenes and reactions. Gone is the bravado of some storytellers with characters able to withstand anything and ignore everything. Characters are lost early in this book, and the reactions to those losses are heartbreaking.
I was absolutely captivated by this story, with its gritty realism and fast paced storytelling. And the perspective from which the story is told, that of the Company’s Analyst recording the history of the Company, is really clever. You get the feeling you’re actually reading the accounts of Croaker, even if they are at times obviously not.
The Black Company is a brilliant book, and now available in omnibus form makes for the perfect opportunity to jump into the Black Company story.
Review by Lee
The Black Company by Glen Cook is the first book of the nine that make up The Black Company series. First published in 1984 this book was responsible for taking the fantasy genre and turning it on its head with his introduction of realistic characters and its complete disregard for fantasy stereotypes and the age-old battle of good versus evil.
The Black Company forms the remnants of a one great mercenary army. Led by the physician and annalist Croaker, the company must search a civil war torn world for the last hope – The White Rose.
This is an arresting story full of black humour told from the first person perspective of Croaker. The world in which we arrive is fantasy-medieval and the first thing that we notice is the non-existence of the fantasy stereotypes to habitually grace (haunt?) the pages of fantasy literature. Tolkien or Eddings this is not, if you are aware of Steven Erikson’s work then it may not surprise you to learn that Glen Cook influenced Erikson greatly. There is no good versus evil battle going on here; this is fast paced action where all the harsh realities of military life are laid bare.
Glen Cook uses his real-life military experience in the US Navy to excellent effect by creating a gritty, realistic and very believable existence for the mercenary soldiers that form The Black Company.
You are thrown straight into the middle of the action and this leads to an initially confusing opening to the book, you are unable to make head or tail of what is going on but your perseverance is rewarded as the chapters fly by and things begin to fall into place. Once the initial confusion is over, the fast pace grips you and the book becomes highly addictive. Glen Cook’s writing is not the best than can be found and is not on the same level as say a Robin Hobb but it is very honest and straight to the point and this style fits well with the military feel of the book.
There are no larger than life characters to be found in The Black Company, all contain frailties and failings that are found in all humans. This book is beautifully amoral and contains no two-dimensional characters. As I’ve already mentioned, The Black Company is a wonderfully amoral book, often dark and containing violent battles and fantastic characters. Glen Cook changed the face of the fantasy genre forever – and for the better.
Anthony from USA
Despite me not knowing what's going on for the first quarter of the book, all the characters are well drawn, fights seem very realistic (though I've never been in a fight or war). And during the first 10 pages a member of the company dies, still with only 9 pages of build - up I thought " I feel bad for that guy". I didn't actually cry, but I realized this was the book for me. Just the right amount, a heap of the gritty realism of war, and 3D characters. One word can describe Glen Cook: AWESOMETACULAR.
Rebecca from Aniams
Amazing. Few books make me change my favourite author, but this one did! I love croaker, you have to, but Soulcatcher is, and always will be, my favourite charecter. Once more, an amazing book and story! Go Glen Cook!
James from Swindon
Glen Cook invented a (sub) genre with this ground-breakingly brilliant book and series. Due to his style and point-of-view discipline (if you want flowery prose and lengthy exposition--or even a map--look elsewhere), it can sometimes be hard to follow, but the reader is rewarded with an epic story told from an entirely new perspective. And Tvrtko (above) is missing the point about the names...
Tvrtko from Zagreb
I am speechless. This is such a horrible book. It is poorly written, the narrative is completely unintelligible, dialogue is infantile, names are like a 10 year old came up with them. The reader has no idea what is happening. The company is constantly travelling somewhere having one-sentence fights with god knows who. You cannot identify with any character or for that matter even tell the difference between them. The characters are not even two-dimensional. Don't waste your time on something that never should have being published.
Abi from Mansfield
Simply Brilliant. I'm keeping this concise as I could rave about this series for longer than you would care to read.
Fred from Walton
This was a much needed kick up the backside for a genre that badly needed it. Weighed down with stereotypes and cliches until Glen Cook came along and blew them all away with flawed characters (in the good sense!) and gritty and realistic plots. Very militaristic in its theme this is a book that takes no prisoners and gets right to the point.
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