Shadow Games by Glen Cook (Chronicles of the Black Company: Books of the South, Book 1)

Did you know, not everyone understands intrinsically what ‘Vietnam war fiction on peyote’ describes. That’s how Glen Cook’s Black Company novels are so often described as, thanks to a quote made by Steven Erikson of Cook’s writing. I was asked recently to explain just what that means, and here’s what I came up with:

Glen Cook writes novels which don’t focus on the leaders and warlords, but on the ground-level men and women fighting the war. His writing is blunt, efficient, and above all, it is gritty.

The (theoretically) fourth book of the Black Company series picks up as Croaker leads the very last few surviving members of the Black Company south, in their hopes to reach Khatovar and return the Annals of the Black Company, fulfilling an oath made by the very first annalist of the Company.

And they travel south.

And south some more.

And finally they reach somewhere which ends up requiring them to stay in one spot for an extended period of time, train up a pacifist nation to fight off some mildly familiar villains and suffer Glen Cook’s penchant for realistic battle and death.

That’s one of the things that I love about Glen Cook’s work, and makes my own writing feel somewhat inadequate; it’s realism.

Glen Cook is said to have served in the Vietnam War, and you’d really get that feeling from reading his work. There is a connection to the dirt on which the characters tread and a feeling of pain when the characters are hurt or encounter an obstacle. You can feel it. You’re there. Cook really makes you experience the horror and the mind-numbing ease of death with special care.

But Cook’s work is not recommended simply because of the realism his story and action portrays. The characters you are involved with are stunningly deep, three-dimensional and important. You not only want them to survive, to see their goals reached and their lives eased, but you start living vicariously through them as well. You want what they want and they want what you want.

Shadow Games left me feeling (apart from numb at my inability to write as well as Cook) a deep attachment to Croaker and Lady. They strike me as someone I know, if not as myself and my own partner. I can relate to what they endure, feel, and do. I think that’s one of this books greatest strong points; the ability to leave the reader on the page, rather than sitting in a chair or on the train.

9/10 Cook's writing is blunt, efficient, and above all, it is gritty.

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