Saturday, December 13, 2014

Retro Reviews: The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Black Company
Author:  Glen Cook
Series:  The Black Company 1
Original Publisher and Date:  Tor, May1984
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Formats:  Trade Paperback, Mass Market Paperback, eBook
Availability:  online and in stores.
ISBN:  9780812521390

Brief History

Glen Cook was born on July 9, 1944 in New York City. He began writing short stories in the 7th grade. He served in the US Navy and attended the University of Missouri. He worked for General Motors for 33 years and started his professional writing career in 1968. His first published novel was The Swap Academy in 1970 under the name 'Greg Stevens'. Cook has written 51 novels and numerous short stories.

The Black Company series is a ground-breaking series. Its blend of realistic military fiction and fantasy is popular among fantasy fans and members of the US Military. In an interview with Strange Horizons on January 17, 2005, Glen Cook was asked why this series was so popular with soldiers and he had this to say:
... The characters act like the guys actually behave. It doesn't glorify war; it's just people getting on with the job. The characters are real soldiers. They're not soldiers as imagined by people who've never been in the service. That's why service guys like it. They know every guy who's in the books, and I knew every guy who's in the books. Most of the early characters were based on guys I was in the service with. The behavior patterns are pretty much what you'd expect if you were an enlisted man in a small unit.
The Black Company series has been translated in over 20 different languages. There are ten books published in the series with two more books promised by the author as yet unpublished.

Back Cover Description

Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead. Until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her... So begins one of the greatest fantasy epics of our age—Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company.

Brannigan's Review

I wanted to love this book. I had read and heard from so many people how ground-breaking and amazing it is. I'm not normally a fan of the darker fantasy books, but I can appreciate what it's done for military-fantasy books, so I wanted to try it. Sadly, it just wasn't a fun read for me. After the long journey to get my hands on the right book (see my Retro Review of Valnir's Bane for the full story), I had high hopes.

The Black Company reads like an After Actions Report. I didn't serve in the military, but I've researched my Grandfather's war record I've had the opportunity to read some official military reports, and they make battles and engagements with the enemy sound routine and dull. Unfortunately for me, Glen Cook did the same thing with his story of a company of anti-hero mercenaries. The story sounds amazing—being paid to fight for a group of undead wizards as they try to resurrect a long-dead civilization, while a rebel army lead by a council of wizards tries to stop them. But what I got was a dull recounting of one battle after another with no real description or emotional impact. I never felt invested in who won the battles.

It's written in the first person narrative as Croaker, serving as the POV character. Croaker, is the company's doctor and historian. I'm already not a fan of first person narrative as I like to spend a little time in each of the characters' heads, but you would think if Cook was going to have the reader spend all of their time in one character's head, he would explore that character fully. At the end of the book, I could care less about Croaker and learned very little about him. Raven was the only character Cook created that I might have liked if I would have had the opportunity to spend more time with him.

The plot of the story didn't really grab my attention until halfway through the book when we find out that the Taken (the undead wizards) are not all loyal to the Lady or her designs. We also start to see that a minor character that was introduced earlier in the book might actually hold more importance than anyone realized. Thankfully for me the second half of book was more enjoyable to read, but it did not in anyway redeem my over all opinion of the book as a whole. I will not be reading any other books in the series.

The Black Company is a book that did not live up to the hype surrounding it. I will say it sounds like an amazing book, but it falls very flat for me. There is a lot of violence since it's about a company of mercenaries. There is also implied and briefly mentioned sexual abuse, and frequent use of bad language, for these reasons I would only recommend this book to adults. This is definitely a book to skip unless you love reading military nonfiction as well as fantasy.


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