The Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company #1) *I have also seen this reffered to as Books of the North Series.
By Glen Cook
Publisher: Tor Fantasy
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.
I am not sure where to start with this one. It began ever so slow and remained that way for me well past the 50% mark. Yet, I was not dissatisfied with the story. I silently trudged along with The Black Company, without complaints. Something was working, but I could not pinpoint what that “something” was…
The Black Company is a group of mercenaries who seem to value one thing above all else: loyalty. They are loyal to the job, and above all else to one another. No matter what the task ahead is, they will complete it and will see each other through. This ragtag group of men and sorcerers have some seriously admirable qualities at their core. It is just a little difficult to see this initially through all of the grime and fighting.
They reside in a land divided between those who serve the Lady and the Rebels. It is a time of constant war and a world full of darkness, overshadowed with doubt. The Lady leads her chosen against the Rebels in a battle for humanity against all that is evil. It is in that battle that she has enlisted The Black Company who shall remain faithful to the job at hand and see her through. With the assistance of the Lady’s Taken (those she has chosen into her own army) they trudge slowly across the land to herald her cause.
But the Lady is not without her own shroud of mystery and fear invoking actions. Soon Croaker, a physician among The Black Company, and the others develop their own doubts. Members of the Taken begin to behave questionably and ethics and morals are suddenly being challenged. Are they fighting for the right side?
“Evil is relative…You can’t hang a sign on it. You can’t touch it or taste it or cut it with a sword. Evil depends on where you are standing, pointing your indicting finger.”
― Glen Cook,
The Black Company crew is a peculiar case of more than meets the eye. Upon initial introductions, we see a disheveled and undesirable group of men with a few sorcerers added to the mix. After all, mercenaries are not exactly known for their charm. No one is handing out “good behavior” awards. The only thing that has traditionally attached them to the cause is payment and the desire to see the job finished. So motives, as always, can be very questionable.
But Cook has successfully added a unique amount of depth here that takes us below the surface of this motley crew and exposes the reader to the inner workings of each character in a manner that makes it easy to forget just who they are. With a solid bond and devotion interwoven amongst their brethren, we soon find ourselves forming a connection that is not only of interest but a slight amount of uncanny respect.
“We lead a simple life. No thinking required. The Captain takes care of that. We just follow orders. For most of us the Black Company is a hiding place, a refugee from yesterday, a place to become a new man.”
-The Black Company, Glen Cook
Croaker, the hardened and experienced soldier and physician is our humble narrator. He is also fittingly the annalist. He has seen the crews through many trials, and as expected, he has developed his own flaws and ethical issues while serving his time. He is not without a respectable amount of contradictory morals though. He has held on to a part of the man he truly is and can often be caught maintaining or acknowledging his own limits and upholding certain ethical standards. For this very reason, I was immediately drawn to his character. He is a steadfast reminder that we sometimes must look deeper.
“I should be used to this. I have been with the Company a long time. And it does bother me less than it used to. I have hung a huge armor plate over my moral soft spots. But still I try to avoid looking at the worst.”
-The Black Company, Glen Cook
There are two other characters who managed to be of great interest for myself. One being Raven, a man with a veiled past who somehow manages to secure a spot in the company and quickly develop a close relationship with the Captain. It is not long before he has also become a constant companion of our dear narrator, Croaker. While there is a certain amount of debate and concern enveloping Raven, it is after he rescues a young girl Darling and her grandfather from a horrible fate, we soon learn he is not without his own honor. He almost instantly finds himself devoted to looking after young Darling, and I found myself growing rather fond of him.
Another character I would like to briefly mention would be Soulcatcher. A member of the Taken that The Black Company has chosen to work closely with in correspondence with the Lady. Soulcatcher is a complete enigma who will have you second guessing until the very end. Catcher’s contribution to the story is not to be overlooked.
The world construction happens slowly as the progression of the battle unfolds. We venture across the lands, following The Black Company as they set forth to achieve the job they have been tasked with. While it may not have been as expansive as I am accustomed to in some epic fantasies, it worked rather well. Instead of a story that focused on the vastness of the environment, we were presented with the grimness and darkness that was settling upon the lands like a plague. The important focus here was understanding the atmosphere, and this was achieved outstandingly.
I found the pace to be a bit slower than I was expecting, but it was steady and consistent. And while I normally struggle with “slow”, I soon discovered that I was easily settled in and compelled to move forward with the crew. There was an oddly comforting feel to the darker fantasy that welcomed me back like an old friend and I openly embraced it. The choice of narration was perfect complement to this fantastical tale that has been cleverly balanced with amoral characters, violence, wit and unpredictability that carry this story well to the end. The result was a refreshing experience that took me back to the very reasons I have come to love dark and epic fantasy.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
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