(By Glen Cook)
The Black Company is misery curdled, but also ancient and intriguing.
I paraphrase one of the very earliest paragraphs that caught my eye in the Black Company. Glen Cook’s novel is that rare breed of fantasy that forswears lengthy, intricate descriptions for the benefit of literary minimalism.
That’s not to say that Cook’s prose isn’t memorable – far from it. The gritty world that the Black Company inhabits is realistic and vivid, and it comes alive under the pen strokes of Croaker – Company Annalist and physician of the Company. It’s a position of greater importance than it might seem – the Annalist keeps the very soul of the Last Free Company of Khatovar alive.
It is through Croaker’s perspective that we readers come to know the amoral world the Company inhabits – a world colored in greys and red – and through his experiences that we learn of brotherhood the likes of which is seldom so well captured, even in similar fantasy series.*
And yes, The Black Company is a series of nine whooping books that chronicle forty of the most tumultuous years in the Mercenary Company’s history. There’s a little something for everyone:
- ancient scary-as-shit wizards;
- the most badass female antagonists; (to be read as: The most badass antagonists)
- girls crossdressing as boys to get into the military;
- great dialogue(!);
- tiny frog-faced wizards picking at one another;
- silent types screwing everyone because of their inability to express themselves;
- snarkiness that would make most everyone and their grannies blush;
- and much, much more!
- (feat. “Teach your grandma to suck eggs, Croaker,” an offense so strangely beautiful, it makes reading the books worth it just for these words)
It’s a gripping tale that deserves your attention. A fast-paced series (for the most part) with some of the most memorable characters I’ve had the pleasure to read about in the medium for some time.
It deserves your attention!
*The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which is heavily influenced by The Black Company, manages the same feat quite well.