The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Chronicles of the Black Company contains the first three books in the Black Company series by Glen Cook. They are: The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose. I read them pretty much all at once, so I am reviewing them all at once. Some minor spoilers will be included.

This book is almost impossible for me to summarize, so (once again) I turn to Goodreads, which I would be lost without:

Chronicles of the Black Company cover

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.

My wonderful brother, who I dragged kicking and screaming into the world of fantasy literature (with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I might add) and who now lectures ME on what to read and not to read in the high fantasy genre, went on and on about the awesomeness of this book for weeks while we waited for it to come in at the library, wouldn’t shut up about it while he was reading it, and then threw it on the kitchen table in front of me and said, “Just…just read it.” So I did, just to shut him up. Throughout the first half of the book I complained constantly. “It doesn’t make sense.” “The character and location names are confusing.” “Why don’t they explain anything??” “WHY ISN’T THERE A FREAKING MAP?!” He just looked at me and said “Keep reading, and we have the interwebs, Google a map.” So I did. Don’t tell him I said this, but he was really really right.

Black Company coverThe Black Company, book one, follows the exploits and adventures of an elite  and infamous mercenary group called, well, The Black Company.  The story is told from the point of view of the group’s physician and Annalist, Croaker. He and his comrades in arms, like the Captain, the Lieutenant, and Elmo, along with the powerful wizards Goblin, One-Eye and Silent travel throughout the North under the direction of one of the Taken named Soulcatcher (sometimes referred to as Catcher, just to be confusing). Soulcatcher works for the Lady, a powerful goddess who was very recently awakened from many years of magically induced slumber.  The Lady is fighting the Rebel, who I am pretty sure refers most often to an actual person, and also sometimes refers to the army fighting the Lady, I think. The Black Company fights for the Lady, as they were hired to do by Soulcatcher, and Croaker records everything in the Annals for later generations to read and understand. Before leaving for the North, a man named Raven joins the Black Company. His life has been ruined by another one of the Taken, Limper, and he seeks a new start. Along the way, he rescues a young deaf-mute girl named Darling, who ends up traveling with him and becoming like a daughter to him. The rest of the Company puts up with this, because no one wants to mess with the mysterious and dangerous Raven.

Shadows_Linger coverIn Shadows Linger, the second book, Raven and Darling have left the Company and go their own way. They settle in a town called Juniper and live under the watchful eye of the foreboding and creepy Black Castle. Eventually, the rest of the Black Company is sent to the Black Castle once the Lady discovers the Dominator, her evil former husband who remained in magically-induced slumber when she and the Taken were awakened, is using the Black Castle to try to return to the land of the living. The Black Company must fight alongside one evil to stop an even greater evil from taking over the world.

The White Rose coverFinally, in the third book The White Rose, the Black Company escapes from the Lady’s clutches, and joins forces with the reincarnated White Rose in hopes of defeating the Lady and the Dominator once and for all. And that’s all the summary you get for that one, because there are several surprises in this last book and I don’t want to give anything away.

This novel was a challenge to follow at first. Lots of information that doesn’t seem to make sense is thrown at you, made extra difficult by the weird names, and the difficulty of telling the difference between names of people and places, and names of people on one side versus the other. But once you push through and get to the know the characters, and figure out how the understand the world through Croaker (the narrator’s) point-of-view, it gets much easier to understand and that’s right about the same time the action picks up and the story gets really exciting as well. The battles are intense and action-packed yet easy to follow and understand. Once you figure out which character is which, you start to get to know them much better, and can figure out who you like or don’t like, and whether or not you want to sympathize with the “enemy.” Personally, I really liked Raven, the new recruit who joined the Black Company right before the left Beryl and traveled to Opal to begin working for Soulcatcher. He remaining mysterious for most of the novel, but he did become Croaker’s sometimes-friend, and you learned enough about him to like him. I didn’t think I would like a book that was about bloodthirsty military men with hardly any female characters in it, but once I got into the story I barely noticed. And this novel was very very different from what I have been reading lately, so it was rather refreshing and I really ended up enjoying it.

So this book didn’t come with a map. Now, usually, when books have a map, I glance at the map when I start reading, and maybe, MAYBE once while I read. Usually I barely notice. This time, I DESPERATELY needed a map, once I actually flipped to the front cover thinking “There must be a map, and the pages were just stuck together so I missed it” but there was no map to be found. So I used the interwebs and I found this one:

black company map of north

It’s not perfect, but it helps. Overall, this was a really entertaining read that stuck with me even after I finished reading. I wanted the story of the Black Company to continue, and kept thinking about it–things that I liked or didn’t like, or what I wished happened instead of what actually happened. I love books that suck me in like this, that don’t let go even after I’ve returned them to the library. I believe there are six more books in The Black Company series, and I’m excited to check them out.

Happy reading,

-Branwen

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