Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hardbitten 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...
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
About the Author
Born in 1944, Glen Cook grew up in northern California, served in the U.S. Navy, attended the University of Missouri, and was one of the earliest graduates of the well-known "Clarion" workshop SF writers. Since 1971 he has published a large number of SF and fantasy novels, including the "Dread Empire" series, the occult-detective "Garrett" novels, and the very popular "Black Company" sequence that began with the publication of The Black Company in 1984. Among his SF novels is A Passage at Arms.
After working many years for General Motors, Cook now writes full-time. He lives near St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Carol.
Born in 1944, Glen Cook grew up in northern California, served in the U.S. Navy, attended the University of Missouri, and was one of the earliest graduates of the well-known "Clarion" workshop SF writers. Since 1971 he has published a large number of Science Fiction and fantasy novels, including the "Dread Empire" series, the occult-detective "Garrett" novels, and the very popular "Black Company" sequence that began with the publication of The Black Company in 1984. Among his science fiction novels is A Passage at Arms.
After working many years for General Motors, Cook now writes full-time. He lives near St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Carol.
Date of Birth:July 9, 1944
Place of Birth:New York City, New York
Read an Excerpt
The Black Company
By Glen Cook
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1984 Glen Cook
All rights reserved.
There were prodigies and portents enough, One-Eye says. We must blame ourselves for misinterpreting them. One-Eye's handicap in no way impairs his marvelous hindsight.
Lightning from a clear sky smote the Necropolitan Hill. One bolt struck the bronze plaque sealing the tomb of the forvalaka, obliterating half the spell of confinement. It rained stones. Statues bled. Priests at several temples reported sacrificial victims without hearts or livers. One victim escaped after its bowels were opened and was not recaptured. At the Fork Barracks, where the Urban Cohorts were billeted, the image of Teux turned completely around. For nine evenings running, ten black vultures circled the Bastion. Then one evicted the eagle which lived atop the Paper Tower.
Astrologers refused readings, fearing for their lives. A mad soothsayer wandered the streets proclaiming the imminent end of the world. At the Bastion, the eagle not only departed, the ivy on the outer ramparts withered and gave way to a creeper which appeared black in all but the most intense sunlight.
But that happens every year. Fools can make an omen of anything in retrospect.
We should have been better prepared. We did have four modestly accomplished wizards to stand sentinel against predatory tomorrows—though never by any means as sophisticated as divining through sheeps' entrails.
Still, the best augurs are those who divine from the portents of the past. They compile phenomenal records.
Beryl totters perpetually, ready to stumble over a precipice into chaos. The Queen of the Jewel Cities was old and decadent and mad, filled with the stench of degeneracy and moral dryrot. Only a fool would be surprised by anything found creeping its night streets.
* * *
I had every shutter thrown wide, praying for a breath off the harbor, rotting fish and all. There wasn't enough breeze to stir a cobweb. I mopped my face and grimaced at my first patient. "Crabs again, Curly?"
He grinned feebly. His face was pale. "It's my stomach, Croaker." His pate looks like a polished ostrich egg. Thus the name. I checked the watch schedule and duty roster. Nothing there he would want to avoid. "It's bad, Croaker. Really."
"Uhm." I assumed my professional demeanor, sure what it was. His skin was clammy, despite the heat. "Eaten outside the commissary lately, Curly?" A fly landed on his head, strutted like a conqueror. He didn't notice.
"Yeah. Three, four times."
"Uhm." I mixed a nasty, milky concoction. "Drink this. All of it."
His whole face puckered at the first taste. "Look, Croaker, I...."
The smell of the stuff revolted me. "Drink, friend. Two men died before I came up with that. Then Pokey took it and lived." Word was out about that.
"You mean it's poison? The damned Blues slipped me something?"
"Take it easy. You'll be okay. Yeah. It looks that way." I'd had to open up Walleye and Wild Bruce to learn the truth. It was a subtle poison. "Get over there on the cot where the breeze will hit you—if the son of a bitch ever comes up. And lie still. Let the stuff work." I settled him down.
"Tell me what you ate outside." I collected a pen and a chart tacked onto a board. I had done the same with Pokey, and with Wild Bruce before he died, and had had Walleye's platoon sergeant backtrack his movements. I was sure the poison had come from one of several nearby dives frequented by the Bastion garrison.
Curly produced one across-the-board match. "Bingo! We've got the bastards now."
"Who?" He was ready to go settle up himself.
"You rest. I'll see the Captain." I patted his shoulder, checked the next room. Curly was it for morning sick call.
I took the long route, along Trejan's Wall, which overlooks Beryl's harbor. Halfway over I paused, stared north, past the mole and lighthouse and Fortress Island, at the Sea of Torments. Particolored sails speckled the dingy grey-brown water as coastal dhows scooted out along the spiderweb of routes linking the Jewel Cities. The upper air was still and heavy and hazy. The horizon could not be discerned. But down on the water the air was in motion. There was always a breeze out around the Island, though it avoided the shore as if fearing leprosy. Closer at hand, the wheeling gulls were as surly and lackadaisical as the day promised to make most men.
Another summer in service to the Syndic of Beryl, sweating and grimy, thanklessly shielding him from political rivals and his undisciplined native troops. Another summer busting our butts for Curly's reward. The pay was good, but not in coin of the soul. Our forebrethren would be embarrassed to see us so diminished.
Beryl is misery curdled, but also ancient and intriguing. Its history is a bottomless well filled with murky water. I amuse myself plumbing its shadowy depths, trying to isolate fact from fiction, legend, and myth. No easy task, for the city's earlier historians wrote with an eye to pleasing the powers of their day.
The most interesting period, for me, is the ancient kingdom, which is the least satisfactorily chronicled. It was then, in the reign of Niam, that the forvalaka came, were overcome after a decade of terror, and were confined in their dark tomb atop the Necropolitan Hill. Echoes of that terror persist in folklore and matronly admonitions to unruly children. No one recalls what the forvalaka were, now.
I resumed walking, despairing of beating the heat. The sentries, in their shaded kiosks, wore towels draped around their necks.
A breeze startled me. I faced the harbor. A ship was rounding the Island, a great lumbering beast that dwarfed the dhows and feluccas. A silver skull bulged in the center of its full-bellied black sail. That skull's red eyes glowed. Fires flickered behind its broken teeth. A glittering silver band encircled the skull.
"What the hell is that?" a sentry asked.
"I don't know, Whitey." The ship's size impressed me more than did its flashy sail. The four minor wizards we had with the Company could match that showmanship. But I'd never seen a galley sporting five banks of oars.
I recalled my mission.
I knocked on the Captain's door. He did not respond. I invited myself inside, found him snoring in his big wooden chair. "Yo!" I hollered. "Fire! Riots in the Groan! Dancing at the Gate of Dawn!" Dancing was an old time general who nearly destroyed Beryl. People still shudder at his name.
The Captain was cool. He didn't crack an eyelid or smile. "You're presumptuous, Croaker. When are you going to learn to go through channels?" Channels meant bug the Lieutenant first. Don't interrupt his nap unless the Blues were storming the Bastion.
I explained about Curly and my chart.
He swung his feet off the desk. "Sounds like work for Mercy." His voice had a hard edge. The Black Company does not suffer malicious attacks upon its men.
* * *
Mercy was our nastiest platoon leader. He thought a dozen men would suffice, but let Silent and me tag along. I could patch the wounded. Silent would be useful if the Blues played rough. Silent held us up half a day while he made a quick trip to the woods.
"What the hell you up to?" I asked when he got back, lugging a ratty-looking sack.
He just grinned. Silent he is and silent he stays.
The place was called Mole Tavern. It was a comfortable hangout. I had passed many an evening there. Mercy assigned three men to the back door, and a pair each to the two windows. He sent another two to the roof. Every building in Beryl has a roof hatch. People sleep up top during the summer.
He led the rest of us through the Mole's front door.
Mercy was a smallish, cocky fellow, fond of the dramatic gesture. His entry should have been preceded by fanfares.
The crowd froze, stared at our shields and bared blades, at snatches of grim faces barely visible through gaps in our face guards. "Verus!" Mercy shouted. "Get your butt out here!"
The grandfather of the managing family appeared. He sidled toward us like a mutt expecting a kick. The customers began buzzing. "Silence!" Mercy thundered. He could get a big roar out of his small body.
"How may we help you, honored sirs?" the old man asked.
"You can get your sons and grandsons out here, Blue."
Chairs squeaked. A soldier slammed his blade into a tabletop.
"Sit still," Mercy said. "You're just having lunch, fine. You'll be loose in an hour."
The old man began shaking. "I don't understand, sir. What have we done?"
Mercy grinned evilly. "He plays the innocent well. It's murder, Verus. Two charges of murder by poisoning. Two of attempted murder by poisoning. The magistrates decreed the punishment of slaves." He was having fun.
Mercy wasn't one of my favorite people. He never stopped being the boy who pulled wings off flies.
The punishment of slaves meant being left up for scavenger birds after public crucifixion. In Beryl only criminals are buried uncremated, or not buried at all.
An uproar rose in the kitchen. Somebody was trying to get out the back door. Our men were objecting.
The public room exploded. A wave of dagger-brandishing humanity hit us.
They forced us back to the door. Those who were not guilty obviously feared they would be condemned with those who were. Beryl's justice is fast, crude, and harsh, and seldom gives a defendant opportunity to clear himself.
A dagger slipped past a shield. One of our men went down. I am not much as a fighter, but I stepped into his place. Mercy said something snide that I did not catch. "That's your chance at heaven wasted," I countered. "You're out of the Annals forever."
"Crap. You don't leave out anything."
A dozen citizens went down. Blood pooled in low places on the floor. Spectators gathered outside. Soon some adventurer would hit us from behind.
A dagger nicked Mercy. He lost patience. "Silent!"
Silent was on the job already, but he was Silent. That meant no sound, and very little flash or fury.
Mole patrons began slapping their faces and pawing the air, forsaking us. They hopped and danced, grabbed their backs and behinds, squealed and howled piteously. Several collapsed.
"What the hell did you do?" I asked.
Silent grinned, exposing sharp teeth. He passed a dusky paw across my eyes. I saw the Mole from a slightly altered perspective.
The bag he had lugged in from out of town proved to be one of those hornets' nests you can, if you're unlucky, run into in the woods south of Beryl. Its tenants were the bumblebee-looking monsters peasants call bald-faced hornets. They have a foul temper unrivalled anywhere in Nature. They cowed the Mole crowd fast, without bothering our lads.
"Fine work, Silent," Mercy said, after having vented his fury on several hapless patrons. He herded the survivors into the street.
I examined our injured brother while the unharmed soldier finished the wounded. Saving the Syndic the cost of a trial and a hangman, Mercy called that. Silent looked on, still grinning. He's not nice either, though he seldom participates directly.
* * *
We took more prisoners than expected. "Was a bunch of them." Mercy's eyes twinkled. "Thanks, Silent." The line stretched a block.
Fate is a fickle bitch. She'd led us to Mole Tavern at a critical moment. Poking around, our witch man had unearthed a prize, a crowd concealed in a hideout beneath the wine cellar. Among them were some of the best known Blues.
Mercy chattered, wondering aloud how large a reward our informant deserved. No such informant existed. The yammer was meant to save our tame wizards from becoming prime targets. Our enemies would scurry around looking for phantom spies.
"Move them out," Mercy ordered. Still grinning, he eyed the sullen crowd. "Think they'll try something?" They did not. His supreme confidence cowed anyone who had ideas.
We wound through mazelike streets half as old as the world, our prisoners shuffling listlessly. I gawked. My comrades are indifferent to the past, but I cannot help being awed—and occasionally intimidated—by how time-deep Beryl's history runs.
Mercy called an unexpected halt. We had come to the Avenue of the Syndics, which winds from the Customs House uptown to the Bastion's main gate. There was a procession on the Avenue. Though we reached the intersection first, Mercy yielded the right-of-way.
The procession consisted of a hundred armed men. They looked tougher than anyone in Beryl but us. At their head rode a dark figure on the biggest black stallion I've ever seen. The rider was small, effeminately slim, and clad in worn black leather. He wore a black morion which concealed his head entirely. Black gloves concealed his hands. He seemed to be unarmed.
"Damn me," Mercy whispered.
I was disturbed. That rider chilled me. Something primitive deep inside me wanted to run. But curiosity plagued me more. Who was he? Had he come off that strange ship in the harbor? Why was he here?
The eyeless gaze of the rider swept across us indifferently, as though passing over a flock of sheep. Then it jerked back, fixing on Silent.
Silent met stare for stare, and showed no fear. And still he seemed somehow diminished.
The column passed on, hardened, disciplined. Shaken, Mercy got our mob moving again. We entered the Bastion only yards behind the strangers.
* * *
We had arrested most of the more conservative Blue leadership. When word of the raid spread, the volatile types decided to flex their muscles. They sparked something monstrous.
The perpetually abrasive weather does things to men's reason. The Beryl mob is savage. Riots occur almost without provocation. When things go bad the dead number in the thousands. This was one of the worst times.
The army is half the problem. A parade of weak, short-term Syndics let discipline lapse. The troops are beyond control now. Generally, though, they will act against rioters. They see riot suppression as license to loot.
The worst happened. Several cohorts from the Fork Barracks demanded a special donative before they would respond to a directive to restore order. The Syndic refused to pay.
The cohorts mutinied.
Mercy's platoon hastily established a strongpoint near the Rubbish Gate and held off all three cohorts. Most of our men were killed, but none ran. Mercy himself lost an eye, a finger, was wounded in shoulder and hip, and had more than a hundred holes in his shield when help arrived. He came to me more dead than alive.
In the end, the mutineers scattered rather than face the rest of the Black Company.
The riots were the worst in memory. We lost almost a hundred brethren trying to suppress them. We could ill afford the loss of one. In the Groan the streets were carpetted with corpses. The rats grew fat. Clouds of vultures and ravens migrated from the countryside.
The Captain ordered the Company into the Bastion. "Let it run its course," he said. "We've done enough." His disposition had gone beyond sour, disgusted. "Our commission doesn't require us to commit suicide."
Somebody made a crack about us falling on our swords.
"Seems to be what the Syndic expects."
Beryl had ground our spirits down, but had left none so disillusioned as the Captain. He blamed himself for our losses. He did, in fact, try to resign.
* * *
The mob had fallen into a sullen, grudging, desultory effort to sustain chaos, interfering with any attempt to fight fires or prevent looting, but otherwise just roamed. The mutinous cohorts, fattened by deserters from other units, were systematizing the murder and plunder.
The third night I stood a watch on Trejan's Wall, beneath the carping stars, a fool of a volunteer sentinel. The city was strangely quiet. I might have been more anxious had I not been so tired. It was all I could do to stay awake.
Tom-Tom came by. "What are you doing out here, Croaker?"
"You look like death on a stick. Get some rest."
"You don't look good yourself, runt."
He shrugged. "How's Mercy?"
"Not out of the woods yet." I had little hope for him, really. I pointed. "You know anything about that out there?" An isolated scream echoed in the distance. It had a quality which set it aside from other recent screams. Those had been filled with pain, rage, and fear. This one was redolent of something darker.
He hemmed and hawed in that way he and his brother One-Eye have. If you don't know, they figure it's a secret worth keeping. Wizards! "There's a rumor that the mutineers broke the seals on the tomb of the forvalaka while they were plundering the Necropolitan Hill."
"Uh? Those things are loose?"
"The Syndic thinks so. The Captain don't take it seriously."
I didn't either, though Tom-Tom looked concerned. "They looked tough. The ones who were here the other day."
"Ought to have recruited them," he said, with an undertone of sadness. He and One-Eye have been with the Company a long time. They have seen much of its decline.
"Why were they here?"
He shrugged. "Get some rest, Croaker. Don't kill yourself. Won't make a bit of difference in the end." He ambled away, lost in the wilderness of his thoughts.
I lifted an eyebrow. He was way down. I turned back to the fires and lights and disturbing absence of racket. My eyes kept crossing, my vision clouding. Tom-Tom was right. I needed sleep.
From the darkness came another of those strange, hopeless cries. This one was closer.
* * *
"Up, Croaker." The Lieutenant was not gentle. "Captain wants you in the officers' mess."
I groaned. I cursed. I threatened mayhem in the first degree. He grinned, pinched the nerve in my elbow, rolled me onto the floor. "I'm up already," I grumbled, feeling around for my boots. "What's it about?"
He was gone.
"Will Mercy pull through, Croaker?" the Captain asked.
"I don't think so, but I've seen bigger miracles."
The officers and sergeants were all there. "You want to know what's happening," the Captain said. "The visitor the other day was an envoy from overseas. He offered an alliance. The north's military resources in exchange for the support of Beryl's fleets. Sounded reasonable to me. But the Syndic is being stubborn. He's still upset about the conquest of Opal. I suggested he be more flexible. If these northerners are villains then the alliance option could be the least of several evils. Better an ally than a tributary. Our problem is, where do we stand if the legate presses?"
Excerpted from The Black Company by Glen Cook. Copyright © 1984 Glen Cook. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Hunting The Great Whales,
Chapter One: Legate,
Chapter Two: Raven,
Chapter Three: Raker,
Chapter Four: Whisper,
Chapter Five: Harden,
Chapter Six: Lady,
Chapter Seven: Rose,
Tor Books by Glen Cook,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Black Company is a dark fantasy about the last company of elite mercenaries who, having failed their last contract must flee from their home country or be killed. Finding themselves under the employment of some kind of zombie-wizard thing who in turn is under the control of an even greater zombie wizard thing.. The characters are interesting in that they are only known by nicknames or titles, The Captain while being a somewhat important character is known only as the Captain. Apparently this is because a true name is incredible powerful in some way. But this can get confusing as for a while I didn't know there was actually a character that was named the Rebel and assumed for a while they were referring to the rebel army. the lack of back-story for almost all of the characters is somewhat off-putting when trying to understand them at first but becomes quickly irrelevant as they begin to grow on you as, through the main character Croaker, you feel the strong brotherhood between members of the Company The story itself is presented through the eyes of the Company's Doctor and recorder Croaker, who does much less doctoring and a great deal more investigating and writing. As such the reader only knows what Croaker knows and at some points thats not a whole lot, at one confusing part where i thought i lost a few pages, a character is presumed dead one second and just a few paragraphs later is sitting at the table playing cards with no mention on what happened in between. Other times the amount of things happening all at once increases and feels fast paced and exciting. All in all a great and interesting story that had me stuck til the end, and already getting ready to continue on in the next book.
Reviewer: Eric Fraga The Black Company Review Glen Cook has written something special, that's for sure. When critics say that he redefined the genre of fantasy epic, they weren't kidding. Cook writes a thrilling tale about The Black Company, an elite mercenary group. Throughout the tale, the group is hired, fired, betrayed, and praised by friends, foes, and strangers alike. Interestingly enough, the story follows a physician (and historian) for the Company, as we see through his eyes, the hardships of war and the dark sides of humanity. That is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book. There is no good and evil. There is only humans being humans, doing what they do best, and that's surviving. To survive, the Company finds that they may have to give up something greater than just morals or reputation though, but perhaps their own souls. By being driven to ally themselves with the enemy of the world, they find themselves being used to quell uprisings, assassinate rebel wizards, and fight in epic battles that span many different battlefields. But when is it too much? Who is the true enemy in this world of magic and darkness? Can evil with good intentions be not all that bad? These are all questions that are left to the reader to find out for themselves. What I can tell you though, is that this is an excellent book and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys the fantasy epic genre, military genre, or even history genre. The scope of this epic is beyond anything I have ever read. Cheers and happy reading!
This is a great dark fantasy series, I couldn't recommend it enough. I've given my copy out to so many people and now they're all fans.
This is by far the best, most entertaining dark fantasy series since it's inception. This is awesome reading, 1st book a little slow in the beginning, but it picks up till soon you cant put it down. This book has all that makes the best of a dark fantasy story : Lich's, Revenant's & Necromancers galore, intrigue & Skullduggery. The entire series kicks butt, get's a little overly narrative and political by book 8-10, but it's worth it! Personal note: Silver Spike is awesome and very creepy. This series stands side to side with the likes of J. R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings, among many others, it's a shame the series ended by book 10(which I am still reading) but all good things do have an ending.
This is the first installment of a series of Black Company novels and it also happens to be the best. Cook easily conveys a 'you are there' sense of first-person realism that eludes so many of today's fantasy authors. He is content to weave a masterful, fast-paced, and addictive plot--one driven by deep character developement and rich, flavorfull dialogue--and leaves mundane descriptions of the local flora and fauna to the readers imagination. Afterall, once you've seen one 'Boars Head Inn,' you really have seen them all. The bottom line? If you are looking for a Tolken-esk experience, forget it. Cook's Black Company is all about plot and action. It's a hard-boiled, pan-fried look at life in a brotherhood of mercenaries as the men strive to meet the obligations of their duty, their employers, and their stomachs, and still get out of town alive! It's not just about 'humpin and lumpin' though. Cook's primary villans have vast reserves of magical power at their command, but don't expect any high-brow, mumbo-jumbo approach to magic in THIS book. The mages found in 'The Black Company' are frighteningly powerful, and they wield that power with a casual brutality that underscores their no-nonsense approach to world domination. Yes, THIS IS IT fantasy fans! This is the breath of fresh air we have all been looking for! 'The Black Company' is a raw and invigorating departure from classic fantasy. It's hard, it's gritty, and once you start reading, you WILL NOT be able to stop until you have completed the entire series! Buy it now, worry about the addiction later.
Makes no sense
This book is the first of a trilogy that is, in turn, part of a 10-volume (to date) work. This fantasy/military story is original and gripping reading; Glen Cook is one of the most consistent authors for good stories.
Gets much better as it goes along.Upto maybe halfway through the books is somewhat disjointed. It is the chronicles of a longstanding company of mercenaries called 'the Black company', who recall their exploits over the years in 'The Annals'. The current annalist is one 'Croaker' real name and past unknown. He is the medic for the company, which are currently in the town of Beryl acting as bodyguards for the ruling Subric. A strange beast is prowling the city and eventually the Company withdraw, into the service of a foreign vessel coincidentally in port at the same time. the Master of the vessel turns out to be Soulcatcher, one of the demigods of northern lands and a vassal of the Lady, an evil undead of vast godlike powers long thought absent from the world. Soulcatcher's allies - 9 other Taken - are attempting to preserve the Lady's empire against a Circle of 18 wizards leading a vast rebilion against her 'evil' rule. But the Company right and wrong doens't matter, only the purity of their service counts - and not having to fight unless you have to. The inital campains are disjointed as the company moves around a bit, and many details left untold by Croaker. However we learn a bit about a few of the more senior members, although out of a 600 strong company (and it was 6000 once apon a time) we only get a few names, and even less in the way of personalities. However as the action hots up the writing becomes more fluid, and the characters, especially croaker, gain more depth. The Taken politic amoungst themselves for the Lady's favour, and the Black Company are caught up admist their struggles. Meanwhile the Rebel forces draw ever nearer to the seat of the Lady's power.It's a quick read, but enjoyable. Croaker has several moral doubts, and even though the Black Company are hardly angelic there are limits. It's fairly obviously set-up for a sequel so some of the more engimatic characters may get more details later. There is a surprising and enjoyable pleasing absense of detailed fights, mostly summerised with we won and there were lots of bodies, however this is parto f what adds ot eh disjointed feeling at times.intreguing and I'll look for the sequels
A good start to this series. I look forward to more. I think Cook could have fleshed it out a little more, but maybe that's based on the expectations of modern fantasy epics. If you've read Stephen Erikson's Malazan series Cook's influence is very clear.
A unusual story for its presentation of a fantasy world from the common soldier's perspective; a bit like Lord of the Rings told from the viewpoint of an orc. But this "orc" is one member of a mercenary band of humans who, though they value their reputation for loyalty first and foremost, sometimes wonder whether they're fighting for the right side. Fantasy tropes are present but stay in the story's background, which remains dedicated to following the Black Company's moves under its employers. The Black Company might question their orders but they don't balk at carrying them out, whatever the complications this leads to.Croaker, as company annalist, relates the novel from his first-person perspective. It isn't clear whether what we're reading is the word-for-word record he sets down. I chose to read it that way, although doing so presents a few problems for the same reasons that I tend to think he's a reliable narrator: confessions that would embarrass him or cast doubt on his continuing as archivist, if they were read by the company. What's most interesting is that he's not certain of the moral ground occupied by key players on either side of the conflict that the Black Company finds itself embroiled in. He can only relate the orders his company receives and how they were carried out, while all else is his conjecture. Croaker reveals the swinging of his personal moral compass in how he sets down his record, even as he remains stubbornly loyal to and understanding of the amoral dictates that must guide the company he so strongly identifies with.In spite of the limited viewpoint, the author behind the narrator still does a fine job of giving us a big picture of events and the world they take place in, without ever giving away which side in the conflict is truly the good and the bad. Meanwhile we can empathize with Croaker's measuring sticks for trying to figure it out: his respect for the value of life, given his other role as the company's medic; the camaraderie among the company that keeps him grounded; and the actions he witnesses or becomes party to that make him doubt and wonder. Even by story's end, when he seems to have chosen which forces he believes represent good and evil, it feels like he's hedging his bets for practical reasons. Fantasy doesn't get any more realistic than that.
I found this book very difficult to get into. Cook's style put me off at first and it took me at least half the book to start to settle into it. Even 5 books into the series now I still struggle with it at times. However, the story is interesting and overall I am glad that I have plodded along through the books. Soulcatcher, Croaker and Raven are some of my favorite characters from this book. I think the introduction of Raven is what kept me reading.
Striking approach to epic fantasy: terse communiques written from the front lines by the medic of a band of mercenaries. No flowery descriptions here. It's all about the trenches, the platoon members, the bargains one makes with one's self during war. Except for a few key moments, the gods and generals are all off on the horizon. Though this was written almost 20 years ago it still feels new. There's a reason it was popular with the troops in the Gulf. Looking forward to the rest of the series.
The tale is told through the eyes of the company¿s physician and Annalist. He¿s fairly new to the company, and has limited knowledge of some of his more ancient colleagues. He reads and analyzes the history of the Company and attempts to order, in his mind, and in the annals, the story of his own service with the last free mercenary company as they struggle through a war-torn landscape where defeat is far more common than any sort of victory.Croaker is an astute observer of both his friends and his enemies and struggles, as he writes,to understand motivations and philosophies for those he comes to know. But his colleagues are not men who willingly share their inner thoughts and fears, he has only their actions to use as a measure of these men.We join the mercenaries as they are involved in supporting `The Lady¿ against `The Rebel¿ and are in a long and soul-deadening retreat, as her forces are being assaulted by a far larger and more motivated force attempting to drive her from power. The Black Company is the only group involved who are mercenaries, and are not sworn to fight for one side or the other.Much of the book involves Croaker trying to make sense of what morality and loyalty involve in light of their situation, and as he sees it, it is mostly to his fellow soldiers and few friends, as well as living up to your word and your contract, no matter what horrors you find yourself facing, even when you realize you are fighting for Evil, or are you? Not knowing who is in the right, who is just, who is the lesser Evil, Croaker swallows his doubts and fears and just does what he¿s told, to the best of his ability.The characters in the piece are complex and interesting, and you never do really get their entire story, particularly not the two newest members of the mercenaries, Raven and a girl he saves from murder and mayhem, Darling. But through Raven, somehow, Croaker ends up singled out by `the Lady¿ who is a sorcerer and who is frightening even to battle-hardened men. He tries to understand why and how she chooses him and finds himself far more afraid of her, than he is of a terrifying battlefield.This is not the sort of book that will appeal to a lot of readers. It is grim and gritty and there are no heroes and no clear winners. But the book held my interest and got me thinking of warfare and its effects on not only the landscape and the civilians but also on the soldiers themselves and their own efforts to justify actions that oftentimes seem inhumane and senseless.
This book deserves its accolades and its longevity; it is just excellent, a worthy contribution to the genre!The Black Company is the first chapter of a sweeping tale surrounding a fraternity of soldiers-of-fortune enlisted into the last of the Twelve True Companies. Forged four centuries earlier and named so, when all its members were black-skinned, this disparate group forms a tightly-bound, mercenary brotherhood; the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar holding on precariously to their past traditions with few new members. This story serves as a chronicle of their latest adventure, related by their physician, Annalist, part-time historian and scholar, Croaker, who, with his perspicacity and underlying honour, commands a respect from both his brothers and the reader. Recounted in segments, Croaker enlightens us, in a charming, self-derogatory manner, with the background, the necessary history and the present circumstances as the company undertakes its latest commission to the Lady and her `Taken¿ minions; sorcerers recently escaped from a long imprisonment imposed by the White Rose, and now under attack by forces of the Rebel. Unwillingly used as a pawn in a colossal power-play, the Black Company thus finds itself, and its core members, the focus and pivot of titanic battles and numerous betrayals now engulfing their world.This is a big, bold, bustling epic of a story, replete with copious battles and cunning politics, and with villains aplenty. But what sets this tale apart from other military fantasy is the underlying ethos asserted in the book by the author: ¿ There are no self-proclaimed villains, only regiments of self-proclaimed saints. Victorious historians rule where good or evil lies.¿ (p.108)Thus it is simple to connect with this rabble of a group; unproblematic to empathise with their philosophy ¿ evil is found in all, just in varying shades.Every now and again one finds a favourite fantasy with an inventive plot, a multitude of fascinating characters and a premise which is both engaging and original ¿ but with a profundity that sets the narrative apart. I consider this book as such, and, along with its well-constructed phrasing and fast-paced story-line, it encourages me to believe that this entire series will entertain thoroughly throughout. And it is patently obvious why writers of so many of the recently-written popular fantasy epics have been influenced by these books ¿ the cream always rises to the top!
It's easy to see the influence of Glen Cook's The Black Company in much of modern fantasy, including the works of Steven Erickson and Joe Abercrombie. Despite being published in the 80s, the grittiness of his flawed characters is very much at home next to books published 20 years later. The writing style is a comfortable hybrid between internal narration and diary entry, which Cook uses to quickly progress the story through weeks and months of forced marches through desert and swamp and field.
"The Black Company" is the story of the the titular mercenary unit, the last of the Free Companies of Khatovar. The tale is told through the perspective of Croaker, the Company's medic and annalist. Croaker's narrative records the Black Company's exploits over the period of a couple years as they go from transfer from a previous employer into the service of "The Lady," a dread sorceress from the North. She is embattled in a bitter war with a rebellion led by a circle of eighteen rogue wizards. The rebellion is motivated by a prophecy that one day a child known as the "White Rose" would lead the rebellion to victory against The Lady. The Black Company becomes a main instrument in the Lady's war machine, even as they're pushed further and further back toward her capital and what looks to be sure defeat.The novel's mood is decidedly grim, a great example of the gritty fantasy genre. For the Black Company life is hard and shored, filled with a never-ending cycle of death and destruction. And since the novel is written from the experiences of the Company annalist, there is little attention paid to world-building. Oh, there's enough explanation of backstory to make the tale understandable, but only just. Many of the typical facets of fantasy worlds are not explored, and for good reason. If the narrator is writing to the people in his realm, there is a certain amount of information that the author would assume to be common knowledge. Therefore it wouldn't be necessary to include them. This style of story-telling depends upon an active and insightful reader, but if you simply read and give the novel a chance, I think most people will adapt to it quickly. I myself struggled with the style at first, but that frustration didn't last long. The momentum of the story quickly grabbed me by the throat and wouldn't let go.Cook avoids many of the usual fantasy tropes, which was refreshing. He also uses a narrative voice that is often short and succinct. The story is distilled down to actions and dialogue, a few personal musings, but very little that might detract from the pacing of the book. Grim details are often discussed with a matter-o-fact-ness that might shock some readers, but again, it all fits with the POV. After all, it's what you would expect from a warrior poet. And all that together makes "The Black Company" different from most of the fantasy novels out there. It's one of the reasons I found the novel to be so enjoyable.If you haven't figured it out by now, I really enjoyed this one. The novel may have been published in 1984, but it's edge hasn't dulled one bit. The story itself is great, and I was blown away by Cook's skill and inventiveness of style. I gave it a totally fan-boy rating of five stars, mostly because I'm a sucker for gritty fantasy. And "The Black Company" is gritty fantasy done right.
Dark and gritty military sci-fi/fantasy, this follow the mercs of Black Company as they enter into The Lady's service. This is the first of the series and it did take me about 1/4th of the book to settle into Cook's narrative style, since at times, I felt it was a wee bit disjointed. That smooths out however as pertinent background info is slowly delivered. The mercs themselves are intriguing; men who do not wish their backgrounds to be known and with names like Silent, Croaker, Candy, etc - they keep even their real name secret - I found the mysterious/shadowly approach fitting. There is magic and upheaval in this world - reminds me of both Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion series (though that is decidely ...more paladin/good oriented) and George R. R. Martins' series (A Song of Fire & Ice) for a grittier feel. Ultimately though, it's neither and stands on its own merits.
Part of the best-selling "Black Company" series, noted for it's highly personal style and gritty prose.
Who says heroes have to be on the side of the righteous? This is a story of a mercenary company enlisted to serve the Empire of an evil Sorceror-Empress. It is told through Croaker, the Company Annalist, and holds you right from the get go, as he charts the Company's course. Along the way we see a memorable Empire, a ruinous war, a titanic battle, and very little traditional heroism. A great read.
Love this series was hooked from the first chapter
One of my all time favorite fantasy series. Great characters, lots of humor and evil wizards out smarted by a band of brothers. I recommend reading all of the black company books.
It hits just enough familiar elements that you fall right into the world but has enough interesting twists that it's new and exciting. The writing style is unusual: clipped, to the point, but effective at painting brilliant pictures. How I missed this series for this long is beyond me but, if it stays this good, I've got several long, adventure-filled nights ahead!