Have you ever read ‘Lord of the Rings’ and wondered if the orcs ever sat round their campfires and spouted elvish poetry (like the Fellowship always seem to do, seriously…)? Do you nod your head when someone says that it takes an evil overlord to actually get things done? Have you ever wondered what mercenaries actually do (other than act all swarthy and have their way with women who should know better)? If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions then I would suggest that you go to your local bookshop, get yourself a copy of ‘The Black Company’ and get reading. It’s a ten book series but don’t let that put you off. The longest only weighs in at 400(ish) pages, nothing like the more chunky tomes we’re used to seeing these days.
The Black Company is the last of the Twelve True Companies that marched out of Khatovar. Their original purpose has been long forgotten and now they will fight for whoever pays them. Croaker is the Keeper of the Company Annals and it is his voice that guides us through what turns out to be the Black Company’s final campaign, from the Lady’s Tower at Charm to Khatovar itself…
The ‘Black Company’ books are blunt and gritty affairs that make no allowance for what the reader may usually want out of a fantasy book. No florid prose here; what you see is what you get and if you can’t handle the things that the Black Company does then the life of a mercenary is not for you. Life is tough; it would be when you’re working for an evil Queen (The Lady) who believes she is the only one capable of keeping her much more powerful husband in his grave. Therein lies one of the questions that the series asks, would you ally yourself with evil in order to do good and find redemption? Redemption proves to be a key theme throughout the series as the Company leaves the Northern continent and heads south towards its home. Each book brings it own trials and decisions must be made between doing the right thing and doing what you have been paid for. Croaker’s voice holds things together to the extent where if he takes a break from the story telling (and he does), things don’t seem quite right and the quality of the tale seems to drop. While Cook does not overload the reader with descriptive prose, his rendition of a world weary soldier (with nothing left but the brotherhood of the Company) is strangely poignant and Croaker’s character will find his way into your list of favourites.
It’s not all bleak and grim though. A romance (a strange couple!) will play a pivotal role as the series progresses and the attempts of Goblin and One-Eye to outdo each other, in magical combat and practical jokes, will never fail to make you laugh.
If you live in the UK it’s not quite so easy to find these books (Forbidden Planet in London is your best bet) but they are well worth seeking out. Although not so well known, the ‘Black Company’ books have proved influential to many authors (not least Steven Erikson) and fully deserve a place in the pantheon of great fantasy literature.
‘The Black Company’ – Books
‘The Black Company’ (The First Chronicle)
‘Shadows Linger’ (The Second Chronicle)
‘The White Rose’ (The Third Chronicle)
‘The Silver Spike’
‘Shadow Games’ (The First Book of the South)
‘Dreams of Steel’ (The Second Book of the South)
‘Bleak Seasons’ (Book One of Glittering Stone)
‘She is the Darkness’ (Book Two of Glittering Stone)
‘Water Sleeps’ (Book Three of Glittering Stone)
‘Soldiers Live’ (Book Four of Glittering Stone)
‘A Pitiless Rain’ (To be published)
‘Port of Shadows’ (To be published)