Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Black Company (first novel in the Black Company series)

(Originally posted on Saturday, 16 May 2009)

My rating: 9/10 (very high re-reading value)

This book is written in a quasi first person perspective, as if it were a chronicle of the Black Company. The narrator is the annalist of the company, who sometimes gives his sarcastic commentary. Personally I enjoy first person perspective in books, and this one is done very well.

The Black Company is a mercenary group that can be hired by anyone who is able to pay enough. They unwillingly get into service under “the wrong side” and are caught in a war on a huge scale. They have no other choice as to do what they are paid for as good as they can. They are just trying to survive.

Most of the soldiers in its rank consider the Black Company as a family in a sense that they don’t have any other place they could go, or any other thing they could do or want to do. The reader learn hardly anything about their past, which is very good, because the plot is therefore much faster.

One of the things I liked in this novel is the fact that female characters are very strong (this is true for almost all of Glen Cook’s books). The most powerful wizard in this book is a woman. There are also other women playing important roles, although the Black Company itself has no women among its ranks (at least in this novel).

The characters in this book are unforgettable. Even their names work on imagination and are easy to remember. Some of the most memorable characters are evil wizards: Lady, Soulcatcher, Limper, Shapeshifter. Other wizards’ names are also catchy even if they are playing minor parts: Howler, Bonegnasher, Nightcrawler, Hanged Man, Raker, Whisper, Feather, Journey.

The main characters from the Black Company itself are very interesting and likeable: One-Eye, Goblin, Silent, Croaker, Captain, Lieutenant, Hagop, Otto, Elmo. I don’t know any other book from which I remember so many names of the characters. It’s remarkable.

One more important thing. There are NO elves, dwarves, orcs or similar characters in this book. There are some strange creatures, but they live in a certain area of the world called The Plain of Fear. They are not part of the “human world” and their origins are mysterious.

As for the plot: the action starts right from the first page and hardly ever lets up. The book ends with a battle on a huge scale. There is one thing I would like to point out: the fighting scenes are not very personal or detailed. Don’t expect descriptions of sword duels or something similar. Most of the fighting in Glen Cook’s books is based on a broader view.

The parts between fighting scenes are also interesting and fun. This book has a very good balance between different kinds of action and they are all good. Of course that is true if you like Glen Cook’s style of writing and his down to earth approach.

The ideas found in The Black Company are in my opinion very original. Even if some themes are a little similar to other books they are so uniquely put together that they become a whole new concept. Glen Cook’s imagination is exceptional. Combined with his gritty realism, it gives a very entertaining read.

The narration is not smooth, which is a common problem with Glen Cook’s novels. This is the only problem I see. The rest is unforgettable.

Overall for me The Black Company is a very good book. Almost perfect.

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