Monday, 28 March 2016

Shadows Linger re-read

(Originally posted on Tuesday, 27 August 2013)

My original rating: 8/10
My final rating: 9/10

Shadows Linger is much better the second time through than the first time. Now I even enjoyed the part about Shed – a character from outside the Black Company. The story is written in a very good way. Considering the “art of writing” Shadows Linger is definitely better than the first novel.

The part focusing on the Black Company is simply fantastic, especially the fight against the Black Castle. The very ending is the weakest part, but it is just a transition to the next novel.

Overall, after re-reading Shadows Linger without my previous expectations, I now rate it as a very good novel.

Below are my favorite, spoiler-free quotes. Enjoy!

     You try your damnedest, but something always goes wrong. That's life. If you're smart, you plan for it.

     We did have cards up our sleeves. We never play fair if we can avoid it. The Company philosophy is to maximize effectiveness while minimizing risk.

     Lately I've felt the burden of time more and more, all too often dwelling on everything I've missed. I can laugh at peasants and townies chained all their lives to a tiny corner of the earth while I roam its face and see its wonders, but when I go down, there will be no child to carry my name, no family to mourn me save my comrades, no one to remember, no one to raise a marker over my cold bit of ground. Though I have seen great events, I will leave no enduring accomplishment save these Annals.

     "What we need is a challenge," I suggested. "We haven't stretched ourselves since Charm." Which was a half-truth. An operation which compelled us to become totally involved in staying alive might be a prescription for symptoms, but was no remedy for causes. As a physician, I was not fond of treating symptoms alone. They could recur indefinitely. The disease itself had to be attacked.      "What we need," Goblin said in a voice so soft it almost vanished in the crackle of the flames, "is a cause we can believe in."

     Shed was tempted to betray Raven. The man had to have a fortune hidden. But he was afraid of a thousand things, and his guest stood at the top of the list.

     I also wonder about the villainies attributed to the Domination. History, inevitably, is recorded by self-serving victors.

     (…) We three looked at one another with card-playing faces, frightened inside. I said, "Somebody ought to tell the Captain."
     "Yeah," One-Eye said. He made no move to go. Neither did Silent.
     "All right. I'm elected." I went. I found the Captain doing what he does best. He had his feet up on his worktable, was snoring.
I wakened him, told him.
     He sighed. "Find the Lieutenant." He went to his map cases.
I asked a couple questions he ignored, took the hint and got out.

     Shed swallowed. "That isn't a plan that does much for my nerves."
     "Your nerves aren't my problem, Shed. They're yours. You lost them. Only you can find them again."

     I glanced at Elmo. He agreed. From this moment forward we would be fighting for the survival of the outfit.

     So. As always, the shit rolls downhill. The normal course would be for me to go out and tromp on somebody below me.
     "Half the problem is, we don't know what's going on. If you claim you know what the castle is, how it's growing and so forth, how come you don't go over and kick it down? Or turn it into grape preserves or something?''
     "It's not that simple."
     It never is. I tend to overlook political ramifications. I am not politically minded.

     Bullock scowled. There had been some ill will when he found out that we had put men into the Buskin without consulting him. "All right. But don't play any more fast shuffle with me, eh? Your people and mine aren't after the same things, but that's no reason to undermine each other, eh?"

     I could stare at its obsidian walls and grotesque decoration, recall Shed's stories, and never avoid dipping into the cesspool of my own soul, never avoid searching myself for the essential decency shelved through most of my adult life. That castle was, if you like,
a moral landmark. If you had a brain. If you had any sensitivity at all.
     There were times when One-Eye, Goblin, Elmo or another of the men accompanied me. Not one of them went away untouched. They could stand there with me, talking trivialities about its construction or, weightily, about its significance in the Company's future, and all the while something would be happening inside.
     I do not believe in evil absolute. I have recounted that philosophy in specific elsewhere in the Annals, and it affects my every observation throughout my tenure as Annalist. I believe in our side and theirs, with the good and evil decided after the fact, by those who survive. Among men you seldom find the good with one standard and the shadow with another. In our war with the Rebel, eight and nine years ago, we served the side perceived as the shadow. Yet we saw far more wickedness practiced by the adherents of the White Rose than by those of the Lady. The villains of the piece were at least straightforward.

     Oh, 'twould be marvelous if the world and its moral questions were like some game board, with plain black players and white, and fixed rules, and nary a shade of grey.

     We reached the ridgeline west of the castle. The Lieutenant paused. "How close can you get?"
     I shrugged. "I haven't had the balls to find out."

     The Lieutenant chuckled. Months of hardship had not sapped his bizarre sense of humor. "Simple minds respond to simple answers. A few months of Candy's reforms and the Duke will be a hero."
     I understood the reasoning. Juniper was a lawless city, ruled by regional strongmen. There were hordes of Sheds who lived in terror, continuously victimized. Anyone who lessened the terror would win their affection. Adequately developed, that affection would survive later excesses.
     I wondered, though, if the support of weaklings was worth much. Or if, should we successfully infect them with courage, we might not be creating trouble for ourselves later. Take away daily domestic oppression and they might imagine oppression on our part.
     I have seen it before. Little people have to hate, have to blame someone for their own inadequacies.

     The castle creatures stood frozen, surprise in their ophidian eyes. The Lieutenant reached them first, stopped, wound up, took a mighty two-handed swing.
     He lugs a hanger that is damned near an executioner's sword.
A blow like that would have severed the necks of three men. It did not remove the head of his victim, though it did bite deep. Blood sprayed the three of us.
     Elmo went with a thrust, as did I. His sword drove a foot into his victim. My dagger felt like it had hit soft wood. It sank but three inches into my victim. Probably not deeply enough to reach anything vital.
     I yanked my blade free, poked around in my medical knowledge for a better killing point. Elmo kicked his victim in the chest to get his weapon free.
     The Lieutenant had the best weapon and approach. He hacked another neck while we diddled around.
     Then One-Eye lost it. The eyes of the castle creatures came alive. (…)

     The project was one of several feints the Lieutenant would employ, though the way he plans a siege, one day's feint can become another's main thrust. Drawing on a manpower pool like Juniper, he could exercise every option.
     I felt a certain pride, watching the siege take shape. I have been with the Company a long time. Never had we undertaken so ambitious a project. Never had we been given the wherewithal. (…)

     I have been told I always look at the dark underbelly of tomorrow. Possibly. You're less likely to be disappointed that way.

     What she said was true. During the battle at Charm the Lady had dragged me around with her so the events of the day would be recorded as they happened. And she did not demand special treatment. In fact, she insisted I write stuff as I saw it. There was just the faintest whiff of a hint that she expected to be toppled sometime, and, once she was, expected maltreatment by historians. She wanted a neutral record to exist. I hadn't thought about that for years. It was one of the more curious anomalies I'd noted about her. She did not care what people thought of her, but was frightened that the record would be bastardized to suit someone else's ends.

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