Saturday, 26 March 2016

The White Rose re-read

(Originally posted on Sunday, 27 October 2013)

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

What a book! And what a trilogy! The White Rose is definitely much better as a series-ending novel than Soldiers Live. It’s a much better book overall.

I wondered why I rated The White Rose so low the first time through and I came to conclusion that I was not ready then for Glen Cook to be nostalgic about getting old. Now I know that it was just a notion of being nostalgic and The White Rose is a fairy tale compared to his later Black Company and Garrett novels, in this regard.

The second time through I even enjoyed the slower pace of the first part of the book. It’s not slow, but SLOWER than the second part of the book. And the second part of the book is a page-turner full of action and plot twists. Pure fun.

Glen Cook is a master of characterisation, but in this novel he also gave some great (but short) descriptions, especially of the Plain of Fear.

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

     As we passed it the menhir said, "There are strangers on the Plain, Croaker."
     Why do these things happen to me? The big stones talk to me more than to anyone else.
     Twice a charm? I paid attention. For a menhir to repeat itself meant it considered its message critical.(…)

     An old, tired man. That is what I am. What became of the old fire, drive, ambition? There were dreams once upon a time, dreams now all but forgotten. On sad days I dust them off and fondle them nostalgically, with a patronizing wonder at the naivete of the youth who dreamed them.

     The talking menhir that had forewarned us about the messenger remained rooted beside the path. As I passed, it said, "There are strangers on the Plain, Croaker."
     I halted. "What? More of them?"
     It reverted to character, would say no more.
     Never will I comprehend those old stones. Hell, I still don't understand why they are on our side. They hate all outsiders separately but equally. They and every one of the weird sentiences out here.

     Curious, he thought. Why are we so intrigued by evil? The White Rose was more heroic than the Dominator or Taken. She has been forgotten by everybody but the Monitor's men. Any peasant can name half the Taken. The Barrowland, where evil lies restless, is guarded, and the grave of the White Rose is lost.

     The visible Plain is barren. The usual desert life-lichens and scrub brush, snakes and lizards, scorpions and spiders, wild dogs and ground squirrels - is present but scarce. You encounter it mainly when that is inconvenient. Which sums up Plain life generally. You encounter the real strangeness only when that is most inopportune. The Lieutenant claims a man trying to commit suicide here could spend years without becoming uncomfortable.

     Sagey scents trickled across my nostrils. Air chuckled and whispered and murmured and whistled in the coral. From farther away came the wind-chimes tinkle of Old Father Tree.
     He is unique. First or last of his kind, I do not know. There he stands, twenty feet tall and ten thick, brooding beside the creek, radiating something akin to dread, his roots planted on the geographical center of the Plain. Silent, Goblin, and One-Eye have all tried to unravel his significance. They have gotten nowhere. The scarce wild human tribesmen of the Plain worship him. They say he has been here since the dawn. He does have that timeless feel.

     There are trails through the Plain. Some of them the Plain honors as safe. Sometimes. According to a formula known only to its denizens.(…)

     Old folks called the winter a harbinger of worse to come. But old folks always see today's weather as more harsh than that of yore. Or milder. Never, never the same.

     While we were scattering the (…) the windwhale lifted off. Maybe half a dozen men managed to scramble aboard. It rose just enough to clear the rooftops, then headed south. There was not yet enough light to betray it.
     You can imagine the cussing and shouting. Even Toadkiller Dog found the energy to snarl. I slumped in defeat, dropped my butt onto a hitching rail, sat there shaking my head. A few men sped arrows after the monster. It did not notice.
     Tracker leaned on the rail beside me. I grumped, "You wouldn't think something that big would be chicken." I mean, a windwhale can destroy a city.

     A good man, the Lieutenant. He kept his cool when, like all of us, what he wanted to do was run in circles and scream.

     Some of the young men broke for the parade ground. The Lieutenant's curses did not slow them. Neither did Elmo's snarls and threats. The Lieutenant yelled for the rest of us to follow.
     Goblin and One-Eye loosed something nasty. For a moment I thought it was some cruel conjured demon. It looked vile enough. And it did stall the (…). But like much of their magic, it was illusion, not substance. The enemy soon caught on.

     The old tree tinkled. I stopped, considered it. It had to be thousands of years old. Trees grow very slow on the Plain. What stories it would tell!
     "Come on, Croaker," Goblin called. "Old Father ain't talking." He grinned his frog grin.
     They know me too well. Know when I see anything old I wonder what it has seen.(…)

     Goblin wakened me. He returned my amulets. "We're going to play hide-and-seek," he said. "We'll give you a head start. If we've done everything right, we won't be able to find you."
     "Now that's wonderful," I replied. "Me alone out here, wandering around lost." I was just carping. I could find the Hole. As a nasty practical joke I was tempted to head straight there.
     This was business, though.

     She smiled, amused. "I have read your Annals, Croaker. New and old."
     I began throwing wood onto the embers of my fire. I was not dreaming. "You have them?" Till that moment I had silenced guilt with promises to recover them.
     "They were found after the battle. They came to me. I was pleased. You are honest, as historians go."

     As a strategy it goes back to the dawn of time, having been used again and again where regular armies face partisans in wild country. It is a patient strategy that depends on the will of the conqueror to persevere. It works where that will exists and fails where it does not.

     There is a hypothesis which states that the strange species of the Plain have appeared as a result of change storms. It has been proposed, too, that the change storms are responsible for the Plain itself. That each gnaws a bit more off our normal world.
     The whales gave up trying to outrun the storm and plunged earthward, below the curve of expanding storm, getting down where the fall would be shorter if they changed into something unable to fly. Standard procedure for anyone caught in a change storm. Stay low and don't move.

     "That was the Company's trademark," I concluded. "Get the enemy to do something stupid. We were the best when it came to fighting, but we only fought when nothing else worked."
     "But you were paid to fight." Things were black-and-white to Tracker. Sometimes I thought he had spent too much time in the woods.

     "What? Wait. Go in yourselves? What're you talking about?"
     "Figured you understood Goblin and I would have to follow him in. In order to bring him out."
     "Why both of you?"
     "One to cover in case the point man gets in trouble."
     Goblin nodded. They were all business now. Meaning they were scared crapless.

     "You let them go."
     "I made my point."
     "She'll shift tactics."
     "Of course she will. But for the moment the hammer is in my hand. By not using it I've told her something.(…)"

     Put on any deadline and time accelerates. The clockwork of the universe runs off an overwound mainspring. Four days went down the jakes, zip! And I did not waste much time sleeping.

     One night the moon was full, a fat orange bladder just scaling the hills to the east. A grand sight, especially with patrolling mantas crossing its face. For some reason the desert had a lilac luminescence upon all its edges. The air was chill. There was
a dust of powder swirling on the breeze, fallen that afternoon.
A change storm flickered far away to the north…
     A menhir appeared beside me. I jumped three feet. "Strangers on the Plain, rock?" I asked.
     "None stranger than you, Croaker."
     "I get a comedian.(…)"

     Elmo growled. For a moment I thought Silent might say something. I eyed him expectantly, smiling. I had been waiting twenty-some years. No luck.
     Whatever vow he had taken, whatever it was that had driven him to abstain from speech, it had put a steel lock on Silent's jaw. I have seen him so pissed he could chew nails, so excited he lost sphincter control, but nothing has shaken his resolution against talking.

     (…)"Do not be brokenhearted if you find he is too old to change."
     Wan smile. "My heart was broken a long time ago. No. I have no expectations. This is not a fairy-tale world."

     Why do sorcerers always use languages nobody understands? Even Goblin and One-Eye do it. Each has confided that he cannot follow the tongue the other uses. Maybe they make it up?

     "It is only slightly less difficult for us to extinguish the light within us than it is for us to conquer the darkness. A Dominator occurs once in a hundred generations. The others, like the Taken, are but imitations."

     Goblin and One-Eye tried hypnotizing him, hoping to plumb his ancient memories. It was like stalking ghosts in a heavy fog.

     Her bleak mood began to make sense. I have seen it on the battlefield, with men about to undertake a task likely to be fatal but which must be hazarded so others will not perish.

     My heart was setting records for carrying on. My hands shook so much it seemed the bones ought to rattle. I doubted I could put an arrow into an elephant from five feet.

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