Sunday, 20 March 2016

Bleak Seasons re-read

(Originally posted on Saturday, 21 December 2013)

My original rating: 8/10
My final rating: 7/10

Bleak Seasons is a strange book. The start is terrible, but soon the narration improves greatly. However the narrator suffers from “time travels” and the siege of Dejagore is interrupted by events that will happen in the future. A bad idea. Really bad. Re-reading Bleak Seasons was definitely not as enjoyable as re-reading the original trilogy.

The parts concerning narrator’s “time travels” seemed strange the first time through, but at least they moved the overall plot of the series a little forward. This time they were plain annoying to me because from the Black Company novels numbered 4 through 10 Bleak Seasons was the only one I wanted to re-read. From the time perspective, especially knowing how the series would unfold in the last 3 novels I must say that the overall plot about journey toward Khatovar, about Kina and about glittering plain full of deadly shadows were really stretched out and inconsistent.

The parts of Bleak Seasons concerning the siege of Dejagore are mostly great. Mostly. Unfortunately it’s not much more than half of the novel and I was disappointed about it. I thought it would be more than three quarters. It turns out that I had remembered only the good parts of the book and this time they were not enough to hold my original rating. But there are some great moments in Bleak Seasons.

Here are my favourite, spoiler-free quotes. Enjoy!

     Those long mounds that radiate from the city like spokes have corpses stacked like cordwood inside. Sometimes they didn't pile the dirt on deep enough and the gasses of corruption burst the mounds open. That's when you hope the wind is blowing their way.

     With the exceptions of three hidden doors, all entrances to the Company's quarters have been bricked up. Likewise every window opening below third floor levels. Alleys and breezeways are now a maze of deathtraps. The three usable entrances can be reached only by climbing outside stairways subject to missile fire their entire rise. Where we could manage we have fireproofed.
     For the Black Company there is no inactivity during the days of siege. Even One-Eye works. When I can find him.

     Cletus, Loftus and Longinus are geniuses. They figured out how to bring fresh air down the chimneys of existing structures up top, then into the deep tunnels, let it flow slowly through the complex, then send it up other chimneys. Plain engineering, but it seemed like sorcery to me. (…)

     Clever me, I make every effort to be polite to the Speaker.
And I keep reminding the guys to be respectful and protective of all Nyueng Bao, even if provoked. I am trying to encourage the taking of a longer view than is usual with ordinary people.
     We have no friends anywhere in these strange lands.
     Ky Dam faced the darkened plain. His presence was strong. Many Jaicuri believe he is a sorcerer. Goblin and One-Eye say he can be called a wizard in the word's most archaic sense, of wise man.
     The old boy drew a breath that seemed to enhance his aura of strength. "It will be different tonight." He spoke mainstream Taglian with no accent.
     "Their master has recovered his powers."
     The Speaker glanced at me sharply, then at Goblin and
One-Eye. "Ah. So."
     "Exactly." I've always wanted to do that when some old fart made cryptic noises. I couldn't help myself when the perfect opportunity arrived.

     (…) I was confident that, no matter how many ropes they threw up, we could cut or dislodge their lines before they could climb that high, then, with lungs ready to fall out and arms too heavy to lift, get busy defending their bridgehead while other equally dim types made the same climb carrying a half ton of equipment apiece.

     Bad signs followed ill omens. The situation was grim indeed if One-Eye and Goblin could spare no time to quarrel.

     Nobody breathed for a while. Not even Shadowspinner, I'd bet. And I was sure he had no more idea what was happening than I did.

     "Goblin! One-Eye! Talk to me, boys. Tell me what the hell just happened."
     Goblin couldn't talk. One-Eye burbled, "I ain't got the faintest fucking idea, Kid. But we're downwind of one seriously pissed-off Shadowmaster who's probably going to blame you and me for his ulcers."

     I played the game the way I thought the Nyueng Bao would want. Ever since childhood I have suspected you get along better if you respect people's ways and wishes regardless of your apparent relative strengths.
     That doesn't mean you let people walk on you. It doesn't mean you eat their pain for them. You need to demand respect for yourself, too.

     Of material things I saw little but the clothing the people wore, a few ragged blankets, a couple of clay cups and a pot maybe used for cooking. And more swords nearly as long and fine as that carried by the Speaker's son.

     (…) I strove to keep my Taglian pronunciations clear. Men conversing in a tongue native to neither sorely tempt the devils of misunderstanding.

     Uncle Doj did a great deal more than watch us hack and stab southerners. He turned into a one-man cyclone flailing around with a lightning sword. He was as sudden as the lightning but as graceful as a dancer. Each time he moved another Shadowlander fell.
     "Damn," I told Goblin a while later. "Remind me not to get into a quarrel with that character."
     "I'll remind you to bring a crossbow and let him have it in the back from thirty feet is what I'll do. After I put a deafness and a stupidity spell on him to even things up a little."

     The short, wide man bowed far enough that his movement had to mean something. I bowed back, almost as deeply. That must have been the right move because he smiled slightly, bowed shallowly for himself, hustled off.
     "Runs like a duck," Candles observed.
     "I'm glad that duck was on our side, though."

     We are the Black Company. We have no friends. All others are the enemy, or at best not to be trusted. That relationship with the world does not require hatred or any other emotion. It requires wariness.

     Ky Dam's family occupied the same dismal, filthy, smoky, pungent hole until the deluge drove them out. The perquisites of power did not appeal to the Speaker. He had a place to get out of the rain. That was enough.

     (…) He moved very slowly, very carefully, making no sound.
     I did all right but not as well. The two Taglians might as well have worn cowbells.

     "Interesting. Come around and see me about it tomorrow."
     "I'm gonna be off watch in ten minutes and I intend to hit the sack. And you need some sleep yourself."
     My pal. Don't know what I would do if I didn't have One-Eye to worry about me.

     "The Annals aren't magic. What they say about sieges is plain commonsense stuff. Be stubborn. Ration. Don't support the nonproductive. Control the spread of plague. Don't exhaust your enemy's patience if there is no hope of outlasting him. If surrender is inevitable do it while your enemy is still amenable to terms."

     "What was that in aid of?" I asked once we were clear.
"I expected yelling and threats."
     "He wanted to pick your brains," Goblin said.
     "While he made up his mind if he was going to kill you,"
One-Eye added cheerfully.

     We came to a small open space beneath a ladder. That rose straight up into infinity, so far as I could see by the light of one feeble candle. I had a feeling the candle was a luxury laid on for me, that the Nyueng Bao made this journey entirely in darkness.

     This life hardens you. Too soon you have seen so much that when you encounter another something terrible you don't howl and run in circles, snapping at your tail. But most of us still appreciate horror if horror is there.
     Horror was there.

     I put all the blame for our ignorance on Goblin and One-Eye. You can blame a wizard for anything and people will believe you.

     Apparently none of us really remember anything exactly the way it happened. And often the divergence is proportional to the amount of ego and wishful thinking we have invested.

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