Monday, 20 September 2021

The Ultra Vivid Lament – a song-by-song review

(Originally posted on Monday, 20 September 2021; updated on 22 September 2021)

In the update I increased the rating for the song Diapause.

The Ultra Vivid Lament is the 14th studio album by Manic Street Preachers – my favourite music band ever. Before I bought this album I had heard two singles that can be found here:
“We live in Orwellian times”

Please notice that on Youtube you can find also other songs from the album, but their quality is clearly weaker than on the CD.

I must admit that when I was listening to the album in full for the first time I was not impressed by SOME of the songs, HOWEVER already on the second listen I realised that the music is simply fantastic and fits the lyrics perfectly in almost every song! Over time I grew to like more and more lyrics and the album became almost a masterpiece!

The album is so unique that I decided to write a song-by-song review – something I have NEVER done before! This is how much unique the album is!

1. Still Snowing in Sapporo (10/10)

We all have some memories of events from our past that are so strong that we can “relive” the events almost at will. This song is clearly about such an event:
“There are no holes in my recollections
Time has stopped and is perfectly frozen”

The music and the “singing” at the very start of the song are kind of strange, but it's actually brilliant because they fit the memories perfectly:
“I'm walking on my own, it's 1993
The heavy snow is falling like an angel over me
I see it all through a video camera filter
It feels so real like cheap golden glitter”

The music and the singing during the chorus are simply EPIC, especially during these lyrics:
“It's still snowing, snowing in Sapporo”

Even the voices heard at the very end of the song fit there perfectly. They are probably voices from the video recording made with that camera mentioned in the lyrics. What a song!

2. Orwellian (9/10)

This is actually a song where the lyrics are slightly better than the music.

“Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn
The future fights the past, the books begin to burn
Words wage war, meanings being missed
I'll walk you through the apocalypse

We live in Orwellian times
A deepening sense of fear and crime
On the playing fields, in exclusive clubs
And the people machines still making fools out of us”

3. The Secret He Had Missed (10/10)

The music and the singing is awesome throughout the songs. I actually like the verses more than the chorus!

The lyrics seem to be about real people, but they are quite universal:
“Never had the chance to reconcile
Living separate and lonely lives
If only we could meet again
We could find a different end”

4. Quest for Ancient Colour (6/10)

This is the only song in the whole album that I instantly skip – it didn't grew on me even after numerous listens. I don't like the lyrics and the music is nothing special, so it doesn't “enhance” the lyrics at all.

5. Don't Let the Night Divide Us (10/10)

It's one of the most energetic songs the Manics have ever written! I LOVE the music, especially the chorus, and I LOVE the lyrics!

“A land now so infected
Can be freed and equal
And when the sunlight bathes us
With sympathy and kindness

We have the cause and the conscience
We have the plans and the purpose
The light will come and find us
Don't let the night divide us

Reject all propaganda
They can't hide from truth's arrow
Vengeance will be yours and mine
We may use peace or violence
We may wage war or silence
This is a warning not a prayer”

6. Diapause (10/10)

The lyrics are quite melancholic, but the final line during the chorus as well as the music and the singing prevent them from becoming depressing. The music and the singing are simply fantastic!

“I looked into the sunset, I screamed and I sighed
I raised hope then it died so I ran and I lied
I stood still for a moment paralysed
The sky seemed so high as the world passed me by

I can't find a solution as decades unfold
So callous as my standstill takes hold

I mapped out a journey to reach my broken heart
Before I even started the plan began to fall apart
I've built so many walls to keep these feelings true
I've burnt so many bridges but not the one that leads to you”

7. Complicated Illusions (10/10)

The lyrics can be interpreted any way that suits you and the music and the singing are very enjoyable!

“Desires to break and deconstruct
I defend the middle ground
Every battle I've ever fought
Has either been lost or bought

And in the rhythm of your voice
I find space to rejoice
My complicated illusions
Leave me with no choice”

8. Into the Waves of Love (9/10)

An interesting combination of light-hearted music and mixed-up lyrics that, again, can be interpreted any way that suits you.

“I don't know what it is that I believe in
But it involves misery and keeping still
Of a silence so intense and hard to find
Of a place that's gone, of a hate that's kind

So throw me into the waves of love
Grant me the pleasures that God made up
Don't try to sell me a universal truth
I'm all given up on listening to you”

9. Blank Diary Entry (8/10)

The lyrics overall are kind of strange (or maybe my “level of comprehension” is simply too low) and the music “adjusts” to them, so at first I didn't like the song at all, but the chorus grew on me so much that I rate the song relatively high.

“Disciplined desires and toxic agendas
Polished by light yet still half remembered
Fatigued, tired, ragged and distressed
No way out of this unholy mess, I must confess

Just another blank diary entry
The emptiness tells its own story
Blank diary entry
A slow painful goodbye to glory, goodbye to glory”

10. Happy Bored Alone (9/10)

The chorus is AWESOME! Overall the music and the singing is surprisingly positive and energetic, considering the lyrics.

“I saw the smile of a dying hero
I saw the tears of a love that's leaving
Why is the day so long and broken
Why do these words remain unspoken

I am happy, I am bored and I'm alone
I am tired, I am restless and I'm cold
Why the chaos living in your soul
I am bored, I am happy and alone”

11. Afterending (10/10)

A perfect song to end the album! Just like the album in general, the song is hard to describe, but very enjoyable and thought-provoking! What a unique song/album!

“Progress is a comfortable disease
That brought us down to our knees
Not to pray but to cry and wish
While painting portraits of our loneliness

Sail into the abyss with me
After ending and after belief
After tomorrow, after the flood
After ending from below and above”

Thursday, 16 September 2021

“We live in Orwellian times”

(Originally posted on Wednesday, 4 August 2021; updated on 20 September 20201)

My favourite parts of the lyrics:

“Everywhere you look, everywhere you turn
The future fights the past, the books begin to burn
Words wage war, meanings being missed
I'll walk you through the apocalypse

We live in Orwellian times
A deepening sense of fear and crime
On the playing fields, in exclusive clubs
And the people machines still making fools out of us”

The song above is the first single from the 14th studio album by my favourite music band Manic Street Preachers. The album is called “The Ultra Vivid Lament” and I consider it almost a masterpiece. Below there is the second single from this album.

The song The Secret He Had Missed features vocals from Julia Cumming (Sunflower Bean), but the video for the single stars actress Aimee Ffion Edwards (Peaky Blinders).

Light pollution comparison

(Originally posted on Friday, 23 April 2021)

The first two videos below are simply spectacular, but it’s the third video that is really mind-blowing! The problem of light pollution is not only about “how many stars you can see”, but it’s also about the life (or death) of many living species on the Earth! Interestingly, it’s also about safety of people, including policemen, but it turns out that very bright night-streets are NOT safer! Though-provoking stuff, really!

Turn the full screen on!

Here I would like to point out something that I have just realized – the maximum star magnitude that you can see with the naked eye in the DARKEST locations on Earth is ONLY 7 or 8! But in my small telescope (70/700 refractor) on a balcony in a city with big light pollution I can see (in good viewing conditions) even stars of magnitude 9! The catch is that the field of view of any telescope is EXTREMELY narrow when compared to the field of view of the naked eye, so the experience is greatly diminished.

Yes, it's fun to see many stars even from the middle of a city with big light pollution (thanks to a telescope), but it doesn't compare to the awesomeness of very dark skies. Obviously when you go out of a city to a place with significantly lower light pollution then the overall number of stars that can be seen in a given observing tool will be MUCH higher, so it's doubly worth it!

Welcome to my blog!

Originally this blog was dedicated purely to Glen Cook novels, but over time it expanded over different topics.

Some labels contain many posts with Youtube videos and this is the reason why they load so slowly.

The most recent posts on this blog

I've changed the date in most of my posts, so they are in the order I prefer. The original date is at the start or at the end of every modified post.

The most recent posts are:
Easy astronomy for total amateurs (16 September 2021 - update)
All truth – no misinformation (12 September 2021)
I can't believe that the West has gone to hell like this! (11 September 2021)
Stellarium program vs. Stellarium website (10 September 2021 - update)
Ben Simmons – the result of “modern backwardness” (11 August 2021 - update)
My rating for some Marvel movies (8 August 2021 - update)
“We live in Orwellian times” (4 August 2021)
The most productive NBA careers after the season 2020-21 (2 August 2021)
The NBA GOAT list after the season 2020-21 (24 July 2021)

My top 12 favourite posts (on any topic) are:
The Dragon Never Sleeps re-read (Glen Cook's masterpiece)
303 (Polish) Squadron - Battle of Britain diary
My favourite list of Manic Street Preachers songs
Glycemic index makes fools out of people
A man who saved the life of George Washington
Embrace your problems with joy!
Gravity, acceleration, centrifugal force, tides and time
Men's and women's brains
Echoes of the Great Song re-read (David Gemmell's masterpiece)
Peace between people
Difference between an unborn baby and a newborn baby
Beauty of nature

“I'll go barefoot”
Blessed (are) the merciful
A reminder

You can find all of my favourite posts under the label “00 – My favourite posts”.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

My favourite quotes

(Originally posted in May 2013)

    Any man who barely sustains an armistice with himself has no business poking around in an alien soul.

(Glen Cook - The Black Company, 1984)

    Life has a habit of not being fair. (...) A man who goes through life complaining about fairness will make nothing of himself.

(David Gemmell - Knights of Dark Renown, 1989)

My letter was burnt but your words were wise
For mystery and youth must surely collide

(Manic Street Preachers - I Think I Found It - from their 10th studio album Postcards From A Young Man, 2010)

    The administration is growing to handle the challenges of the growing administration.

(I don’t know who should be credited for this quote, but I had to post it anyway.)

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.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

The Black Company re-read

(Originally posted on Sunday, 28 October 2012)

Recently I’ve re-read The Black Company novel – the very first book by Glen Cook that I have ever read. It made me remember why I fell in love with his style of writing.

The Black Company novel is an all-time classic. The action starts from the very first page and it is fast paced throughout the book. There is so much happening that any other author would make a trilogy out of this one novel. It’s gritty, it’s mysterious, it’s larger than life, it’s sarcastic,
it's truthful and it gets better and better with every chapter. The ending is great and quite uplifting. Yeah, uplifting. Many later Glen Cook novels are somewhat depressing, but not The Black Company novel. The second part of this book, especially the ending, shows that the main characters are good guys after all.

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

     The Captain was cool. He didn’t crack an eyelid or smile. “You’re presumptuous, Croaker. When are you going to learn to go through channels?” Channels meant bug the Lieutenant first. Don’t interrupt his nap unless Blues were storming the Bastion.

     “The fool is going to pile onto the rocks.”
     I woke up. The coaster was perilously near said danger. She shifted course a point and eluded disaster by a hundred yards, resumed her original course.
     “That put some excitement into our day,” I observed.
     ”One of these first days you’re going to say something without getting sarcastic and I’ll curl up and die, Croaker.”
     “Keeps me sane, friend.”
     “It’s debatable, Croaker. Debatable.”

     When I reflect on my companions' inner natures I usually wish
I controlled one small talent. I wish I could look inside them and unmask the darks and brights that move them. Then I take a quick look into the jungle of my own soul and thank heaven that I cannot. Any man who barely sustains an armistice with himself has no business poking around in an alien soul.

     We lead a simple life. No thinking required. The Captain takes care of that. We just follow orders. For most of us the Black Company is a hiding place; a refuge from yesterday, a place to become a new man.

     You who come after me, scribbling these Annals, by now realize that I shy off portraying the whole truth about our band of blackguards. You know they are vicious, violent, and ignorant. They are complete barbarians, living out their cruelest fantasies, their behavior tempered only by the presence of a few decent men.
I do not often show that side because these men are my brethren, my family, and I was taught young not to speak ill of kin. The old lessons die hardest.

     Naturally, Raven has become the Captain's best friend. They sit around together like a couple of rocks, talking about the same things boulders do. They are content just to share one another's company.

     Soulcatcher marched beside me, matching stride for stride, occasionally glancing my way. I could not see his face, but I sensed his amusement.
     The relief came, and was followed by a wave of awe at my own temerity. I had talked back like Catcher was one of the guys. It was thunderbolt time.
     "So why don't we look at those documents?" he asked. He seemed positively cheerful. I showed him to the wagon. We scrambled aboard. The driver gave us one wide-eyed look, then stared determinedly forward, shivering and trying to become deaf.

     Soulcatcher was there. We had not seen him since that day at the edge of the forest. I had hoped he had gotten too busy to get back to us. I looked at the Captain, trying to divine the future from his face. I saw that he was not happy.
     If the Captain was not happy, I wasn't.

     Once each month, in the evening, the entire Company assembles so the Annalist can read from his predecessors. The readings are supposed to put the men in touch with the outfit's history and traditions, which stretch back centuries and thousands of miles.
     I placed my selection on a crude lectern and went with the usual formula. "Good evening, brothers. A reading from the Annals of the Black Company, last of the Free Companies of Khatovar. Tonight I'm reading from the Book of Kette, set down early in the Company's second century by Annalists Lees, Agrip, Holm, and Straw. The Company was in service to the Paingod of Cho'n Delor at that time. That was when the Company really was black.
     "The reading is from Annalist Straw. It concerns the Company's role in events surrounding the fall of Cho'n Delor." I began to read, reflecting privately that the Company has served many losing causes.
     The Cho'n Delor era bore many resemblances to our own, though then, standing more than six thousand strong, the Company was in a better position to shape its own destiny.
     I lost track entirely. Old Straw was hell with a pen. I read for three hours, raving like a mad prophet, and held them spellbound. They gave me an ovation when I finished. I retreated from the lectern feeling as though my life had been fulfilled.

     Silent smiled, shrugged, stalked over to the stone pile and seated himself. He was done with the question game. Of all the Company he is the least concerned about the image he will present in the Annals. He does not care-whether people like or hate him, does not care where he has been or where he is going. Sometimes I wonder if he cares whether he lives or dies, wonder what makes him stay. He must have some attachment to the Company.

     Stormbringer had gotten carried away. We were suffering almost as much as was the Rebel. Visibility was a scant dozen yards. I could barely see the men to my right and left, and only two guys in the rearguard line, walking backward before me. Knowing our enemies had to come after us facing into the wind did not cheer me much.

     The Captain looked like a naturally surly bear wakened from hibernation prematurely. The grey at his temples wriggled as he chewed his words before spitting them out. His face sagged. His eyes were dark hollows. His voice was infinitely tired.

     "That's not your department, though, is it? Catcher doesn't second-guess your surgical procedures, does he? Then why question the grand strategy?"
     I grinned. "The unwritten law of all armies, Captain. The lower ranks have the privilege of questioning the sanity and competence of their commanders. It's the mortar holding an army together."
     The Captain eyed me from his shorter stature, wider displacement, and from beneath shaggy brows. "That holds them together, eh? And you know what keeps them moving?"
     "What's that?"
     "Guys like me ass-kicking guys like you when they start philosophizing. If you get my drift."

     I roamed around seeking old friends. The Company had scattered throughout the larger mob, as cadre for the Captain's will. Some men I hadn't seen since Lords. I did not know if they were still alive.
     I could find no one but Goblin, One-Eye, and Silent. Today Goblin and One-Eye were no more communicative than Silent. Which said a lot about morale.
     They trudged doggedly onward, eyes on the dry earth, only rarely making some gesture or muttering some word to maintain the integrity of our bubble of peace. I trudged with them. Finally,
I tried breaking the ice with a "Hi."
     Goblin grunted. One-Eye gave me a few seconds of evil stare. Silent did not acknowledge my existence.
     "Captain says we're going to march through the night," I told them. I had to make someone else as miserable as I was.
Goblin's look asked me why I wanted to tell that kind of lie. One-Eye muttered something about turning the bastard into a toad.
     "The bastard you're going to have to turn is Soulcatcher," I said smugly.
     He gave me another evil look. "Maybe I'll practice on you, Croaker."
     One-Eye did not like the night march, so Goblin immediately approved the genius of the man who had initiated the idea. But his enthusiasm was so slight One-Eye did not bother taking the bait.

     Darkness came early under the storm. We went about business as usual. We got a little away from the Rebel, waited for the storm to abate, pitched a camp with fires built of whatever brush could be scrounged. Only this time it was just a brief rest, till the stars came out. They stared down with mockery in their twinkles, saying all our sweat and blood really had no meaning in the long eye of time. Nothing we did would be recalled a thousand years from now.

     I groaned and moaned and cursed and got up. Every muscle was stiff. Every bone ached. "Next time we're someplace civilized enough to have taverns remind me to drink a toast to eternal peace," I grumbled. "One-Eye, I'm ready to retire."
     "So who isn't? But you're the Annalist, Croaker. You're always rubbing our noses in tradition. You know you only got two ways out while we've got this commission. Dead or feet first. Shove some chow in your ugly face and let's get cracking. I got more important things to do than play nursemaid."
     "Cheerful this morning, aren't we?"
     "Positively rosy."

     Those poor Rebel fools, I thought. (...)
     I had been dissatisfied because I had seen little spectacular from the Taken? Not anymore. I had trouble keeping my supper down as I reflected on the cold, cruel calculation that had gone into the planning of this.
     I suffered one of those crises of conscience familiar to every mercenary, and which few outside the profession understand. My job is to defeat my employer's enemies. Usually any way I can. And heaven knows the Company has served some blackhearted villains. But there was something wrong about what was happening below. In retrospect, I think we all felt it. Perhaps it sprang from a misguided sense of solidarity with fellow soldiers dying without an opportunity to defend themselves.
     We do have a sense of honor in the Company.

     No matter how long you soldier, fear always swells as combat nears. There is always the dread that the numbers will catch up- One-Eye enters every action sure the fates have checked his name off their list.

     "We could have taken them," someone said.
     "Stupid!" the Lieutenant snapped. "Right now they aren't sure who they saw. If we fought, they would know."
     We did not need the Rebel getting a line on us this close to home. There was no room for maneuvering.
     The man who had spoken was one of the stragglers we had accumulated during the long retreat,. "Brother, you better learn one thing if you want to stick with us. You fight when there ain't no other choice. Some of us would have gotten hurt too, you know."

     We sprawled on the flank of a grassy hill. The Tower rose above the horizon due south. That basaltic cube was intimidating even from ten miles away-and implausible in its setting. Emotion demanded a surround of fiery waste, or at best a land perpetually locked in winter. Instead, this country was a vast green pasture, gentle hills with small farms dotting their southern hips. Trees lined the deep, slow brooks snaking between.
     Nearer the Tower the land became less pastoral, but never reflected the gloom Rebel propagandists placed around the Lady's stronghold. No brimstone and barren, broken plains. No bizarre, evil creatures strutting over scattered human bones. No dark clouds ever rolling and grumbling in the sky.

     I nodded again, too shaky to speak, totally baffled. This was the Lady, the villain of the ages, the Shadow animate. This was the black widow at the heart of darkness' web, a demi-goddess of evil. What could be important enough for her to take note of the likes of me?

     "Captain wants you," he said, He seemed cool.
     "Figures." I signed good-bye, strolled toward headquarters.
I felt no urgency. No mere mortal could intimidate me now.

     One of his staff volunteered, "He was a company commander this morning. It was hard on officers today." When you have heavy casualties among your officers they are leading from the front to keep the men from breaking.

     She rode through the Company, straight to the Captain, spoke to him for half a minute. He showed no emotion, corning face to face with this old evil. Nothing shakes him when he assumes his iron commander mask.

     I snuck a glance at her. She wore a teasing little smile. I shifted my attention to the fighting. What she did to me, just sitting there, amidst the fury of the end of the world, was more frightening than the prospect of a death in battle. I am too old to boil like a horny fifteen year old.

     "I know you, Annalist. I have opened your soul and peered inside. You fight for me because your company has undertaken a commission it will pursue to the bitter end- because its principal personalities feel its honor was stained in Beryl. And that though most of you think you're serving Evil.

     They sent Goblin to waken me. I was my usual charming morning self, threatening blood feud with anyone fool enough to disturb my dreams. (…)

     (…) I did not believe in evil as an active force, only as a matter of viewpoint, yet I had seen enough to make me question my philosophy. If the Lady were not evil incarnate, then she was
as close as made no difference.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Shadows Linger (second novel in the Black Company series)

(Originally posted on Saturday, 23 May 2009)

My rating: 8/10 (high re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

It was very hard for me to rate Shadows Linger. To be honest I considered also the rating 7/10, but then I realized that this book on its own is more than just good. The problem for me was that I was expecting something very similar to the first Black Company novel and it turned out to be significantly different. The main differences are:

1) Place and pace of action.

Unlike the first book, most of the action in Shadows Linger takes place in one place (town). The plot is a little slower, but more polished. Glen Cook creates an interesting atmosphere about that town and gives more depth to the characters, but at the start it is not so obvious.

2) Number of viewpoints.

First book was like a chronicle of the Black Company and the plot was described from one perspective. The plot in Shadows Linger is described from two separate points of view. This is done pretty well and it is interesting to see how those separate plots come together, but again it is not obvious at the beginning.

3) Main character – main problem.

Half of the book is about a character who is not a member of the Black Company. What’s worse this character is very hard to identify with. Even worse, in some scenes the members of the Black Company are described as if they were strangers to the narrator. Because of all that I think it is hard to call Shadow Lingers a chronicle of the Black Company (at least in some parts).

Nevertheless Shadow Lingers is a classic Glen Cook book thanks to his unmistakeable style of writing. He just takes another approach to tell the story. There is also a very interesting concept in Shadows Linger, namely: the Black Castle. The final battle against it is especially entertaining. I can’t say anything more, because it would be a spoiler.

Shadows Linger is the second overall book by Glen Cook I have read. That’s why I didn’t know that he likes experimenting even inside a particular series. At first I thought it’s bad, but the more I read his books, the more I enjoy it. Every book in the Black Company series is in some way different than the other. Thanks to that it never gets repetitive.

Do yourself a favour and start reading Shadows Linger without any expectations. Just let Glen Cook tell the story and enjoy it the way it is. It’s more than just good.

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.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

The White Rose (third novel in the Black Company series)

(Originally posted on Tuesday, 28 July 2009)

My rating: 8/10 (high re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

As in the previous novel, the second half of The White Rose is much better than the first. I’ve read some reviews which said the ending was disappointing, but for me it was very good and enjoyable. It just HAD to be this way. The final battle is not huge, like in the first book. It is neither similar to the ending of the second book. It is very original on its own, just like most themes in Glen Cook’s books.

As for the first half of The White Rose, the action is a little slow. The current plot is intervened with a side plot connected with an older story, which tells us about a crucial moment from the past. It is quite interesting to see what happened then, but it could be told faster. What was very annoying for me was the way this side plot was told, namely the letters. Not one letter, but several separate letters, which were delivered to The Black Company, hiding in a very secret place. Quite unbelievable. I think the reason for these letters was that Glen Cook wanted to switch perspectives back and forth, but for me the effect was just annoying. As I said the story itself was quite interesting, but a little slow at the start.

The second half of the book is much faster and more action-packed. There are also some enjoyable twists to the plot and Glen Cook’s style of writing is just unbeatable. The ending closes the first Black Company trilogy. I can’t say anything more, because I don’t want to spoil anything.

Overall The White Rose is very original and enjoyable. It’s more than just good.

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.

Friday, 25 March 2016

What to read after The White Rose

(Originally posted on Saturday, 29 August 2009)

If You enjoyed the first three books of The Black Company series as much as I did You should read on, but do it in the APPROPRIATE order. The next book after the The White Rose is The Silver Spike !!!

I’ve heard that in the omnibus book called The Books of the South they placed The Silver Spike at the end!? That’s stupid, because The Silver Spike closes some loose ends from the first trilogy. The other books from that omnibus can’t be read on their own, because the story started in them ends in the last Black Company book (10th overall).

Maybe the reason for this was that The Silver Spike formally is not a Black Company chronicle – it is just a story about former Black Company members. Nonetheless it is called a novel of The Black Company and it was included in the above mentioned omnibus. I think it is better to read The Silver Spike as a fourth Black Company book.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Silver Spike (fourth novel in the Black Company series)

(Originally posted on Saturday, 29 August 2009)

My rating: 7/10 (low re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

Another book that is very hard to rate. It's very original and fun, but has some obvious flaws. Let me start with positives. The first half of the book is as good as the second half (unlike in Shadows Linger and The White Rose). It is a different kind of action, because most part of it takes place in a closed city. Although the city is not under siege (it’s closed by the units stationed within the city) the problems are similar. Glen Cook creates a unique and believable atmosphere about that closed city.

Second storyline tells about former members of the black company who decided to take their own road. They realise that not everything was taken care of and they have to finish the job. Toward the end of the book both storylines come together in that closed city. I consider this book together with the first Black Company trilogy as a whole, because it closes some loose ends.

Now to the negatives. The Silver Spike suffers from a similar problem as Shadows Linger. It is supposed to be a chronicle written by one of the characters, but the shifting of the perspective makes it a little strange. I wonder how the annalist was able to describe things that were happening far away? Besides at some point this character is described from another point of view as a total stranger. Don’t get me wrong. The shifting of the perspective is enjoyable, but not in a book that is supposed to be a chronicle.

Another problem with this book is some additional and very strange point of view. Let me say that this perspective is not a human point of view. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I must say that I found it somewhat annoying. It explains some things but it is still very strange and doesn’t fit the chronicle at all.

Overall I must say The Silver Spike was a very enjoyable book for me but I still decided to get rid of it. The main reason was the fact that the main characters are different than in the original trilogy and they are weaker in comparison. Considering its low re-reading value I rate it as a good (solid) novel.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Shadow Games (fifth novel in the Black Company series, counting The Silver Spike as fourth)

(Originally posted on Tuesday, 1 September 2009)

My rating: 7/10 (low re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

Shadow Games is quite dissapointing compered to the origianl trilogy. The biggest problem for me was the same as the one I had with Shadow Lingers: I expected something similar to previous books and it turned out to be significantly different. The differences between Shadows Linger and The Black Company (both from the first trilogy) were much smaller than the differences between Shadow Games and any of those books.

The first difference is the feeling about the southern part of the world. In former books there was a quasi medieval setting, but in Shadow Games the setting is resembling middle east and sometimes far east. The climate is hotter and the world (cities, landscapes, people) look different. In some way this is good and realistic, because different parts of the world are not alike. I just felt more familiar in the medieval setting.

The biggest difference is that Glen Cook introduces religions. Not one religion but many different religions, which were totally nonexistent in the first trilogy. I think this aspect in Shadow Games would be annoying to most Black Company fans, whether they believe in God or not. It just doesn’t fit this series or fantasy books in general.

Besides there were some other issues I didn’t like:
1) Some characters who were supposedly killed in the first trilogy now turn up alive.
2) The travel south is described too quickly.
3) There is not so much action in this book.
4) The south society is a pacifistic one and the explanation for it is not believable.
5) There is an imp, which doesn’t fit the Black Company series at all.

The above mentioned issues spoiled the fun for me. The last part of the book is the best, but it’s too little too late. This time Glen Cook’s style of writing was not enough for me to rate Shadow Games any higher.
Nonetheless I rate this book quite high, because the core of the series – the Black Company and its old members remain unchanged. Moreover we get some interesting hints about the early history of the Black Company.

Please read Shadow Games as a transition book to a whole new story.
On its own this is a good (solid) book, but compared to the original trilogy its re-reading value is low.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Dreams of Steel (sixth novel in the Black Company series, counting The Silver Spike as fourth)

(Originally posted on Thursday, 3 September 2009)

My rating: 8/10 (low re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

Originally I rated this novel 9/10 and I thought it to be the second best book in the whole series. Now I decided to get rid of this book because the mood of the story is very dark and there is one very shocking scene which disturbs my concience every time I think about it. I don't want to spoil anything so I can't explain.

The Captain has to create a whole army from people who are not soldiers and have no fighting experience. What’s worse those people have different religions, which are hard to reconcile. It’s really interesting how the captain manages to do this and to build a whole army from the scratch. That’s what I enjoyed the most about that book: very strong and well thought out military elements. Great stuff.

Glen Cook introduces one more side of the puzzle: a new cult, which worships the death goddess Kina. These are the bad guys, who are hated by everyone else and have to hide their real beliefs. This cult has its hidden members in the rest of the society. We learn much about this cult because the Captain tries to use it and pretend involvement in its cause. It’s very creepy to see how such an evil cult is functioning. It makes this book even more dark.

I know that many readers didn’t liked the change of the narrator, but the new storyline required that change. It just had to be this way. Considering its low re-reading value to me I still rate Dreams of Steel as a novel more than just good.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Bleak Seasons (seventh novel in the Black Company series)

(Originally posted on Saturday, 19 September 2009)

My rating: 8/10 (high re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

[Short review]

What’s bad:
1) strange narration in the beginning (the first impression of Bleak Seasons is bad);
2) the timeframe is roughly the same as Dreams of Steel (the overall plot of the series stands almost still);
3) the narrator suffers from strange “attacks” and it seems as if he was travelling in time without any explanation to it,
4) toward the end of the book the narrator uses some magical “tool” to see things that are happening far away or things that happened in the past (silly and unrealistic idea even in a fantasy book, although it helps explain some issues and move the plot forward).

What’s good:
1) Glen Cook’s style of writing (except for the beginning);
2) the plot is interesting and gripping (this book was a page-turner to me);

3) it’s good to see what was happening to the core of the Black Company in the timeframe of Dreams of Steel;
4) realistic atmosphere in a besieged city;
5) I enjoyed it especially when the narrator was getting close to a family, which was not native to the besieged city and had nothing to do with the ongoing war, but was caught within together with everyone else.

I know that some readers hate Bleak Seasons and think it’s the worst book in the whole series. I totally disagree. It’s not the best but it’s not the worst either. Ignore the beginning and the rest is more than just good.
This is the only Black Company novel I want to re-read beside the original trilogy.

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.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

She is the Darkness (eighth novel in the Black Company series)

(Originally posted on Saturday, 19 September 2009)

I was not able to buy She Is the Darkness in original, so I was forced to read it translated to my native language. The cover is just terrible and very misleading. Please compare it with the original cover.
My rating: 7/10 (low re-reading value)
Please read my post from April 2009 to find out about my rating.
Please read my post from May 2009 to learn about Glen Cook’s style of writing.

[Short review]

What’s bad:
1) the narrator still uses that magical “tool” to see things that are happening far away or things that happened in the past (silly and unrealistic idea even in a fantasy book);
2) new magical weapons that work like rifles and can be used by anyone (it doesn’t fit this series at all);
3) the safe paths on the glittering plain are just too convenient for the Black Company.

What’s good:
1) Glen Cook’s style of writing (the translation didn’t change that, which is very good);
2) good and long military campaign (lasting most of the book);
3) the feeling about the glittering plain and the fortress in the middle of it (very mysterious and intriguing);

She Is the Darkness is a good book with some great moments, but its
re-reading value is low.