“Chronicles of the Black Company”, Glen Cook

It was a dark and stormy 15 years. And what 15 years they were, Evil is constantly on the verge of overwhelming the world and The Black Company is at the heart of the action, whether they like it or not.

The “Chronicles of the Black Company” covers fifteen years in the life in a group of mercenaries living, fighting and dying.”Chronicles” is composed of three books; “The Black Company“, “Shadows Linger“, and “The White Rose“. The stories are told from the point of view of a physician, Croaker, who is the annalist of The Black Company.  These books are often cited as having radically changed the nature of Epic Heroic Fantasy. I’d have to say that  that is a bit of an understatement, more like blowing that genre apart and replacing it with what are really just soldiers’ tales. That shift in focus cannot be underestimated. The primary characters in these books are not heroes, princes, powerful wizards, bored sons of nobility searching for meaning in life, or some-one who has special powers but just doesn’t realize yet because they’ve been hidden from the world, no, they are grunts doing their jobs as best they can. How they get caught up in world shaping events is explained in a way that makes sense, they are very good at what they do and powerful forces come looking for them. The things they do for these powerful beings and how that shapes them over the years, the changes that happen both mentally and physically are the heart of these stories. These stories are about the search for the ability to live with the choices that have either been made by or forced on the Company and its members. These choices aren’t always pretty, the reasons behind them aren’t always honorable, and isn’t that just life? Sometimes you just have to do what have to do. In the hands of Glen Cook the push and pull of that reality never descends into angsty existentialist drivel. So these are the tales of talented but ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times.

Cook does a really good job making the physical world of The Black Company different enough to pique curiosity at times in the first two novels. But some serious weirdness comes to the fore in the last book included here. For the most part of the first two novels The Company operates in a world that is western European medieval with magic. I think he did this in order to make sure the reader is concentrating on his characters, their stories, the forces at work on them and not getting distracted by the world in which they live.

So do I recommend these tales. Yes, highly in fact, but with the following caveats. First,these are dark, grim tales. Secondly, Cook’s writing style is terse, so terse that it may seem that the writing is simplistic and basic. Don’t be fooled, it is not, just remember that these tales are told from the regular soldier’s point of view and is therefore more like a personal diary than a work of high literature illuminating the epic deeds of heros of ages gone by.

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