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May 23, 2002

The Black Company

The first novel of "The Black Company," written by Glen Cook.

There are some books I read with a mixture of anguish and optimism. These are the "B Movie" books, the ones that make me simultaneously think, "How did this ever get published?" and, "Oh good, when I finally finish My Story[*] I actually have a chance."

There are also books that I go to my in-laws house so I can throw them down the stairs, repeatedly. You know, books the Book Swap looks at and just gives an evaluating, "Hmmmm."

This book belonged to the first category mentioned only by virtue of the fact that if you could get past the writing, there was an interesting story being suggested. Not an interesting story being shown, but told, as countless English teachers have reprimanded you.

The Lieutenant is a quiet man accustomed to the respect due his rank. He was so startled he said nothing. The courier became more offensive. Then the Lieutenant demanded, "What's your rank?"

That's a single paragraph. Alright, the book is "narrated" in a speaking form by "Croaker," a field surgeon with a romantic streak, implying that the words on the page relate to his other job, keeping the Annals of the Black Company.

The Black Company is a group of mercenaries who stick to their code, even if they're fighting for the "wrong side." This gives the book an interesting skew, as if there was another book somewhere on the other end talking about the adventure from the "usual perspective," of heroes against the Evil Undead Minions.

This book would prosper with a map alongside it. I usually find such maps extraneous, but I didn't feel I had a good mental picture of the countryside in this story, and when trying to "gain territory" with a military focus, however removed from the grit of real tactics, I like to have some idea of the environment.

Descriptions of the personalities are what drive any recognition of the characters in this book. Mistakes are made, people are killed (and worse!) Traps are laid worthy of dungeon master's notice, yet the system of how things work (especially magically) is not well-defined.

The story makes a certain kind of sense. It suffers slightly from the protagonist's syndrome, in an excuse to show more of "what's going on," the protagonist is given Special Treatment. On the other hand, the important points are resolved, the mysteries are winked at, and the writing improves.

The story contains prophecies, evil undead minions, grit, magical meihem, a couple of shapeshifters, a jibe at romances, evil wizards, good wizards, and sheep in wolves' clothing. It's a series you can miss, but I expect I'll probably be tracking down more of it.

[*] My Story: the story every writer is dabbling with for eventual finish.

Posted by Meera at May 23, 2002 1:13 AM