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Glen Cooks The Black Company series

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I love the way glen cook writes. Its almost unique in the fantasy genre. Whether he rapes the English language or not, I can't get enough of it.

Well, in the Black Company at least, he certainly isn't guilty of using too many descriptors. The amazing thing about that is that I get a pretty good sense of the real character of his characters without being told what they wear, or their inner thoughts. By presenting everything from the perspective of the annalist, it is more like you get to know people the way you do in real life -- by observation, rather than by some narrator telling you what they think.

And it just struck me that one reason I don't like the Garrett Files as much is that he does seem to use a lot more descriptors in them. I suppose that's unavoidable if you're writing a detective story, where detail is everything. But it is clearly a different style from the Black Company, Dread Empire, etc.

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I love his rather spartan style of description, its a nice change from the purple prose books that seem to make up about half the fantasy genre

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Yes, he conveys a lot with very little, and because he isn't as detailed in his descriptions, he is able to pack an awful lot of action into his books.

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Well, in the Black Company at least, he certainly isn't guilty of using too many descriptors.  The amazing thing about that is that I get a pretty good sense of the real character of his characters without being told what they wear, or their inner thoughts.  By presenting everything from the perspective of the annalist, it is more like you get to know people the way you do in real life -- by observation, rather than by some narrator telling you what they think.

And it just struck me that one reason I don't like the Garrett Files as much is that he does seem to use a lot more descriptors in them.  I suppose that's unavoidable if you're writing a detective story, where detail is everything.  But it is clearly a different style from the Black Company, Dread Empire, etc.

That is exactly how I feel about it. Telling it from the perspective of an annalist is perfect for that type of story. I do enjoy the Garret series. Quite a bit actually even though I have only read the first three. It is definitely a different style.

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Erikson certainly helped. I think GRRM mentioned him once too, but I could be wrong.

GRRM is a fan of Cook's. He's given Cook some work (Cook has a story in Songs of the Dying Earth, IIRC) and I think namechecked him as an influence on ASoIaF (along with Jack Vance and Tad Williams). Even when reading ADWD when I hadn't read Cook and only knew about the Black Company series from Wikipedia, I did wonder if there were echoes of the Black Company in the Golden (what with their sense of honour versus the need to get paid, their traditions and their weird customs).

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The Night's Watch, for that matter. Very like the brothers of teh Black Company, right down to finding a man monstrous..but saving his life because he's your brother.

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This thread made me nostalgic, so I read the Raker short story yesterday. I loved the way Soulcatcher began slowly opening up to Croaker; that was one of the better parts of the series. Insane, evil badasses need intimacy, too. :lol:

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I really liked this series but I can't find the later books (for free) anywhere.

The last book I read ended with

Lady's baby being stolen

And I haven't been able to find the sequel for the life of me!

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I really liked this series but I can't find the later books (for free) anywhere.

The last book I read ended with

Lady's baby being stolen

And I haven't been able to find the sequel for the life of me!

Well, I'm not going to help you steal it, but I know for certain that it is available in those shady Internet places where people swap black market goods. :eek:

Edited by Winterfail

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Maybe you shouldn't steal then?

Um, maybe he means "The Library"?

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The Black Company

The Black Company is an elite mercenary force whose history goes back centuries. Last of the Free Companies of Khatovar, the Black Company fights for coin, but is also a proud army that is its own master. Accepting the commission of the Northern Empire and its ruler, the ruthless Lady, the Company soon finds itself fighting a war against an oppressed populace struggling to be free...but the leaders of the rebellion seem every bit as ruthless and amoral as the Lady and her senior sorcerer-warriors - the Taken - are. Evil battles evil, a continent bleeds and through it all the Black Company struggles to survive.

Glen Cook's Black Company books are widely regarded as being amongst the most influential and important epic fantasy novels ever written. Steven Erikson cites them as the primary influence on his Malazan series, whilst George R.R. Martin is a fan. A dozen years before Martin made 'grimdark' cool, Cook was already writing adult stories about wars, soldiers and the causes they fight and die for, with no elves in sight and no punches pulled.

Published in 1984, The Black Company is an object lesson in how to write a large-scale epic fantasy and execute it with razor-sharp focus and nuanced characterisation, and to do so in a relatively modest page count. More happens in The Black Company's 300-odd pages than in many entire trilogies. Empires rise and fall, battles that make the Pelennor look like a playground scrap are fought and all is seen from the point of view of a single medic and historian, who is all to often drawn in to become part of the events he is trying to dispassionately record.

The book is episodic, with each (very long) chapter relating a different incident during the war. As the Lady's empire battles the Rebel, so the different Taken feud amongst themselves and the Black Company are caught up in one of the exchanges (but don't exactly get much gratitude for taking sides), giving the conflict an air of complexity and extremely conflicted morals. This is emphasised by the addition to the Company of its first native northern soldier, Raven, who has his own agenda. Given that we are with the POV of Croaker, the medic, for the entire novel, Cook achieves an impressive depth of characterisation of the other principals. Other well-developed characters include the old, feuding mages One-Eye and Goblin, Raven and his mute ward, Darling, and the Taken Soulcatcher, who may be a servant of darkness but even he needs to unwind and chew the fat from time to time.

The prose is clipped and efficient, though some criticise it for being blunt. Cook skips descriptors in some sentences, or uses a soldier-style shorthand designed to transmit information with maximum efficiency and conciseness on the battlefield. It can be a little odd at first, but once you get into the author's headspace it becomes second nature, and a marvellously effective way of telling a large, epic story in a constrained space.

Problems? The absence of a map makes the geography of the war (which is critical to the plot) sometimes a little confusing. With one exception, we really don't get to know anyone on the side of the Rebel, making them a somewhat faceless and uninteresting foe. Cook also prefers to avoid exposition, starting in media res and pausing for explanations only rarely. However, unlike Erikson (who employs a similar device at the start of the Malazan sequence) Cook's story is actually pretty straightforward, and by the end of the novel the reader should have pieced together everything pretty nicely.

The Black Company (****½) is a novel brimming with verve, confidence and attitude. As fresh and readable today as when it was published a quarter-century ago, it's a stellar opening to the Black Company series. The novel is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Chronicles of the Black Company omnibus (along with its immediate sequels, Shadows Linger and The White Rose).

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Great review!Im assuming you're going to continue reading and am interested in seeing your take on the rest of the series. I know I've said it before ( I think in this thread) but Cook's prose works extremely well when your reading from the pov of the annalist.

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I agree, that's a great review! I hope you follow up with thoughts on the other novels. Who were your favorite characters? What were your favorite parts of the story? Besides Croaker, I like Soulcatcher, Lady, One-Eye, and Goblin the best, and I think I enjoyed the Battle of Charm the most, especially when

one of the Taken (Soulcatcher?) melted the cliffs while another one (likely Stormbringer) caused a torrential downpour, resulting in all those knights getting steamed in their armor.

That was gruesome, but it was fun to read. :)

Edited to add spoiler tags. ;)

Edited by Winterfail

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I agree, that's a great review! I hope you follow up with thoughts on the other novels. Who were your favorite characters? What were your favorite parts of the story? Besides Croaker, I like Soulcatcher, Lady, One-Eye, and Goblin the best, and I think I enjoyed the Battle of Charm the most, especially when

one of the Taken (Soulcatcher?) melted the cliffs while another one (likely Stormbringer) caused a torrential downpour, resulting in all those knights getting steamed in their armor.

That was gruesome, but it was fun to read. :)

That was before Charm I think, Stair of Tear I think. Bonegnasher's my favourite of the Taken, come on he takes on a Were-leapord with his bare hands and wins easily

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Only 2 things I disagree with.

The first is that it's not really in medias res. The history of the Company is, but the story offers a neat starting point: the first chapter describes the Company being hired by Soulcatcher. So it works as a good "beginning of story". It's a significant beginning that determines all that follows, while pretty much nothing that "precedes" it comes into play.

Gardens of the Moon starts REALLY on the deep end, previous stuff comes into play all the time and the PoV switches all over the place. So it's much, much worse and better deserving the "medias res" flag. In The Black Company the medias res is merely a fabricated illusion. Even LotR beings in medias res if one considers Bilbo and the ring. But it's still a perfect starting point.

The other thing is that the bad guys ARE bad. Glen Cook didn't anticipate the trend of grey characters with motivations. He didn't revolutionize the classic paradigm. What he did was using it in a interesting way: the good guys (Black Company) get stuck doing the dirty work for the bad guys. It's a very interesting PoV the one they get stuck in. They are trapped in a bad situation and having pressure on all sides. Much of the first and second book is about them coping with that situation and trying to come out alive. It's characterized by being with the wrong side AND being subordinate and lacking decision power. This is also the part Erikson tried to carry over: the Bridgeburners caught amidst crossfire and trying to get out alive.

Which "works" because it comes out the Vietnam war. Soldiers stuck in a war they don't understand and only trying to survive another day. "Good" or "bad" aren't as relevant as what one can do that day. What IS new in this series and that appeals to a modern sensibility is the complete lack of wishful thinking and idealization that one often identifies with the fantasy genre. So the heroes are rather blunt and ugly, and the bad guys can be admirably efficient.

Edited by Gormenghast

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That was before Charm I think, Stair of Tear I think. Bonegnasher's my favourite of the Taken, come on he takes on a Were-leapord with his bare hands and wins easily

Yes, you are correct. I guess I just consider the whole flight to Charm as part of the battle of Charm. Bonegnasher is one whom I would have liked to know better.

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Which "works" because it comes out the Vietnam war. Soldiers stuck in a war they don't understand and only trying to survive another day. "Good" or "bad" aren't as relevant as what one can do that day. What IS new in this series and that appeals to a modern sensibility is the complete lack of wishful thinking and idealization that one often identifies with the fantasy genre. So the heroes are rather blunt and ugly, and the bad guys can be admirably efficient.

I agree completely. Croaker was very open about a lot of members of the Company being nasty human beings on an individual level. Yet, the overall goal they ended up serving, at least, was generally good. So there were a number of interesting bits of morality out there. Bad guys serving good causes, good guys serving bad causes, and of course bad guys/bad causes and vice-versa.

I think what Cook did on some level was separate means and ends. He was telling us, at least at times, that war is a very nasty business, and can sometimes require some very nasty methods even in pursuit of a good goal. And ultimately, in most cases during the period covered by the series, the Company left the world a better (or at least more just) place than they found it. Scoundrels aside.

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