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Glen Cooks The Black Company series

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I wouldn't read Garrett P.I. books in any order because there are many references to what was happening in earlier novels. It could cause some spoilers and some things would not be fully understandable.

BUT every Garrett novel tells a separate story and has a definite ending (unlike Black Company novels), so from that point of view they can be regarded as standalone novels.

Thanks! I'll start with the first one, then.

I've already read Book 4, hope to review it soon. After that it's Alastair Reynolds' Blue Remembered Earth and Ian Esslemont's Orb, Sceptre, Throne, then back to Cook.

I'll look forward to it!

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I've already read Book 4, hope to review it soon. After that it's Alastair Reynolds' Blue Remembered Earth and Ian Esslemont's Orb, Sceptre, Throne, then back to Cook.

Do you plan on reading/reviewing any of his other works ( some of his stanadlones maybe ) or are you sticking with The Black Company?

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Just curious, does a "Wertzone Classic" mean it's something you read along time ago, or is it just an old book you read recently?

It varies. The book needs to have proven itself over a long period of time to have legs. In some personal cases that means improving on re-reads, or if I've only just read the book, it needs to have proven its longevity through widespread acclaim.

Do you plan on reading/reviewing any of his other works ( some of his stanadlones maybe ) or are you sticking with The Black Company?

I was sent copies of the first three omnibuses by Tor USA, so I'm going through them at the moment. I may move onto his other books at a future time, but it's not on the schedule for the near future.

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It varies. The book needs to have proven itself over a long period of time to have legs. In some personal cases that means improving on re-reads, or if I've only just read the book, it needs to have proven its longevity through widespread acclaim.

I was sent copies of the first three omnibuses by Tor USA, so I'm going through them at the moment. I may move onto his other books at a future time, but it's not on the schedule for the near future.

Good stuff. I would be interested in your opinion ( if you do ever get to them) on most of his stuff, but on his Garret series in particular and how it stands next to other books similar to it. They are releasing these in omnibus form as well. I believe the second omnibus will be released in the next couple of months.

Edited by nickg

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I've actually now read the first six books, and have fallen way behind on the reviews.

I just finished The Silver Spike and have to say that was a pretty dark ending.

The paedophile protagonist 'wins', gets away with setting in motion all this death and destruction scott-free and lives happily to die of old age? That's a pretty damning comment by Cook on fantasy cliches. And Darling, the supposed saviour of humanity, settles down to retire on a farm? Doesn't the Lady's Evil Empire still exist, what happened to the whole project to pull it down? Considering the next four are all set in the far south, I'm guessing these plot points aren't touched upon again.

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Well, Wert...the Empire never really stops being a factor.

Or Taken, for that matter.

It's not fair. You get to read it a first time.

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Shadow Games

The wars in the north have come to an end. The threat of the Dominator has been eradicated, and the remnants of the Black Company are setting out for their ancestral homeland of Khatovar. Unexpectedly joined by their former ally and enemy, the Lady, they strike out across the Sea of Torments and across the vast southern continent. But their return has been foretold and the Prince of Taglios convinces the Black Company to join his war against the enigmatic Shadowmasters, an alliance that will have long-lasting consequences for the Company and its members.

Shadow Games is the fourth book in the Black Company series and marks the opening of a fresh chapter in the history of the mercenary army. Much of the plot baggage from the first three book is jettisoned as new characters, factions and locations are introduced. Some things stay the same, such as Croaker's ongoing first-person narration, but broadly speaking this is the series moving into fresh pastures.

It's a move that is mostly successful. The book covers an enormous amount of ground, combining the Black Company's mammoth journey (of about 7,000 miles according to one estimate) with political machinations in Taglios and military action as the Shadowmasters attempt to invade Taglian territory. It's as busy a book as its predecessors but Cook's mastery of pace wins out as normal, delivering a terrifically entertaining, page-turning read.

It's only towards the end of the book that the first notable problems appear. For the first time Cook seems to have run out of space to tell his story, resulting in a cliffhanger ending and a 'shocking' revelation being made in the final pages. How successful these moves are will vary for each reader (and, given the fact that the book is commonly now published in omnibus, not a huge problem), but it does feel a shame that the book lacks the feel of being a complete novel but also standing as part of a larger tapestry that the first three volumes enjoyed.

Beyond that, Shadow Games (****) is a fine epic fantasy novel and a worthy continuation of the series. It is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Books of the South omnibus.

Dreams of Steel

The Black Company and its Taglian allies have fought a great battle against the Shadowmasters at Dejagore. Whilst much of the Shadowmaster army was destroyed, the allies also suffered grievous losses and most of their army was forced to retreat into the city, where it now stands siege. Trapped outside and with Croaker missing, Lady is forced to assume command of the routed Taglian forces, attempt to regroup them and forge a new army strong enough to relieve Dejagore, but finds that politics and religious machinations amongst her own troops are as much a threat as the plotting of the enemy.

Dreams of Steel marks a notable change in the Black Company books. For the first time, Croaker is dropped as the primary POV in favour of Lady, who now serves as the main POV character, narrator and 'annalist', recording events for posterity. This shift in structure and approach is successful, with Cook employing a character who is far less prone to moralising than Croaker (it serves to remember that Lady was, more or less, the main bad guy in the original trilogy, and has only repented up to a point) and is still fully capable of using incredibly ruthless and bloody means to achieve her goals.

The book adopts a multi-pronged approach to the plot, with Cook alternating between Lady's endeavours, the situation with the Shadowmasters (who are, refreshingly, a foe of limited resources who themselves are in a bady way following the events of the previous novel), political events in the Taglian capital and the emergence of a third faction who delights in playing everyone off against each other whilst they sneak around in the background. This approach is successful in getting across the full weight of the story but also serves to slow the pace down. Compared to the first four books, which covered thousands of miles, numerous battles and some interesting character and plot developments in relatively modest page counts, not a huge amount actually happens in this book. For the first time, it feels that Cook is falling prey to the curse of the long epic fantasy series, namely the slowing of the pace and the easing off the throttle for more introspective books that may be interesting, but not as energetic as earlier books in the series.

Cook is enough of a good writer to overcome this problem with some solid battle scenes, an amusingly straightforward answer to politicking and some interesting characterisation, particularly of Lady as she realises how she has been changed by her time with the Black Company. However, returning readers may start to feel a little wearied when, once again, an old enemy assumed dead books ago unexpectedly returns to play a role in events.

Dreams of Steel (***½) is an enjoyable novel, but the shine of the Black Company series is starting to wear off at this point, with the first signs of it falling prey to some of the limitations of the subgenre. The novel is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Books of the South omnibus.

The Silver Spike

The Black Company has departed into the far south, taking Lady with them. For Darling, Raven, Case and the other outcasts from the Company, their future is uncertain. But when an enterprising band of treasure hunters steals the Silver Spike, within which lies imprisoned the undying essence of the Dominator, the world is again thrown into jeopardy and the heroes of the northern wars are called back into service.

The Silver Spike is a novel set in the Black Company universe, though not part of the main series. It's instead a 'sidequel', picking up after the events of the third novel in the series but taking a different group of characters off in another direction and following their adventures.

It's an interesting book, and I suspect one of the more contentious in the series. On the one hand, it's Cook on form, delivering an epic story of clashing forces ranging over vast distances but contained in a single volume. On the other, it's probably one of the starkest and most cynical books I've ever read in the epic fantasy subgenre.

In the earlier books in the series (published in the 1980s before this kind of thing became par for the course) Cook overthrew a lot of the conventions of the subgenre. The good guys sometimes did evil things and the bad guys sometimes showed compassion or mercy. The principal villain of the first three books is a hero (or at least a protagonist) in the next two. There was a high degree of cynicism, but also the apparent presence of hope .

The Silver Spike has little truck with that. There are masses of death and destruction, conveyed in a wearying tone that is at times genuinely depressing. The costly victories of our 'heroes' in the first trilogy are revealed to be brief as new villains (albeit of lesser magnitude) arise to replace the ones defeated first time around. One of the antagonists in this volume and (SPOILER WARNING!) one who gets away scott-free at the end is a murderous paedophile (apparently Cook's angry commentary that sometimes the worst people prosper). Those who do put their lives on the line to save the world end up fading into obscurity in a backwater, uncelebrated and unremembered.

It's a dark and grim novel that is not a happy read, for all of Cook's excellent writing skills. It's the epic fantasy equivalent of one of those 'difficult' albums that you listen to for the technical accomplishment or emotional power but you wouldn't in a million years put on at parties. It's an angry, harsh and raw book.

Characterisation is pretty good, with the 'antihero' cast of thieves and adventurers well-drawn, for all their nauseating habits. Raven is a bit more one-note than in previous books, but Case (our part-time first-person POV character for this volume) develops into a more complex, interesting character, as does Darling. There is a degree of repetition in the volume that regular series readers might find a tad predictable (Darling's use of the weird creatures from the Plain of Fear as her own personal army, yet again) but otherwise Cook's reliable powers of characterisation and plot development are in full force.

The Silver Spike (****) is a dark, grim and at times rather nihilistic read, but one that remains engrossing thanks to the author's writing skills. It may leave you wanting to read something more upbeat afterwards, though. The book is available now in the UK and USA as part of the Books of the South omnibus.

Edited by Werthead

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The Silver Spike really stands out compared to the other two books in the omnibus. I agreed that it isn't a pleasant read, but it was awesome, especially after Dreams of Steel which was a bit weaker than the others in the series.

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The only thing I'd like to quibble with, Wert, is the stress on the pedophilia. It's not a huge deal in the book, and is only really mentioned in the first chapters.

To be honest

I think you missed the mark on that character, and what Cook was doing. Smeds actually is no more "murderous" than any other character in the book, and far less than most. Look at how you felt comparing Smeds to Tully right off.......and who actually shows growth, and how. Smeds becomes, if not a better man (and I wouldn't say better), but stronger, and at least takes responsibility and obligations seriously. He and Marron Shed are very similar. Timmy and Old Man Fish, and the ties between them and Smeds, show that what Smeds was at the start, isn't what he was at the end. If he was, Fish woulda gutted him.

I think the point was to take a man who is trash, and show him evolving past that. He's still not a good man, not even close, but calling him a "murderous pediphile" in the review runs the risk of colouring a reader's perception and reading of the character, biasing them so they miss what I considered to be one of the strongest aspects of teh book.

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So I've just finished the first omnibus edition. I have to say, while Cook's writing style was a refreshing change from the typical detail-ridden style of fantasy, the plot really slowed down for me in places. Still, I loved how the end played out. How do you guys think the Books of the South compare? I hear they're not as good, but I'm really interested in what happens to the Lady.

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I've just read The Black Company and Shadows Linger, now starting on the White Rose. I wish I had discovered this in the 1990s when I was reading LotR for the umpteenth time.

The style is choppy and blunt and takes a little while to get used to. There so much left out of the story because we only see from Croaker's limited perspective and knowledge. But the minimalist, colloquial prose quickly feels more and more natural. The interactions among comrades feel natural and their wariness of the Taken also feels real and appropriate. It's frustrating that we see these cool antagonists through a very limited window of perspective, but it fits the tale being told.

I enjoyed Shadows Linger more than The Black Company. TBC was a good introduction, but the scale of the military campaign and the plotting factions was not sufficiently served by the prose style. Conversely, the more intimate story of Marron Shed felt much better suited to the style. The bare, choppy prose was a good fit for a character who is not articulate, erudite or even much aware of consequences or a world beyond his immediate concerns. I like the idea that the weight of his personal concerns presses down on his worldview and awareness. He has to focus so much on surviving before he can think about anything else.

At this stage I find myself wishing I could combine Glen Cook with Steven Erikson. I like to think they could have embraced their similarities and somehow combined their differences to make them stronger: to give greater scope, imagination and drama to Cook and to rein in Erikson's wilder excesses.

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I've just read The Black Company and Shadows Linger, now starting on the White Rose. I wish I had discovered this in the 1990s when I was reading LotR for the umpteenth time.

The style is choppy and blunt and takes a little while to get used to. There so much left out of the story because we only see from Croaker's limited perspective and knowledge. But the minimalist, colloquial prose quickly feels more and more natural. The interactions among comrades feel natural and their wariness of the Taken also feels real and appropriate. It's frustrating that we see these cool antagonists through a very limited window of perspective, but it fits the tale being told.

I enjoyed Shadows Linger more than The Black Company. TBC was a good introduction, but the scale of the military campaign and the plotting factions was not sufficiently served by the prose style. Conversely, the more intimate story of Marron Shed felt much better suited to the style. The bare, choppy prose was a good fit for a character who is not articulate, erudite or even much aware of consequences or a world beyond his immediate concerns. I like the idea that the weight of his personal concerns presses down on his worldview and awareness. He has to focus so much on surviving before he can think about anything else.

At this stage I find myself wishing I could combine Glen Cook with Steven Erikson. I like to think they could have embraced their similarities and somehow combined their differences to make them stronger: to give greater scope, imagination and drama to Cook and to rein in Erikson's wilder excesses.

You could try Cook's (frogive the spelling here) Instrumentalities of the Night series. It's Cook on a vaster scope. They are not for everyone tough, even though I love them to death.

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So I've just finished the first omnibus edition. I have to say, while Cook's writing style was a refreshing change from the typical detail-ridden style of fantasy, the plot really slowed down for me in places. Still, I loved how the end played out. How do you guys think the Books of the South compare? I hear they're not as good, but I'm really interested in what happens to the Lady.

It's really just the middle of the series that's weaker. Shadow Games is quite good, but Dreams of Steel and Bleak Seasons are pretty meh. It picks up again with She is the Darkness and the last two are excellent. The last book Solider's Live is as good as any other book in the series, and is a very good ending for the series (even though he is supposedly planning two more down the line if he gets to them).

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Grack - I found teh 3rd book to be the easiest of the 3 to follow.

Yes somewhere halfway through 2 it all goes CLICK. But its starts off like.....insane. Can't think of the word I'm looking for.

Pust if you like TBC you should try Mark Lawrence's Prince of Nothing. Very similar. Also sorry if I spelled your name wrong Mark.

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The last book Solider's Live is as good as any other book in the series, and is a very good ending for the series (even though he is supposedly planning two more down the line if he gets to them).

I think that got a number of votes for "favorite ending" in one thread around here. I've sometimes opened that book just to reread the last few pages -- I thought it was that good.

As someone else mentioned, Instrumentalities of the Night has the usual Cook feel to it, but is far more complex. And I'm reading one of his stand alones right now, The Dragon Never Sleeps, which is sort of a massive space opera condensed into one book. It also is a lot more intricate than the Black Company series. Really liked the BC series, though I wasn't a fan of the first two Glittering Stone books.

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I never liked winter sleeps. Didn't like the narrator at all. Other then that I loved all of them.

The Dragon Never Sleeps is fucking classic. It's Mass effect/revelation space in 300 pages.

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Yeah - the series ending is perfect, for me.

I think the ION problem, in terms of teh first book, is the sheer density of the info. It's like reverse BC, or all of Dread Empire's politics slammed into one massive wad...and then, things start to seperate and make sense.

Have I mentioned "The SwordBearer" yet, or, again, lately?

Classic Cook, but, a whole series worth of his cool shit, slammed into one 400 page novel.

Oh, fuck.

"A Matter of Time". Sci-fi, thriller type mystery thingie, with what I'm pretty certain is a serious Tesla homage.

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