Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Black Company

Glen Cook; Chronicles of the Black Company (consisting of The Black Company, Shadows Linger and The White Rose) (Tor Books; 2007; ISBN 978-0-7653-1923-5; cover art by Raymond Swanland).

Glen Cook has been active in the field for a couple of decades now, but I bet most readers today of military science fiction, urban fantasy or magical realism would not recognize his work. That's a shame, because a lot of what the readers of those three sub-genres love can be found in Cook's books. You are in luck! If you are lacking in these books, both Tor Books and Night Shade Books have been reprinting classics such as the series reviewed here, or his space opera books (Passage at Arms, etc.). His hardboiled fantasy detective series, Garrett, is pretty easily found in paperback and omnibus editions from the SFBC.

The Tales of the Black Company are a sprawling series dealing with various members of a mercenary company as they battle for and against various powers that are vying for supremacy over the world. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? The stuff of any one of dozens of fantasy epics crowding the shelves (farmboy discovers that he is really the lost prince, is taken in by a wizard, goes on quest, discovers love, wins throne...blech...).

These tales are quite different. What makes these stories different is the dirt.

O.K., it is more than the dirt. There are no waving banners, no knights in shining armor. Soldiers talk much as real soldier talk. They fight, they get wounded, they are healed, and wearily stagger back into the lines. They eat and whore, drink and curse. They might be fighting for the greater good, but they are also fighting to survive the day, to survive the mission.

The stories are interesting (and click on the previous link for outlines), but what really drew me into the books were Cook's dialogue, characters and interplay. Good stuff!

"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."

One final comment: Tor used Raymond Swanland for the cover art. They also used Swanland for another pair of Cook's books and Night Shade Books used Swanland for several of their reprints. Not only is Swanland an amazing artist, but having multiple publishers use the same artist gives the author's works a unified look across the field that I don't think anybody else has tried to do. Great idea!

(Part of the 2009 Year in Books.)

FTC Disclaimer: This book was entirely purchased by me. I doubt the publisher even knows I exist and has done a review of the book.

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