Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company #1) by Glen Cook

I kept hearing about The Black Company by Glen Cook, so when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed book 1. From what I understand, it's considered a classic, and in fact one of the earliest examples that sparked off the whole GrimDark genre.

Told from the perspective of a mercenary company medic, Croaker, we see the machinations between apparent forces of light and dark play out on the stage of a series of ever-escalating battles. This is military fantasy, plain and simple, so if descriptions of tactics, death and dying, bore you silly, this is not the novel you are looking for.

What I appreciated about The Black Company is that all the characters are morally ambiguous, and we have a big story told from the perspective of someone who's on the lower decks, who is not a big decision maker or player, but nonetheless ends up playing a pivotal part.

Croaker is self aware enough to know he's not in the service of the 'good guys'. In fact, as he picks apart the entire sorry mess of the Lady vs. the Rebel, he comes to realise that everyone has blood on their hands. He's all too aware of his frailty, and stands in awe of the magics at play as the Lady turns her closest servants into undead "Taken", much as Sauron has his Nazg├╗l. He's caught in the centre, the storyteller trying to make sense of it all, and watching how a prophecy slowly unfolds, and what its ultimate repercussions will be. In fact, there's an element of existentialism in this tale, as Croaker himself philosophises about the ultimate absurdity of it all.

Cook's writing makes you work, and reads like a relatively shallow musing that doesn't dig deeper into motivations, but hurries along and leaves you in the dust if you don't try make connections. So I can see why he's not for everyone. I enjoyed the camaraderie between the characters, the things not spoken of, and that there was a gradually unfolding saga against which Croaker's small part played out. I also liked the idea that things weren't explained to me, so that I had to draw my own conclusions from this morally grey story. Our main character is unashamed by the fact that he takes his pay, does his job, and reserves his opinion for his own private moments. As for whether this makes him good or bad, it depends on which side of his bow you stand.

No comments:

Post a Comment