The Chronicles of The Black Company

Glen Cook
The Chronicles of The Black Company Cover

The Chronicles of The Black Company

Aaron Singleton

This book is an omnibus containing the first three books of the South, which are, respectively: The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose.

I first read these three books back in 2005 after they were cited by a writer named Steven Erikson as a major influence on his own Malazan series. Having enjoyed the three Malazan books I'd read, I decided to give Glen Cook a try.

I was hooked from the start.

The series is a first-person account of the mercenary company called the Black Company. The conceit is that the books are really the journals of the Company's historian and doctor, a man called only Croaker. These journals and many others like them, going back hundreds of years, make up the company's annals.

Croaker is a soldier first, a doctor second, and then Company historian and senior member. The prose style is clipped and direct. There is little description so it's left to the reader to fill in the gaps. This worked well for me. Others, not so well judging by some of the reviews I have read. Cook doesn't spoon-feed the story to you. He expects you to catch things the first time and to use your brain.

Other than the aforementioned Croaker, several characters populate the books; on the Company side are names like One-Eye, a sorcerer who is well over one-hundred and has been with the Company forever, it seems; The Captain, who is the leader of the mercs, quiet and calm but harsh when need be; Raven, the newest member, scary, unpredictable, wreckless. Outside the mercs we have Soucatcher, the Limper, and Shapeshifter to name a few. These are three of the Ten Who Were Taken, ancient men and women with extraordinary magical power. Their history is long and tortuous. And the Lady, leader of the Taken and empress of the Northern empire as well as an enigma.

As I said before, Erikson's Malazan series owes much to Cook's Black Company. Both present the POV of the grunts eschewing the cliched royalty and farmboys, both have characters who use nicknames only, both worlds have cities whose names are simple one or two syllable words, and both are concerned with military matters.

I highly recommend these books to anyone who likes fantasy with a good sense of (dark) humor, realism and sometimes grittiness, characters whose skin is a color other than white, mysterious magic systems, characters who speak like normal folks, and ...well that's all I can think of at the moment. Just try it. You won't regret it.