The Books of the South

Glen Cook
The Books of the South Cover

The Books of the South


The Books of the South continues the story of the Black Company. This WWEnd version is the omnibus containing Shadow Games, Dreams of Steel, and The Silver Spike. While Shadow Games and Dreams of Steel are essential to the storyline that follows the band of mercenaries known as The Black Company on their journey to the southernmost, unmapped place in the world to find their company's secret and forgotten origins, the third book in the omnibus, The Silver Spike, is something of a side novel. The side novel is going to be the focus of this review, because once you start on the path of the Black Company, its pull is magnetic, you need no explanation, no review, to be drawn to follow.

But The Silver Spike, that's something of another story.

The Silver Spike picks up on the lives of three of the Black Company after their epic battle for the empire has been fought, and won for some, lost for others. In a struggling, war-torn land, the company all but disbands, with Croaker and less than twenty of his number remaining to carry the banner and make the dangerous trek down south to find their history. Others go off to make homes for themselves, to help the Jewel Cities rebuild, and many died.

But for Darling, Silent, and Raven, the world seems to offer no place. Betrayed in her time of need by the man who raised her, the man she loves, Darling exiles Raven from herself and heads off with Silent to an unknown future, and Raven alone.

As the empire rebuilds under a new regime, most of the Ten Who Were Taken lie buried or chasing the Company, and the Dominator's spirit remains imprisoned in a silver spike in the Barrowland, a new horror lurks.

Prepare yourself for the return of Toadkiller Dog, The Limper, The Nightstalkers (remember the battle of Queen's Bridge?), and windwhales. Lots and lots of windwhales.

Our "annalist" on this trip is Philodendron Case, a rather insignificant soldier who left with Raven when the Black Company Split. He is a likeable, amusing young man, brave and modest. His voice is different from those of the annalists before him, but if you want to compare, he's less interesting than Croaker, more honest than Lady, and more interesting than Murgen.

Glen Cook fits the events that draw Raven and his estranged Darling and Silent back together right into the puzzle pieces hinted at in Shadow Games and Dreams of Steel. Their story and the Company's continuing saga fit perfectly where they came close to crossing. But that is the extent of the wow-factor of this book.

It has all the elements for a breathtaking side-novel. Beloved characters, reunions with long lost relatives, resurrected dead, a cursed treasure, a besieged city. But the story fell flat for me. As a hard and fast Cook fan, I expected the detailed battles and AhHA! moments where he finally reveals the reason for the leader's plans and actions. His language in The Silver Spike led me to believe that he felt he was doing the same thing here, but it all was rather lackluster.

Perhaps the main draw to this book is finding out more about the enigma that is Raven. You do find out a little more about his past. And you get a hint of a platonic love triangle between Rave, Darling, and Silent. Unrequited love. And the mysterious battle-genius of a young deaf and dumb savior. But there is no payoff.

The poetic prose that Croaker brought to the previous books as the annalist is absent. Raven loses enigma status and becomes a rather two-dimensional catalyst. Silent never gets his time to shine. And with all the build-up of promised epic war, cholera-ridden besieged Oar, and the approach of The Limper, The Silver Spike simply ends with no real pay-off.

It feels rushed, as if Cook wrote it to satisfy fans who wanted to know what became of these three people who were central to the battle in the first three books. I would rather have kept their story to my imagination than have it rushed so much that the final battle left me confused, unsatisfied, and angry.

I think that it is a good book to read if you want to tie up some loose ends with characters such as Bomanz, The Limper, Toadkiller Dog (whose appearance seemed unnecessary and a literary stretch), and the main three. It really isn't a necessary read to follow the Black Company stories and actually, I would recommend skipping it if you are only going to read it for the pleasure of learning about Darling and her two beaus.

Lackluster in language, a reach far beyond it's grasp, and rushed ending make this my least favorite of the Black Company stories. Read Shadow Games and Dreams of Steel, then skip The Silver Spike and go on to the next one (though it is a bit hard to follow at times).

Long Live the Black Company!