This review was originally posted on Booknest.eu.
The Black Company by Glen Cook is the tale of the elite mercenary company’s trials during its contracted service with The Lady, a powerful sorceress and empress. The tale is conveyed in first person through the eyes of Croaker, a medic and higher up within the ranks of the company whom also serves as the keeper of the company’s annals.
The overall feel of the novel can best be described as Grimdark Epic Fantasy. This isn’t to say that the book is some sort of blood and gore romp, but simply that the characters of the company themselves are amoral. The technical greatest evil in the book is The Lady whom employs the company to help her oust a rebellion. Though the company only holds themselves to the standards of their paying customer, they do have the redeeming quality of finding little enjoyment in their service to The Lady and much of the novel’s plot is the company’s attempt to free themselves from her service without marring the company’s reputation of no broken contracts.
The company’s war against The Lady’s rebellion thrusts them into a desperate stand which instantly became one of my favorite epic battles in fantasy literature. Glen Cook’s writing is tight and his descriptions of battles and skirmishes are nothing short of excellent. The only drawback I had in this story was the apparent lack of setting. The company moves around quite a bit in this tale but Cook rarely goes into any description of setting, not even much of a groundwork for the imagination.
The greatest strength of The Black Company is the interesting and well-developed characters and their relationships with the other members of the company. Many of the men in the story have crooked backgrounds, yet when a man joins the company he is joining a brotherhood. Everyone is equal and has a voice, even if they are not an officer. The first chronicle of The Black Company is more than a mission, it’s the journey of an army of men who live and die for their brothers and for the legacy of their company.
The Black Company is a worthwhile read for any fantasy fan interested in the origins of the subgenre Grimdark or military fantasy in general.
About the Author: Glen Cook was born in New York City, lived in southern Indiana as a small child, then grew up in Northern California. After high school he served in the U.S. Navy and attended the University of Missouri. He worked for General Motors for 33 years, retiring some years ago. He started writing short stories in 7th grade, had several published in a high school literary magazine. He began writing with malicious intent to publish in 1968, eventually producing 51 books and a number of short fiction pieces.
He met his wife of 43 years while attending the Clarion Writer’s Workshop in 1970. He has three sons (army officer, architect, orchestral musician) and numerous grandchildren, all of whom but one are female. He is best known for his Black Company series, which has appeared in 20+ languages worldwide. His other series include Dread Empire and and the Garrett, P.I. series. His latest work is Working God’s Mischief, fourth in the Instrumentalities of the Night series.