The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Black Company ImageBrief Summary:  The mercenary, rough sailors of the Black Company find themselves under the command of a new employer—a woman called The Lady, who may have darker plans for them than they could have ever imagined.

The Tsundoku Scale:  Middle of the Pile, 7 out of 10.

The Good: The tale of the Black Company is an interesting one, told by Croaker, the Black Company’s doctor and annals keeper.  It is a fast-paced book of short sentences, and even shorter tempers, as war rages on with the Black Company stuck right in the middle of it, holding on to their lives only by their own cunning.  Croaker is really a splendid character, with his wry and dry humor.  He is the quintessential unreliable narrator; for, while he writes the annals of the narrative that the reader is reading, he often chooses to omit and include details at his own whims.  He even mentions at one point that he has chosen to omit many of the atrocities that the Black Company commits because he does not like to show them in a negative light.  You like the characters, you sympathize the characters, and yet you still get the feeling that you don’t really know them. Cook does a great job pushing and pulling the reader between familiarity and aloofness with the characters.  What’s also oddly thrilling about this book is that there is no real back story.  There are prophecies, supernatural beings, and magic, but the reader is only granted slight glimpses of this history.  Croaker seems to neglect to tell the reader of certain facts mostly becaus these facts are already common knowledge to those characters in the story.  It takes a while to get used to things just happening matter of factly without much explanation, but, in this way, the reader is never caught up in the epic of good against evil. Instead, this otherworldly battle is but a side note to Croaker’s and the Black Company’s story, and for once the reader is truly controlled by the whims of the narrator, and Croaker gives the reader’s a thrilling ride.

The Bad: Many praise the Black Company for its divergence from a typical fantasy book.  The book filters out the high-end, elaborate telling of most general fantasies from the dirty trenches of war, but unlike most fantasies, it wants to leave you with the dregs.  Nonetheless, this praise is not particularly justifiable.  For “just an average person,” Croaker plays quite a role from the weight his opinion has in the Black Company’s decision-making, to the fact that The Lady, the most powerful being in the world, takes a special interest in him, going as far to contact him personally.  Croaker may be a normal man without magic or special abilities, but his life is certainly anything from normal, and the idea of this book being a different kind of fantasy is certainly misleading.  What’s more, it can often be frustrating how little Cook stays within the limits of his own narration.  Though Croaker is supposed to be telling the story through the annals that he has written, often those rules of the story are broken and instead the story transforms into a present narrative, rather than the re-telling it is supposed to be.