She Is The Darkness is the seventh installment in Cook’s acclaimed Black Company series. As Bleak Seasons was all about surviving a siege from within the besieged walls of the city of Dejagore, She Is The Darkness is all about laying siege to an impenetrable enemy fortress, Longshadow’s Overlook. And once again, in She Is The Darkness Cook delivers a gritty and very realistic picture of war seen from the perspective of regular soldiers – in short, a mudslide of exhausting boredom interspersed with short, intense moments of terrifying action. Put it all in the harsh, heady limelight of well-earned paranoia, mistrust and second-guessing, schemes upon schemes, intended lack of communication between regular soldiers and the leaders, and internal divisions of the army, and you have a very accurate psychological portrait of most of the prolonged conflicts in the history of human warfare.
She Is The Darkness, fully in line with the other books in The Black Company series, deals with the Western, highly romanticized view of soldiers as impeccable, heroic and virtuous heroes of ages, geniuses of strategy and masters of killing arts. Lots of fantasy books actually ascribe to that stereotype, with increasingly unconvincing results. Cook gives us the opposite – a book which, at least on the psychological level, could be a war memoir of a Vietnam vet. His characters, nearly all of them soldiers, are human, prone to human vices and weaknesses, frequent changes of heart, emotional upheavals and displays of casual pettiness, which Cook so aptly – and ruthlessly – depicts. At the same time, however, his characters are able to rise above the routine mediocrity from time to time – especially when it matters the most – to empathize, understand and comfort each other, showing equally human kindness, loyalty and even wisdom which allows them to remember why they went with the Black Company in the first place, which is the biggest question of the whole series.
The text below is partially a translation of one of the early, Polish posts, and uses two of my mini-reviews from Goodreads. I re-post it in a slightly expanded version to reiterate my dislike of the series that remains, for some reason, very popular 😉 People often wonder – is it worth one’s time? With 15 books and 12K pages (!), it’s not an easy decision, especially if one is a completionist. I’ve suffered through it all, and it took all of my willpower to get to the end. After that, I not only refused to acknowledge the greatness of Jordan, but also to read any more Sanderson. Well, the second rule I broke last year with Elantris, but it won’t happen again any time soon.
I’ve undertaken the task of reading – or, rather, listening to, and for hundreds of hours, The Wheel of Time, to familiarize myself with one of the most famous series in the world of epic fantasy. Also, with my new Audible account, I wanted to spend my credit-a-month on the longest books available 😉
According to Wikipedia, with 80 million volumes sold, it’s the second most popular fantasy series after Tolkien, and, at least in 2016, GRRM was still trailing behind with 70 million. Published 1990-2013, after Jordan’s death it was finished by the young and talented Brandon Sanderson. And it sounded interesting – long, complete series, no risk I’ll have to wait years to see the conclusion… with a series of heroes I was told I’ll be able to follow from farm-boys to rulers, and even accompanied by a nice soundtrack.
This one will be unusual.
Imagine a slightly AU HP fanfic…
In a version of Wizarding Britain, where Grindelwald’s rule was particularly long and harsh, only the Purebloods were tolerated by the regime. Or rather allowed to live, we should say, as it was a brutal occupation, with the regime draining the resources to finance further conquests, and killing everybody who dared question it.
A point of some importance – it was an occupation by foreign forces, and the continental wizards and witches in Grindelwald’s service committed most of the atrocities uncovered by the American Expeditionary Forces that eventually ended Grindelwald’s Empire.
Ola: One of the best fantasy and science fiction writers ever, although she didn’t like that label and preferred to be called a novelist and a poet. A daughter of the famous cultural anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber, who documented the vanishing lifestyles of West Coast Native Americans, Le Guin always put the focus of her novels on people and their varied ways of living.
As she said in an interview with John Wray in 2013 for The Paris Review,
The “hard”–science fiction writers dismiss everything except, well, physics, astronomy, and maybe chemistry. Biology, sociology, anthropology—that’s not science to them, that’s soft stuff. They’re not that interested in what human beings do, really. But I am. I draw on the social sciences a great deal. I get a lot of ideas from them, particularly from anthropology. When I create another planet, another world, with a society on it, I try to hint at the complexity of the society I’m creating, instead of just referring to an empire or something like that.
Piotrek: She was the social scientist’s fantasy writer, just as Tolkien was an heir to the rich tradition of philology and traditional study of myths. Politically not neutral, never shying away from important issues of race, feminism and other forms of inequality. Full of passion, but also smart and well-read in theory. Wise and compassionate.
In literary disputes, she was a staunch defender of what we call genre fiction. I’ve mentioned it before, but let me quote from her Guardian interview from 2016:
Realism is a genre – a very rich one, that gave us and continue to give us lots of great fiction. But by making that one genre the standard of quality, by limiting literature to it, we were leaving too much serious writing out of serious consideration
She wrote reviews for Guardian, including one of Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, and she was harsher than Ola!
Piotrek: I was very satisfied with myself when, recently, my little niece asked: why is it only uncle Piotr who knows comics? I try to keep Madzia (her sisters are too young) supplied with age-appropriate comics, stuff like Zita the Spacergirl or Yotsuba&, which means I get to read them, out loud and often multiple times 😉 And, since I’m the one to choose, it’s usually something I enjoy myself, but obviously, not things I read in my own reading time. The topic of this review is different. This is a series of graphic novels for everyone to enjoy. I’m not going to leave the verdict for the final parts, I’ll admit straight away: I really like David Petersen’s Eisner-winning Mouse Guard series.
Ola: Don’t forget it’s my find! 😛 It’s indeed a perfect comic book for all ages 7 and up – first, it definitely helps if you can read on your own ;), and second, the plot, themes and execution are best understood when one is at least a tiny bit learned in the ways of the world, having read or listened to Hobbit, for example, or at least made a passing acquaintance with the material culture of medieval times… On the other hand, the educational aspects and the straightforwardness of the plot suggest a younger cant to the target audience. However, I believe that being young at heart is absolutely sufficient to properly appreciate the Mouse Guard story. It’s a decidedly different read to your average superhero comic books, but the heroic and quite adult themes are very much present in David Petersen’s work.
It’s this time of month again ;). I drew this dragon a long time ago, even before I heard of GRRM’s dragons with two legs instead of four… Enjoy!
Angry dragon © A. Gruszczyk
The Culture is a group-civilisation formed from seven or eight humanoid species, space-living elements of which established a loose federation approximately nine thousand years ago. The ships and habitats which formed the original alliance required each others’ support to pursue and maintain their independence from the political power structures – principally those of mature nation-states and autonomous commercial concerns – they had evolved from.
It is also a series of 9 novels (plus a short story collection) and the place I want to go to in the afterlife. I’ve heard about it, I’ve read about, in 2016 I bought the first three books, and now I’ve finally started to read.