Author: Glen Cook
Title: Water Sleeps
Series: The Chronicles of the Black Company
Format: Paperback Omnibus Edition
The penultimate book in Cook’s famous Black Company sequence, Water Sleeps, is a high-grade urban guerilla handbook. Or at least the first three fifths of it, to be precise ;). The rest is an Eldritch Horror type of novel, with several fantastic revelations, brilliantly prepared and sprung on unsuspecting readers like an exquisitely poisonous trap. Churned out mere two years after the gut-wrenching cliffhanger of She Is The Darkness, Water Sleeps presents a total change of tone and perspective, one more time introducing a completely new POV. But fear not, almost all old hands get a chance if not to shine, then at least to glimmer. And even that new POV is not so new – the Water Sleeps Annalist and strategos is no other than Sleepy, whom the readers met a long time ago as a wispy boy, a follower of the Black Company and Big Bucket’s protégé in the Company’s golden Southern days, before Mogaba’s treason and Soulcatcher’s lethal volte.
El Tres de Mayo ⓒFrancisco de Goya
Sleepy faces an insanely difficult task: a guerilla warfare in a densely populated southern city, held in a vise grip by the most dangerous of still active sorcerers, would be enough to break sweat on the brightest of the Black Company leaders in the best of times. But these are decidedly not the best of times, with the leadership… rendered helpless and away, to put things mildly and as un-spoiler-y as possible. But that’s actually Sleepy’s other task: the retrieval of the most precious of Black Company assets, i.e. its people.
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.
Bleak Seasons is the sixth novel in Cook’s acclaimed Black Company series. A brutal, straight in your face account of an ugly, unredeeming war was a welcome refresh after the streak of bad and mediocre books I had recently hit.
Bleak Seasons take place at the same time as the Dreams of Steel, recounted from the Lady’s point of view, but this story is told from the perspective of Murgen, the new Standardbearer of the Black Company. Murgen, along with the majority of the Black Company under the command of Mogaba, has been trapped in the siege of Dejagore. You remember that monstrous city ruled by Shadow masters in the middle of southern nowhere, past the Hindu-like Taglios on the Black Company’s way toward Khatovar? Dejagore is a living hell. Fear and hate, utter lack of hope clashing with the animal need to survive, tight confines of the stone city bereft of food but full of hungry, hostile mouths, and a looming catastrophe of an urban fight change the place into a nightmarish landscape of grisly death. Reading Bleak Seasons I had one name in mind – Hue. Although, considering the recent wars, at least a couple of others should join it – from Fallujah to Mosul.
The final installment in Books of the South, not exactly a part of trilogy (although the chronological order is more or less maintained), but rather a spin-off from the Black Company series. Instead of Croaker and co. we get White Rose and Silent and Raven. And, of course, a certain silver spike, containing the soul of Dominator, conquered in the Barrowlands in the grand finale of The White Rose. There’s also a very peculiar severed head craving for a body, and a really nasty dog who doesn’t like toads :). But it all comes together thanks to a quartet of greedy and not very bright no-names from Oar, who get the brilliant idea of stealing the spike and selling it to the highest bidder. What could go wrong with such a crafty plan?
Today is the Men’s Day in Poland. I decided to celebrate it with a review of Dreams of Steel, the second installment in the second almost-trilogy in The Black Company series, Books of the South. Why? Besides the obvious and false stereotype that military fantasy is a distinctly male sub-genre? 😉 Here it comes: while the first installment, Shadow Games, was written from Croaker’s perspective, the second – for reasons obvious to anyone who’s read the first book and not readily revealable to everyone else 😉 – undergoes a forced change of the narrator. The role of the Black Company Annalist falls to the Lady.
What a wondrous turn of events! 🙂 The infamous Lady, the long-standing infatuation and love of Croaker, the mover and shaker of the whole Black Company universe, has been an immobile center of the whirlwind of events from the book one. Now we have a rare opportunity to see everything that happens through her own eyes. To see… actually, I won’t tell you what we really see, at least not yet. One fact remains clear, however: her perspective is similar enough for the hard-core fans not to feel too betrayed, and unique enough to lend the series a new, distinct flavor. A tip of the hat, or better a deep bow, to Glen Cook; it is a feat that’s difficult to pull off even in normal circumstances, and what happened in the Black Company universe is far from normal.
After a few reading trips in other literary directions (like the bio-zombie dystopia The Girl With All The Gifts, or the popular tribute to pop culture of the 80’s, Ready Player One, the review of which will appear here soon) I came back to the world of Glen Cook’s Black Company. I’ll be honest: I missed those guys, ruthless and hapless cutthroats that they are.
Shadow Games is the first installment in the second trilogy, The Books of the South. Well, that’s not entirely true, because the Silver Spike is a stand-alone novel, but these are little, rather obscure issues and probably not interesting to anyone but me… Anyway. After the events depicted in The White Rose, when the Black Company eventually defeated the Dominator, but for an enormous cost, now the proud mercenary unit is down to seven men. Among them the Lady, powerless after her name had been found and exposed. Croaker became the unwilling Captain, but maintained also his primary role as the Company’s Annalist. Now the Black Company marches South, toward Khatovar, their unit’s birthplace, to fulfill the promise of returning the Annals home.
Ok, so here it is, and I will wait with the Temeraire review, maybe till I finish the first trilogy. It’s late, but recent Paris bombings occupied my mind most of the weekend. I’ve even spent lots of time arguing about politics on the internet, never a good idea and something I’ve tried to avoid for a long time. But I had an unusually emotional reaction and needed to rant a bit 😉
First – both my TBR (To Be Read) and TBB (To Be Both) lists measure in hundreds. I’d like to read everything and I’d love to have a hardback copy of most of the fantasy & s/f books ever published.