Soldiers Live is the final installment in Glen Cook’s Black Company series. I’ve read it over a year ago, but somehow couldn’t force myself to write down a review. Mostly, I think, because Soldiers Live is an elegy to Black Company so heartfelt and bittersweet and true – to its own history, sentiments, internal logic and the author’s worldview – that I found the necessary return to it surprisingly tasking. Over time this book came to resemble a tender spot one only gingerly agrees to touch, for it is a reminder of a past encounter with unyielding reality. What remains – a wound, a bruise, a slowly healing scratch – whatever the case, it’s a sign that reality won despite our best efforts of will 😉
And so it is for the Black Company. It still goes on, united by a common dream, but in nearly forty years of its history told by Cook over the course of nine books it has changed so profoundly it’s hardly recognizable for what it once was. And the crucial change is, obviously, its people. There are almost none of the old guard left, and whoever lives still, bruised and battered and exhausted by the constant struggle, has not much time left.
Buoyed by the success of our Deadly Bookish Sins tag we decided to even out the playfield – and created a corresponding Bookish Heavenly Virtues tag 😉 We had a lot of fun writing the questions and answering them, and now we hope you’ll enjoy reading them – and, if you do, we invite you to participate in the tag as well :).
CHASTITY: Which author/book/series you wish you had never read?
Ola: Aaand we start with a bang 😉 The two that most easily come to mind are Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind (DNFed around the junkie dragon mark and I only wish I threw it down sooner) and Justin Cronin trilogy (DNFed within first 100 pages of the third installment – what a waste of time). I’m usually pretty lenient when it comes to books, as they are in fact someone’s years of hard work and dreams. But I absolutely abhor waste of time on things I dislike, as the theory of alternative costs plays in my mind different scenarios of what I could have done with that precious resource, and the two examples above represent exactly that.
Piotrek: It’s a hard one. I usually only go for books I can be sure to enjoy at least a bit, and some of the really terrible ones I revenge-reviewed, so it was not a waste of time, was it?
One case where I could have saved the time and read something else, even at a cost of not having a vitriolic review to write, was the Iron Druid Chronicles. Details – in the linked review 😉 but I have to say, the more time passes, the more I’m convinced it’s a case of urban fantasy tropes tortured inhumanely for no good reason.
Crowfall is the final installment in Ed McDonald’s Raven’s Mark trilogy – though, to be fair, the ending does seem to imply a return to the broken world of Deep Kings, Nameless, and Misery. Where Blackwingwas a powerful, riveting debut, and Ravencry even upped the ante, delivering one of the best middle books I’ve read, Crowfall concludes the story of Ryhalt Galharrow in a deeply satisfying way. That is not to say it is without its flaws, and you can count on me for detailing them all 😀
But first things first. Six years after the events of Ravencry we find Galharrow changed in more ways than one. Living alone out in the Misery, ruthlessly self-sufficient and accompanied by ghosts, Ryhalt is a man driven by a single purpose: to free the love of his life, Ezabeth Tanza, from the light she had been imprisoned in for the last decade – at all costs. At least that’s what he thinks – his friends and the patchwork family he’d created over the years seem to have a bit different conceptions of Galharrow’s impeding fate. And it is impeding indeed, for as Galharrow changed, the world around him was transformed even more. From the time of an event known as Crowfall, when thousands of carrion birds fell down the sky with burned out eyes, Dortmark became an even less pleasant place to live. Plagued by magical nastiness in various forms – from bloodthirsty, carnivorous geese to black rains bringing madness, to disappearance of color orange, and to Saplers – little mandrake-like creatures sapping the life-force from their hosts and slowly acquiring their hosts’ characteristics.
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?