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.
And so we arrive at the final chapter of the story originated in The Passage. I enjoyed the first installment, was disheartened by the second… And the third was my first DNF in years – actually, the first since Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, the review of which can be found here.
As I am an (almost) compulsive reader, DNF-ing a book is a big deal. I usually try to finish even those books which I don’t enjoy – there are plenty of examples of such instances on the blog, for example here and here, and here… DNF is a big thing for me. It’s sort of a final, irrevocable verdict, an emperor’s finger pointed down, the sword falling and lions waiting. DNF-ing a novel means for me that the work in question possessed no redeeming quality, no point of access, and that I considered reading it a total waste of time.
Jean –Léon Gérôme Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) , 1872
So now it’s time to explain why the conclusion to a trilogy which has begun with such a promise was a complete letdown.
I haven’t written in a long time – lots and lots of work. Still, I do read, even if swamped with work, so my list of books to be reviewed slowly grows. I completed my read of The Twelve when I was still commuting weekly to Warsaw and had a lot of time to read, and it was a good thing, because otherwise I wouldn’t have finished this book.
But let’s start from the beginning. The Twelve is the second installment in an already finished post-apocalyptic trilogy by Justin Cronin. The review for the first installment, The Passage, can be found here. I enjoyed The Passage quite a bit, enough to jump to the second book as soon as I finished the first. I liked the protagonists of the first novel: mostly Amy and Wolgast, but I was ok also with the latecomers – Peter and Alice, Sarah and Mike, and the rest of the supporting crew.
The second installment shows us a world in a momentary stasis – the first of the Twelve, Babcock, is dead, but the rest of the monstrous serial killer death row inmates is still free to roam the realm of the erstwhile U.S. Worse, the human survivors are not enticed to believe Peter and the rest of his crew that there are other “nodes”, the remaining zero-patients, who are able to control to bloodsucking monstrosities called virals. From the humanity’s point of view getting rid of them would mean much better chance of survival – but humanity has a tendency to look rather to the next day than to the next year, and so the problems of plumbing, food and electricity shortages, and fuel transportation will always be pushed to the fore.
Long time, no see – vacation time is not inductive to writing, but gives lots of opportunities to read, even in the middle of an Internet-less wilderness :). I usually leave the thickest books for my vacation time, as only then I might be sure of reading them in full, and in reasonable time. For the summertime I also leave those books which I wouldn’t have read any other time – vacation makes me more bullshit-tolerant 😉
And that’s why one of my summer readings this year was the final installment in Bakker’s acclaimed trilogy The Prince of Nothing. I know, I have said before I won’t be reading The Thousandfold Thought anytime soon, too irritated with previous installments to care; while The Darkness That Comes Before was still readable, The Warrior Prophet was just awful. But I like to finish things, and that gutted carcass left on my metaphorical porch, to use the imagery borrowed from Bakker, begged to be cleaned up and buried for good.
The Found and the Lost is a collection of novellas by Ursula Le Guin, the founding mother of fantasy and SF as we know today. It’s a perfect book for both die-hard fans and for those who have never had the pleasure of reading anything by Le Guin before. A doorstop of a book at 600 pages in my digital copy and 816 pages in hardcover, it contains 13 novellas written in the period between 1971 (Vaster Than Empires and More Slow) to 2002 (Paradises Lost). The collection is presented mostly in a chronological order, but another categorization rule readily comes to mind while reading as the novellas can be divided into three main groups: Earthsea, Hainish cycle and “other”.
A sequel of sorts to the critically acclaimed Powder Mage trilogy, Sins of Empire takes us ten years forward and half a world away from Adro, to the newly created country and nation of Fatrasta. When Taniel Two-Shot more than a decade ago helped the Fatrastans win their independence from the Kez, he fought alongside Old-World Kressians and aboriginal Palos. But now, as the nation of Fatrasta has become increasingly rich and influential, its leaders and Kressian elites have started to mercilessly exploit the weaknesses of Palo. The internal inequalities and segregation policies introduced by Kressians pushed the mutual distrust between the former colonialists from all over the Nine and the aboriginal tribes of Palos toward political unrest and a bloody civil war. And when the empire of Dynize, remaining in self-imposed isolationism for the last four hundred years, comes knocking with a big-ass fleet of war ships and an army bloodied earlier in a cruel civil war, things get even more dire pretty soon.
Let’s take a tour through the streets of the fabled city of Bulikov, where gods lived, where they created and destroyed, took care of their followers and inevitably issued edicts. Bulikov, city of grand spires and beautiful gardens, shining like an immense jewel of the world. A seat of gods, a place of power, a source of pride – and hubris – for the people dwelling on the Continent.
If you were to walk through the streets of Bulikov now, you wouldn’t see any of the wonders. You’d see a forest of decrepit, half-ruined buildings, hundreds of thousands of stairs ending in the thin air, as if cut by a gigantic scythe, and a sea of poverty, resentment and anger.
Because the gods weren’t omnipotent, omniscient or immortal. They were killed, and with their destruction came the destruction of everything they have ever built. Bulikov is now a gaping wound in social memory, a festering boil waiting to burst at the slightest pressure. And guess what? That pressure is easily applied, from many directions at once.