Review: Chronicles of The Black Company

Chronicles of The Black Company (The Black Company / Shadows Linger / The White Rose)Chronicles of The Black Company by Glen Cook
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I gave up on this one. I can see why some people might like it, but in the end this book has none of the things that I look for in fantasy.

In the first place, Cooke’s descriptive style is extremely sparse. Very little is described and much is implied or left to the imagination. This is a good thing, I suppose, since given how appallingly grim this book is it might be even more revolting if things were described in detail. As is, the style of this book is like one of those modern paintings in which a figure is evoked with only a few well-placed brush strokes, except that the only color here is greasy black, and the resulting figure is one of violence, rape, and betrayal.

The plot is meandering and equally depressing. We follow the Black Company, a bunch of scoundrels who accidentally wind up working for the Dark Lord, who is in this case a Dark Lady. They kill and fight and get drunk and kill some more, and it’s all very repetitive and empty-seeming. There’s a suggestion of someone called the White Rose who may be able to restore goodness to the world, and given that the third book in this volume is called The White Rose, I assume that they eventually find her. But I’m not willing to slog through 500 pages of filth to find out if that’s the case.

On top of that, the worldbuilding is paper-thin. I was a third of the way through the first book when I gave up, and I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the history of the world, the way its magic works, nor even what the major nations are. As far as I can tell, the setting is Generic European Fantasy, but really it’s just a prop that the author throws around it order to give his characters some place to kill in.

If you’re the sort of reader who likes reading about villains and doesn’t care about deep settings and rich description (in other words, if you’re the opposite of me), then you might like this. But I’ll be staying away from Glen Cook and the Black Company after this.

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2 Comments

  1. I had the exact same reaction the first time I tried to read the black Company books. but then i read it again.. and once you’ve picked up the character of Raven.. and are on the move north.. you see the Black company do things that perhaps at first seem out of character..

    By the end of that omnibus theres been a dramatic shift in the axis of the world, you learn vast swaths of information about how the world worked and its history.. To me it’s written like.. hemingway on acid..

    But if your really want grim.. just read a KJ Parker book called Belly of the Bow..

    1. I had just read to the point where they pick up Raven when I gave up. There’s a slim chance I might try again, though not soon.

      I loved KJ Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, though I can see how you could put it in the same category (no unambiguously good characters, lots of violence), but it was saved by an excellent prose style and deep and interesting worldbuilding. What is Belly of the Bow about?

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