Swiftypants's Reviews > The Black Company

The Black Company by Glen Cook
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Feb 25, 2010

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Read in February, 2010

The first installment of the Chronicles of the Black Company is a very good read. It has a definite dark fantasy feel to it, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it low fantasy because the presence and influence of magic and mythical creatures is unabating.
The first person narrative has many of the shortcomings of that style -- secondary characters are not as well fleshed out, but one never gets the feeling that the primary character overshadows the narrative -- Croaker is, appropriately, secondary to the ongoing plot.
At first it is difficult to follow the conversations of the various characters. This is party due to the author's style of minimal exposition but also due to a the generic naming conventions used for characters. Almost nobody has a typical name (Elmo might be the only exception), but instead, most characters have fantasy-style generic titles: Stormbringer, Soulcather, Whisper, Silent, Raven, The Lady, etc. Sometimes shortened forms are used without warning... for instance "Catcher" often replaces "Soulcatcher" with random inconsistency.
The character dynamics between the various members of the Black Company are the strong point of the novel. The hilarious magical antics of the wizards One-Eye and Goblin are the most entertaining of the bunch.
Another weakness in the novel is that it lacks moral direction until near the very end of the novel. The protagonists, the Black Company, are relatively scoundrel-like with very little of the charm of a typical anti-hero, they serve a team of apparently evil, supernatural wizard-like entities, and they oppose a rebellion force which, without an exposition as to its political purpose, appears to be just as morally void as its opposition. And while this may contribute to more a realistic setting -- properly expressing the moral ambiguity of warfare -- it also makes for a fairly uninspiring story. There is very little reason to "root" for the good guys, as there are no good guys to be found.
Luckily, the story develops a potential plot hook near the end which leaves it open to a more typical fantasy over-arching plot concerning a prophecy whereby a hero to our villain(s) is promised to be forthcoming. Personally, I felt this twist in the story line was fairly obvious and typical to the genre -- nevertheless it helps to draw the otherwise unconventional style back into the familiar fantasy genre.
I am definitely eager to continue this saga, but I wouldn't say that I was interested enough to be considered "hooked" yet.

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