Thursday, December 7, 2023
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The Black Company by Glen Cook Review

Fiction, like most things, goes through fades, you have the outliers which are a roaring success, both critically and financially, then years of copycatting will follow trying to capitalise on the original, to varying degrees of success. No book genre is this more prevalent in than the fantasy genre. And it can and does last decades. 

Tolkien wasn’t the first to do heroic fantasy in a magical land, but he was the first to show it wasn’t a just niche thing to be enjoyed by children and nerds, and opened it up to the masses. People wanted more. So the market supplied more, until it became oversaturated with the same stuff, there were variants, sure, but most had the samey quality to it, lacking in much originality. Until George R. R. Martin wrote Game of Thrones, the first in A Song of Ice and Fire series, and popularized the genre again to the masses, and with the TV show following a decade and a bit later, the genre then became oversaturated with fantasy books, that lacked fantasy, and were dreary books set in a medieval, European-esque world. Again, varying in quality. 

This whole rant about the fantasy genre market is to say that in between Tolkien and Martin, there was Glen Cook. Whom may not have been as successful as either, but his Black Company series deserves just as much copycatting until the market becomes oversaturated with his stuff. 

The Black Company is set in a fantasy world where the fantastical names aren’t that fantastical, they’re simple, to the point. The world has been ravished by the Dominator, and his wife, Lady, and his generals, the Taken. Rebels, blah blah, Dominator and all dark forces are defeated (not killed, but buried), peace for many years, blah blah. The Dominator’s wife Lady is resurrected, a new evil reign of reconquering his lands. Typical fantasy start, nothing special. Except, the story isn’t about defeating all that evil. It’s about the titular Black Company, a bunch of mercenaries who don’t believe in good or evil, they believe in getting paid, morals, rights and wrongs are for those who don’t have to make ends meet. 

The book doesn’t even go into the typical details, characters’ appearances are rarely described, names aren’t overly important. It is just about the company as a whole, the events recorded by their Annalist and Doctor, Croaker, he’s the narrator. He just wants to keep the tradition alive of recording the general happenings of the company, and what only concerns the company. And the company’s new contract of serving the Lady, the dark lord herself. It’s through the companies serving ‘evil itself’, they find things aren’t all they seemed to be. Nothing is good or evil, black or white, it just is. It’s all wonderful shades of grey following a military bunch through this world. Which may not be original in itself, but it’s original in its perspective, and how events unfold, and are told.

Now this is a fantasy book, so if fantasy isn’t your thing, then first of all get your head checked, you snob. And second of all, this really is between Tolkien’s highly magical and fantastical Lord of the Rings, and Martin’s gritty and more so realistic world. It’s fun, dark, comical, at times twisted, and just a great read.


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