Darkness wars with darkness as the hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must. They bury their doubts with their dead.
Then comes the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more…
The Chronicles of the Black Company is an omnibus edition of the first three Black Company novels, also known as the Books of the North. I originally picked up this book as Cook was mentioned as one of the big influences on Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen. And I can certainly see why Erikson admires him, as they share a ruthlessness towards both their characters and the reader. Neither of these authors coddles their reader and they expect her to keep up with the narrative without any hand-holding. The book is greyer than grey and whether you root for a character is more based on their sense of honour than their innate goodness.
I liked the set up of the trilogy. The first book, The Black Company, introduces us to its titular mercenary band and shows how they end up in the employ of the Lady and in the North. The second book, Shadows Linger, picks up a while after the first one ends and it shows us that there is something more evil stirring than the Lady. The third book, The White Rose, is set nine years after the second and shows the struggle of the Company, The White Rose and the Lady against the greatest threat they’ve ever faced. The ending leaves you sadder and wiser, but with hope that there’ll be more for our heroes.
Cook’s characters were amazing; they’re not the nicest of men, but Cook manages to make you genuinely care for them and even their big evil Overlady at times comes across as a nice human being. This sometimes makes it hard to understand her more evil ambitions. My favourite of the book had to be our narrator Croaker. He rocks, as do his closest companions. You sense their bond and when betrayal seems to strike, you feel their hurt as if it’s your own. And betrayal and loss are something the Black Company has to deal with on many occasions. Another absolute favourite was Raven, he’s mysterious and has a good heart and I really loved his roles in the book. But not just our ‘heroes’ are fantastic characters; the villains are well-drawn as well. The Taken are great villains and forces in the game.
The prose is not florid or polished, it does what it needs to do it gets the story across, but that fits the narrative perfectly. The same can be said of the world building. There is a lot of it in the book, with a big chunk of historical development as part of it. But the world building never takes centre stage; the focus always remains on the characters first and foremost. Cook also experiments with narrative styles in the three books that make up the Chronicles of the Black Company. The first book is a straight narrative, told in chapters that could have been short stories in a former life. The second one is one of switching storylines, between the Black Company and Raven and Darling in Juniper. The final book is interspersed with a historical narrative, which gives us a further explanation about what happened to set the Lady and the Taken loose. It was interesting to see an author use these different styles within a trilogy, while keeping his voice consistent.
Chronicles of the Black Company is a great read, though it took me a while to really immerse myself in the world. If you like Erikson, you need to read these books. If you haven’t read Erikson, but you like military fantasy, then you need to read these books as well! Just make sure you have the omnibus edition, because you’ll want to finish them one after another. There are three more omnibus volumes, which contain the Books of the South and the Glittering Stone quadrology and two new books were recently announced. So if you like the Chronicles of the Black Company, there are plenty of opportunities to return to the Company’s world.