Friday Review: The Black Company by Glen Cook

The Black Company (The Chronicles of the Black Company, #1)My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Glen Cook is known as the father of the grimdark subgenre of fantasy. This book and series are the reason. This is not a pretty, sweeping, epic fantasy. This is deep in the trenches warfare, and the characters are right in the thick of the action.

The Black Company has been in existence for many years, although at the time of this story, their numbers have dwindled and their fame is a bit tarnished. The story is told from the point of view of the surgeon of the company, Croaker, who is the current Annalist. The Annalists have written the story of the Company from its beginning, and Croaker takes his duties, both as medic and chronicler seriously. The Company is caught between warring factions of demigods, fighting for control of an empire. They are not always sure they are on the right side, but as mercenaries, that’s not their business. They go and fight where they are paid to.

The writing here is spare and has very little of the usual epic fantasy embellishments. But it fits the character of Croaker- he’s a surgeon and a soldier in the midst of an ongoing war and he has little time or imagination for flowery prose. The details of war and mercenary life are often brutal and bloody. Battles are fought savagely, with both sides determined to win. Men die. Spoils are taken from wins. It’s not very pretty, but it does ring with believability.

None of these characters are saints. They are dark and brutal men, with dark and often brutal pasts. They are part of the Black Company in many cases because there are few questions asked, and as long as they do their job, no one cares who they were. But it’s not all death and destruction. The company’s two wizards, One-Eye and Goblin, are engaged in an ongoing battle of one-upsmanship and their contests bring some much needed comic relief. There’s plenty of action, both on the battlefield and within the company.

The Black Company is dark military fantasy done well. It proves again and again that war really is hell. Fans of the grimdark genre who haven’t read Cook should pick this one up.

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