****The novel I read on my kindle was the one whose cover is to the left here. This means it was three books in one; ‘The Black Company’, ‘Shadows Linger’, ‘The White Rose’.****
The cover of the novel features a quote by Steven Erikson (who from the one book of his I have read was very influenced by this) saying that these books “singlehandedly changed the face of fantasy”. After reading the books and seeing that they were written in the mid-1980s I am going to tentatively accept that there is some truth in this.
I read a lot of fantasy and these books still felt so fresh.
Cook wrote fantasy that covers the traditional story in different ways. The characters have huge flaws and do stupid/evil things.
You get to spend time with the bad guys. Including the main villain ‘The Lady’ who is in fact much more of a character and protagonist than the ‘good’ guys for almost all the book.
You get to see parts of the story that you generally only see from the good guys perspective. Oh thanks Gandalf/Aragon/Gandalf substitute/Aragon substitute evil has risen again in the heart of its former dominion. How did you let that happen? Were you not paying attention? This book shows you the events that lead up to this and I really enjoyed this fact.
So some actual plot synopsis. The Black Company is a centuries old group of veteran mercenaries who have fallen on hard times. Their employer at the start of the book is about to lose his grip on power and they need a way out. With their backs to the wall they take a commission serving under, one of the ‘Taken’, Soulcatcher who serves ‘The Lady’ a powerful immortal magician.
This is the start of the first book and from this point you get to see “The Lady’s” fight to maintain her empire. Crucially, though much of it is seen from her point of view. So instead of hearing about how powerful the bad guy is you hear about how powerful the good guy is.
The concepts in this novel are also fantastic. The second book features certain unnamed characters supplying sometimes all too fresh corpses to a magically growing castle. For doing this they get paid lots of cash. As a side effect though that castle keeps getting bigger and bigger. I wonder what could be going on there? I’m sure it is nothing sinister.
This then brings me to one of the debates I have about this book. The author hits upon ideas that are so cool that they power the story along and make you want to keep reading.
The castle discussed above is one, the relationship between the main character Croaker and ‘The Lady’ is another, the Plain of Fear is another. Cook perhaps wisely never quite gives us the full story on these. It’s not just that we never get the history of them. I understand that would be boring but we don’t get to read first hand the narrative of these concepts in the story. It is all a bit Forest of Fanghorn and Isenguard.
I understand why Cook did this. He must have felt that the story if told could never live up to the reader’s imagining of it but I would have really liked to see him try. Even if he failed it would have been a glorious failure.
Overall then I really do recommend this book. I am going to read some more of this series.