Review: “The Black Company” by Glen Cook

The Black Company by Glen Cook. Tor Essentials. 274 pages.

I first came upon this book when I was looking for the sequel to The Last Watch by J.S. Dewes. As I have mentioned many times here before, I loves me some military science fiction. And the review on Amazon said, well if you like The Last Watch, you’ll love The Black Company. That being said, I have mixed feelings about this book. But before we go any further, let’s see the Amazon description:

Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead.

Until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her…

So begins one of the greatest fantasy epics of our age―Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company.

This is not military science fiction; this is military fantasy, with a heavy emphasis on fantasy. And that is very dark fantasy; if you like stories with curses, spells, twisted monsters, and sorcerers around every corner, this is it. I don’t know what I was expecting, but one review made reference to parallels of Vietnam, and that got me thinking something about relatively modern warfare.

But this isn’t. It’s sword and sorcery, pure and simple. If you like dark sword and sorcery, written in a visceral style, this might be your bag of tea. I can’t say I was disappointed with the quality of writing and storytelling–it’s exceptional–but I was just looking for something different. In addition, Cook’s tendency to drop metaphors in the middle of a paragraph without warning confused me. It is the kind of book you can’t read while the TV is going or someone else is talking to you. To appreciate it, you have to really pay attention.

But that visceral style of warfare, especially when it deals with the grunt in the front trenches, is special. And I found myself caring deeply what happened to the characters, which is always good. The first third of the book I had a hard time following it, mainly because of the prose. By the last third of the book, I was hooked and couldn’t wait to see what happened.

Like I said, I have mixed feelings about this book, which is the only thing that keeps me from giving it five stars. It’s exceptional, but probably not my cup of tea.

Four out of five stars.

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