Glen Cook – The Black Company

Getting a recommendation that turns out great is always a nice thing. For me this was the case with The Black Company (1984) by Glen Cook. I hadn’t read more than ten pages before style, prose and setting reminded me a lot of Steven Erikson: a band of soldiers, their engagements and daily bantering, the distinct and original characters, and of course a compact story development with a fairly quick pace. Just with those elements I can guarantee that one who likes Erikson will like Cook just as well.

There are some distinct differences. The Black Company is told from a first person point-of-view and we stick to that. Because of that, we miss out on some events, but the main characters manages to get into most of what is important. As the narrator is also a physician, he is often not at the front of battle so he doesn’t go into much detail there. It does allow the story to move with incredible speed. The novel is just over 200 pages, but a whole epic story is told and completed while you don’t have the feeling it is rushed. This is because Cook moves from scene to scene where the pace is right, but once it is done he wastes no time until the next event. Few lines are spent on the large amount of travelling, not more than necessary. This is also a difference from Erikson, where journeys and quests are the backbone of his stories.

The story is gritty and sufficiently complex, while names remain generic or nicknames, giving it a similar Erikson feel but just this different and a bit more epic. Cook’s characterization is excellent. With few words he sets up the different characters and gives the environment a genuine feel. For a novel from the 80′s it partially feels like a novel from the past decade while still having reminiscences from classic fantasy from the 60′s and 70′s (as he put it all together in 200 pages). One could say he was ahead of his time or that he inspired a number of popular recent fantasy authors.

The world is not described in much detail, just what is enough. This is a grey world where good and evil are hard to distinguish. The reader has to judge for himself.

Like Erikson, this is a story that focusses on the story itself and using a stabile strong cast of characters. Character development plays a minor role because most of the soldiers in the story all have a past already and aren’t that young anymore. Their characters are fleshed out. They have seen and lived through plenty of bad stuff, so change will not come easily. This is not that kind of story that requires it.

The Black Company has my full recommendation. An excellent and entertaining story which mopes up the typical fantasy tropes and never lets down. I’m happy the novel is part of a omnibus, so I have two more novels to enjoy until the next omnibi that I’ve ordered have arrived.

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