Glen Cook – Bleak Seasons

When it takes six years for a sequel to appear this is a long time for any reader. Even so, if an author needs more time to figure out how events will develop, he should do so instead of making a botched job out of it. Of course such is no guarantee. The writer might be struggling so much that he gets satisfied with less with the idea that “it will do”.

It took Glen Cook that many years to produce a sequel to Dreams Of Steel, a novel which had more of an open ending than his earlier novels about the Black Company. The odd thing about Bleak Seasons (1996) is that it is supposedly the first book of Glittering Stone, comprising of books 7 to 10 about the Black Company. To me this feels a bit odd as one can’t read the books without having read books 4 and 5 (as book 6, The Silver Spike, is more of a standalone side story).

Bleak Seasons starts several years after the events of Dreams Of Steel but has little of a starting novel. It is actually more of a connecting story with many sort of flashbacks of earlier events. Overall it is a strange novel. It can be said that Cook is experimenting, but I remain uncertain to which extent certain mysteries in the story are really resolved or that it will have impact later in the story. I am hoping for some extra layers of complexity but I am not sure they will be there.

What certainly is different from the previous books is that the point-of-view returns to a fully first person narrative as we were used to in the first books. Although the change in the earlier books served the story well, the story as told from the annalist somehow feels more genuine. There is a new annalist now and Cook again manages to present the storytelling in a distinct different style while the prose is the same. It is also nice to have a new viewpoints of character who looks differently to several older characters. Not being all-knowing also allows for more questioning for the reader. Personally I kind of like that.

Bleak Seasons gives us a story within a story. It is more a soldier’s tale, while the magic elements always remain close. This book is more about the Black Company than the previous three books, so for any long time reader this will be a great joy. The themes remain dark and gritty, but compared to the earlier books Cook goes easier on his characters. I assume this is also caused by the connecting nature of Bleak Seasons. It is to fill in some gaps and prepare for the main stage.

Bleak Seasons does perhaps not stand alone as a novel, but it contains plenty of story that will entertain. I certainly did enjoy it. Cook makes sure he can tell all the story available even as he, from a more detached perspective, kind of makes himself off easy after a period of seven years between the books. My advantage of already having all the books at hand may affect my opinion. For someone who has waited seven years Bleak Seasons might be disappointing somewhat. This problem obviously won’t be affecting readers who started later.

As I seem prone to be doing, comparing this book to the earlier ones, I set it above Shadow Games, which would put it at place 5 of 7 in my current personal ranking. Even so, this is a great story within the whole Black Company series and is highly recommended. Just make sure to have read the earlier novels before you pick up this one.

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