Glen Cook – Soldiers Live

If it really is the final book remains to be seen (according to Wikipedia the author still has plans for new ones), but Soldiers Live (2000) by Glen Cook is for now the tenth and last book about the Black Company, a series that I have enjoyed greatly and has found a solid place amongst my personal favorites. Each book has proved to have its own character and style, with the author re-inventing himself continuously. The trademarks of the books have been soldier-life in a world of sorcery, fast-paced with many twists that easily avoided cliches. Until the last three books the length of the novels was kept just over 200 pages, but contained more story than some of todays heavy tomes. Only the last books were about 400 pages, which is still relatively low to what some fantasy readers are accustomed to.

The big question with a so-called final book is if it manages to bring the story to a good conclusion. Cook preferred to give most of the previous books a certain ending so one could say that saves him from having to do so even more in the last book as most fantasy series tend to leave the majority of the story threads and mysteries for the end. Soldiers Live has a similar pacing as Water Sleeps, even as the narrator has changed again. While Water Sleeps had a more static nature, there is plenty of movement in Soldiers Live, giving it the feel of a faster pace as locations change more quickly.

Although Cook introduces some fresh and new elements in Soldiers Live, most of characters and settings remain familiar. I had a bit the feeling that he only managed to get a hold of only a few characters. Most remain a little underexposed. Events are dominating the story more than the characters were and that weakened the story a bit.

While some scenes remain great and enjoyable, others left little impact. I had the feeling Cook was more focused on bringing the greater story to a closure than spending effort in making it have an impact. For the first time I noticed some things in the story that were odd and never given an explanation. The behavior of some characters seemed more rushed than usual, the outcome of certain events just given as fact with little to give it substance.

There was plenty to enjoy in Soldiers Live, but also elements that did not satisfy, including a part of the ending. Overall I have to put it in my ranking somewhere in the middle. It contains sufficient good stuff, but lacks in some parts to be among the best. My final ranking of the Black Company books is as follows:

  1. The Black Company
  2. She Is The Darkness
  3. The White Rose
  4. Water Sleeps
  5. Soldiers Live
  6. Shadows Linger
  7. Dreams Of Steel
  8. Bleak Seasons
  9. Shadow Games
  10. The Silver Spike

The above list doesn’t say much how good the novels really are. The last book is still better than average and the top 4 certainly belong to the best stuff around. Below that the differences in quality are smaller, the order more depending on different traits. It is not always easy to make such a distinction as often with fantasy series the different books are of a similar level as it is mainly one story cut into parts. What makes the books of the Black Company different is that most of them are almost able to stand alone on their own as events between the books are often several years apart and narrators and the set of characters change with each book. Only a few of them survive until the end. Time goes on. Life goes on. And as it the essence of the Black Company being a mercenary company, it loses members in battle and gains new ones again afterwards.

Glen Cook brings in a certain amount of reality that has to be held up in a fantasy setting. He was one of the first to do so, creating a certain certain sub-genre of fantasy which has been called dark and gritty with many shades of grey in the worlds that are created. Some followers of this heritage are Steven Erikson, George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, but many more fantasy authors who write in this way can be found since Glen Cook wrote the books of the Black Company. The whole series is highly recommended by me. Not every book can be called very good, but it will nowhere let you down.

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