Glen Cook – The Fire In His Hands

Before Glen Cook wrote is acclaimed Black Company novels he wrote several books about the Dread Empire. The first trilogy was written in the late seventies but a few years later he wrote a prequel to the trilogy. This can make it hard to decide on how to read it. Should I read it in publishing order or in chronological order? It mainly depends on how much the prequel is connected to the trilogy or if it is more standalone. I decided on the chronological order. My review will of course provide an answer to how to read the series.

The prequel is a duology and the first book is The Fire In His Hands (1984). I must say I like the title. It has a strong feeling to it. Overall the titles used by Cook are quite good. In The Fire In His Hands we mainly follow three main characters. As it is a short book this means the pace is fast, as we are used to by Cook. It is also a very action based story but less strong as the early Black Company novels.

A big difference from the Black Company books is that this story is sort of told from a second person point of view although at times he shifts to a third person (even almost as the voice of a chronicler, like in the Black Company books) which usually means it is a third person view overall, but it does not always feels like that. The prose is simple and there is less effort put into it as in the Black Company books.

I should not compare this book too much. It should be able to stand on its own merits. The most striking about The Fire In His Hands is the lack of black and white. The supposed bad guys are portrayed more likable than the supposed good guys. In the end I wasn’t rooting for either of them. I haven’t read a book before which had such a gray world.

The world-building is quite basic. To create the easiest associations Cook uses names from our own world (mainly Arabic and Norse) so he does not have to pay too much attention at setting up some distinct cultures and societies from the regular (European) mediaevil ones. Those get more original names but as they are similar to common European names the association comes easily.

The story contains some twists but is overall fairly straightforward and recognizable. It is a easy and entertaining read that does not get too dramatic anywhere, which is also caused by a lack of real connection to the characters. It is better than average but quite below the level of the Black Company books. Any fan of Glen Cook will certainly enjoy it too.

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