Archive for April, 2011

Glen Cook – With Mercy Toward None

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

As the second part of the prequel to the Dread Empire Trilogy, With Mercy Toward None (1985) by Glen Cook, starts with the events of the ending of the first book. As such it is a straight continuation of the story, but with a difference. The second part is a different kind of story. Whereas the first part, The Fire In His Hands, was very much contained in its setting, with only a small storyline telling the tale of an outsider, this story takes place very much outside that setting, moving in a fast pace. Another change is that it now becomes clearer who should be considered the good ones and the bad ones. The remarkable grayness of The Fire In His Hands is quite less there. The author clearly has taken up some favorites although he lets them go through some harsh adventures. Still they have the upper hand.

Several new characters are introduced in this sequel, which was clearly necessary as a fair number had died earlier. However, they remain rather two-dimensional except for one. In my view Cook loved this specific character a bit too much. The character is such an oddity that he is unbelievable and to me rather annoying. I don’t need to add that this had a negative effect on me enjoying the story.

With Mercy Toward None is troubled by more things. The succession of events that Cook lets take place also lack a certain validity. True, they are quite possible but create a tendency that distances the reader unless they were already rooting for certain characters.

Overall Cook follows the rapid expansion of Islam as an analogy to tell his story, adding in some peculiar elements of his own. It is this that keeps the reading experience strong enough to engage the reader. In what is actually a short book he manages to add in a lot of details and intrigues, creating a large complex world which in a sense remains vague, especially as Cook doesn’t work with a map, but does trigger the imagination. These are the strong traits of Cook, which he managed to use excellently in his later Black Company books. However, these prequels stand off rather bleak toward those books. They are quick and fun reads and for those who look for more in a story they can find them here. The earlier mentioned weaknesses do make me wonder if the actual Dread Empire Trilogy, which is a much earlier work, can be strong enough. Prequels can suffer weaknesses as they are limited by the later story, but on the other side a writer is usually developing after each book. I will continue with the actual trilogy, but with less anticipation.

Glen Cook – The Fire In His Hands

Monday, April 4th, 2011

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.