Authors: Glen Cook
Publication year: 1984
Publisher: Tor Fantasy
Genres: fantasy, military fiction, dark fantasy
Series: Black Company
My rating: 2 out of 5
Owner: Frome Library
Epic fantasy from the point of view of the grunts in the armies of Evil.Basically, what if Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, but for the armies of Mordor.
This book… I didn’t like it much. I get that it’s a foundational classic of modern fantasy, but honestly, I didn’t find the characters all that compelling, and it’s kinda just grim. Erikson I think has done better small-time soldiers in a fantasy setting characters, and these people are just bad, and get valorized by virtue of their position as protagonists.
Cook does try at least to demonstrate that these people are the bad guys, and there is a particularly disgusting dream later on that the narrator has that involves underage girls, but it feels like barely a nod to “don’t forget these are the baddies” right before the climax. The narrator at least calls direct attention to the fact that he’s disgusting in that moment.
Plot-wise, a mercenary company gets contracted to work for the rising Evil on the other side of the ocean, and has their current contract terminated under questionable circumstances. Cue 200+ pages of boring warfare, and hunting down the Rebel, and finding out that they’re losing the war even though the mercenaries are winning because they’re the only competent people fighting for the Evil.
Follow this with some stock fantasy prophecy about the White Rose coming to overthrow the Evil, and some pretty obvious hints that she’s been hiding with the mercenaries all along so we can get a moment of “no, really, they’re good deep down because they like her and make sure she escapes to fight another day” when really, if they were good, they could have just killed the Evil several times over.
As much as I dislike this book, I really like the genre that it breaks out–grittier fantasy that focuses on more every-day folk caught up in the currents of politics and magic beyond their power or real understanding. I like what Erikson does with it in Gardens of the Moon, and it’s the foundation for a very cool RPG, Band of Blades. I like this a lot more than standard epic fantasy, but this book is not great.
The version I was reading was part of a collection of the first three books in the series. I bailed 60 pages into the second, and returned it to the library.