The Black Company – Glen Cook

I read this as part of a group read on GoodReads.  I finished; I was glad; some questions were answered; I guessed right about a major plot point (which wasn’t exactly a huge feat of mental brilliance)

Plot
I thought it was, for quite a few chapters, almost plot-less; it followed the Black Company on its travels, with no real beginning or middle to the story: it was a series of events. By the end a pattern became clearer, which I suppose means it was in fact really well done … but I didn’t find it all that enjoyable.

Writing Style/Pacing
Style was conversational, first person POV and very much permanently in character: we never find out what Croaker looks like, but we get a good look inside his head – – or at least how he wants the inside of his head to be perceived. I suppose any grammatical errors in the narration are intended to be chalked up to Croaker being intelligent but uneducated, but it was odd to see “Raven and I” when it should have been “Raven and me” (or vv), and stuff like that there; he was usually fine. For a first person narrative by someone in the thick of the action, it was actually sometimes a little distanced. Pacing was choppy – going like gangbusters for a few scenes, then screeching to a halt to play cards (I almost feel like I could play Tonk now) or have a wizard duel.

Actually, I’ll have to remember that: having characters talking while playing cards is a pretty darn good way to dump information. *makes note*

Thinking about it, my opinion of the quality of writing in the book is going up – but I just didn’t enjoy it a whole lot. It was a really strange combination of quick read and hard slog, a relatively short book that seemed longer.

Characterization
One word: mysterious. A lot of the mercs were just what it says on the tin, amoral classic Blood and Thunder grunt soldiers, killing machines and good at their jobs, not questioning anything about their lives except when they were going to get to sleep or eat or pillage. But because of the first person POV there is a lot we never see: if Croaker doesn’t know it, we don’t. The mercs – and the Taken, for that matter – were mostly collections of adjectives, with occasional flashed of insight – some of the moments with the Captain were terrific.

The Taken were creepy as hell, as they should be, and there are a lot of blank spots about them, for two reasons: either Croaker didn’t know (and therefore we don’t), or Croaker took basic information (like details of who and what they were and did before they were put in the ground) to be common knowledge to anyone in his world. The Big Bads here – of varying degrees of Badness – weren’t psychologically profile-able characters: they were classic fantasy villains, simply evil for evil’s sake.

Raven… OK, seriously, why did he smell that way, and was it just at the beginning? I liked this character as a character, I think (though not to, you know, hang around with); his major actions (besides killing which was either justifiable (in his mind at least) or under orders) were … almost heroic, really; one thing was, and the rest showed loyalty to a comrade. He’s all enigma-y.

I talked about Croaker already… He showed backbone at the end, and I like what he did (especially knowing that it will mean a slow and painful death if he ever ends up in front of the Eye again), but I’m still not sure I liked him all that much.  He was a perfect choice as narrator, and I like how Cook built the idea: he keeps the Annals, he’s the observer, sometimes thrown into action. I just wish he’d been a better doctor, at least; he never seemed to give half a damn about any of his patients unless they were fairly major characters.

The wizards drove me a little crazy. Really? You’re hiding in tall grass in the middle of the enemy and you’re going to start a flashy practical joke battle? Brilliant. </sarcasm>

Setting
Not tremendously detailed, partly, I think, because of the narrative device that this was a journal; Croaker was writing for people who would know a lot of what he was talking about without his going into depth. It served its purpose, and no more.

Overall Thoughts
Names: took some getting used to, but kind of fun. Either they were literal: Silent, One-Eye, Tom-Tom, even Pickles (who was in charge of doling out supplies and, I assume, food) and Goblin (who kind of was one) – – or they were ironic: Croaker was the healer, Mercy had none, Jolly wasn’t, and Candy wasn’t exactly sweet. I have to say I loved the place names: Rust and Roses and the gems … Oh, and Feather and Journey and Whisper – I like, a lot.

I wish Tom-Tom hadn’t been killed off so early; I liked the drum. Though maybe it would have gotten old fast, so maybe it’s just as well.

The worst thing about the book – not worst written, but hardest to read, and hardest to reconcile with “living with” the characters involved (or observing without protest) was the Taking of … one person. The idea was horrifying; the method was worse; the result was awful.  I don’t know if the repeated assurances that the “good guys” were as bad as the bad guys helped there.

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