01/03/2011. Contributed by Paul Hanley
pub: TOR/Forge. 704 page enlarged paperback. Price: $15.95 (US), $18.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1923-4 pub: Gollancz. 704 page enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 14.99. ISBN: 978-0-575-08417-9) .
check out websites: www.tor-forge.com and www.orionbooks.co.uk
This compendium book comprises three previously published books which I think were the first ones recounting the tales of the Black Company. There are at least ten books in the series.
The Black Company is a band of mercenaries who are working more often than not for the worst of regimes. They fight with sword and spear and bow and arrows but their world is a one of magic and they have their own mages to protect them and help them defeat their enemies.
The stories are all told from the viewpoint of Croaker, who is the medic of the unit and its chronicler. He holds the records of the band which stretches back for centuries.
After trouble with a particular employer, the unit signs on to fight on behalf of a particularly brutal regime in the far north. They have their own reasons for soldiering and their own morality within the bounds of their work.
I think one of the elements I enjoyed about the book was that the soldiers behaved like soldiers I have served with. Despite this being a world of magic, it is grounded in the responses of real people. I have called down artillery and mortar fire on targets and always felt this resembled magic. Gabble into a radio and, a short while later, death and destruction rained from the sky with flashes from the explosions and clouds of smoke and dust. The magic generated by the unit’s mages is on a human scale. They complement the actions of the troops rather than swamping them.
Unlike most fantasies, which are told from the viewpoint of the goodies, this is from a more ambivalent viewpoint. The unit are fighting a war against guerrilla bands and despite the fearsome wizards who support the regime they are in one retreat after another despite any victories and successes they might achieve. Rather akin to the elite German units on the Eastern Front in the later years of World War II.
As the fighting goes on, Croaker and his fellows become more involved with the evil elite who command their side of the war and eventually, with much of the army, are trapped in a besieged city.
Rumour has long had it that a female, the White Rose, will lead the Rebels to victory and it seems she has appeared.
Together, the three books in this volume tell the tale of the last free company of Khatovar and its main characters though skirmishes, battles and sieges and of their involvement with the mighty of their world.
They are well told stories. I think that Glen Cook has succeeded in creating three-dimensional rounded characters who are a mixture of good and bad which I think adds to the strength and effectiveness of the stories.
If you like fantasy, especially with a military flavour to it, I can recommend ‘Chronicles Of The Black Company’ to you.
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Stephen Hunt's novels - USA