Hello, everybody! It’s good to be back.
So, I’ve made it through November, and NaNoWriMo with another 50K words under my belt. With any luck, I’ll be able to turn that draft into something worth reading at some point.
But now that that’s done, I can get back to talking about books that I enjoy, and that I think you guys should read.
And today, I’m going to tell you about the first book in a series that I’ve really grown to love, Glen Cook’s novel The Black Company.
Blurb, taken from Amazon.com.=
Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hardbitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead.
Until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more.
There must be a way for the Black Company to find her…
Now, I think that blurb’s a bit misleading, so I’ll give my own explanation of the plot, after giving the general background from the book’s Wikipedia page.) (WARNING: Spoilers in the plot summary. Don’t click if you don’t want spoilers.)
The Dominator is an extremely powerful wizard who has the ability to turn his most bitter enemies into his loyal servants, even those nearly his equal in magic. The most potent of his victims are called the Ten Who Were Taken, or just Taken for short. With his wife, the Lady, whose magical skill is second only to that of the Dominator, he founded an empire unrivaled for evil. It was overthrown by a rebellion led by the White Rose, but neither she nor the rebel wizards were strong enough to kill the Dominator, the Lady or the Taken. The best they could do was to render them unconscious and imprison them. Their prison was a place called The Barrowland.
After four centuries, the wizard Bomanz awakened the Lady during a spirit walk into the Barrowlands, in an attempt to learn from her. She manipulated him, won her freedom, and [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS]. She then unleashed the Taken, but betrayed the Dominator, leaving him where he was, and proceeded to resurrect the empire. As with the old, so it was with the new – a rebellion broke out, spearheaded this time by the Circle of Eighteen. The Circle is made up of magicians not individually as strong as the Taken, but usually united in their goals. The Taken, on the other hand, battle each other as much as they do the rebels.
Now, that we’ve got the basic background, here’s my explanation of the plot.
The Black Company is a group of mercenaries, and damn good ones, too. They get hired by a representative of the Lady (one of the Taken, called Soulcatcher) to help fight the rebels. They agree, and we get to see what war in a fantasy world looks like from the perspective of the soldiers on the front lines.
And really, that’s the big appeal of this book – heck, the whole series. The basic premise is that books like Lord of the Rings are more basically works of propaganda written by the leaders after the fact. While the people at the top might argue about Good against Evil, when you’re down in the mud, it’s hard to tell the difference between the “heroes” and the “villains”.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “but Apep, this sounds like yet another grim-dark fantasy novel!” Well, purely-hypothetical reader, you’re right, but you’re also wrong. The Black Company was originally published in 1984, before grim-dark was even a thing. So think of it as being more like Watchmen was to comics in the 90s – more thoughtful, more complicated, actually examining and deconstructing tropes. While later works might go with “everyone’s evil to some extent”, the Black Company books take a stance of “things aren’t all black and white.” Even when they start acting in a more heroic fashion, the Company’s membership still consists of a lot of hard, nasty guys. And while the books might contain lots of violence (they are mercenaries fighting a war, after all), but it takes a very modern approach to it. Here’s how Cook describes it:
“The characters act like the guys actually behave. It doesn’t glorify war; it’s just people getting on with the job. The characters are real soldiers. They’re not soldiers as imagined by people who’ve never been in the service. That’s why service guys like it.”
So if you’ve ever wondered what your typical high fantasy story might look like from the view of the common soldier rather than the leaders, pick up The Black Company.