Book Review: The Black Company

blackcompanycoverThe Black Company, by Glen Cook, is the first novel in a series titled, creatively enough, The Chronicles of the Black Company.

This was another experiment, and it makes me glad that I am experimenting with only the first books in all these different series instead of, say, buying the whole series first.

Take your usual fantasy story, involving ancient evils, prophesied children of destiny, terrible empires, and defiant rebellions. In this tale, the Black Company is a group of merciless mercenaries currently employed by the ancient evil. Basically, they’re who we’d usually think of as the villains. This is the story as told by one of them, a physician who has also taken on the duty of keeping their annals. The novel takes on the form of his writings as he records the company’s history and their part at a most critical moment in history.

All in all, it’s a fairly unique idea. Not only are we getting the story as told by the villains, though not the villains, but the semi-journal-like format adds a unique texture to the story. And there are all the usual tropes that invite and entertain: intrigue, plots within plots, empire vs. rebellion, stoic antiheroes, grand magic spells, great battles between massive armies, figures of nearly mythical potency, monsters and mayhem, and so on and so forth. So it sounds pretty good, right?

Actually, not so much. Good premise, but poor execution.

The single most critical thing for any storyteller to remember, as has been said over and over and over, is this: “Show, don’t tell.” But this entire narrative does exactly the opposite: “Don’t show, just tell, and tell, and tell.” It got very boring very quickly, not least because I couldn’t see much of anything at all in my mind’s eye. Almost nothing and no one got a proper description. Heck, we were told that both sides of this conflict were dark and evil with black hearts, but we never saw how they were evil, or what they did to earn such a designation.

And the “chapters” were freaking long. The entire novel had something like six chapters altogether. I’m sorry, but people need some actual details to immerse themselves in and some actual chapter breaks where they can pause for a moment.

So, basically, the writing style left much to be desired.

That style left me some extremely vague impressions of the characters, which made it very difficult to invest in them. It was flat-out stated that we weren’t being given the sordid details of the Company’s ill deeds, though some of these, including rape, pillaging, mass murder, and betrayal were mentioned and acknowledged. So not only did I not care a bit about what happened to these people, I wouldn’t have minded at all if bad things happened to them. Which just made the wait for the end of the novel all the more interminable, as there was absolutely no real tension even in the midst of great battles.

There weren’t many surprises either. The moment we heard about this prophesied child, the White Rose, I knew exactly who it was. In fact, the closest thing to a surprise I found was when there were indications that the physician/annalist might be a seer as well. But, well… I didn’t really care if he was.

If there is one thing I can appreciate about The Black Company, it’s how it sets the tone and historical context for the White Rose’s eventual rise, in later novels. The whole thing was like one massive prologue. Unfortunately, I could have appreciated this story more, I think, if it were merely the background of another tale entirely.

I can also sort of appreciate pitting darkness and darkness, evil against evil, but, again, we never really see either evil, just have it told to us, so even that falls through. Though we do, at least, know that both sets of evil have no scruples about brainwashing people, robbing them of their free will, which puts me squarely against the both of them. Which leave me with no one to root for. And no one to be interested in. And did I mention how boring this novel was?

Basically… there’s really nothing compelling about this story. It’s not like it’s littered with failings. It’s just… severely lacking in successes. It’s not in the depths of the abyss, but it definitely fails to achieve anything notable. I am not at all interested in the rest of this series.

Rating: 4 stars out of 10.

Grade: D-Minus.

This particular experiment is definitely a failure.

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One Response to Book Review: The Black Company

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Wearing the Cape | Merlin's Musings

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