Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company, the three novel tome which contains The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and the White Rose were not created following the classic fantasy formula. Instead, Cook has taken the perspective of a troop of mercenaries known as the Black Company and ostensibly recognized by readers as “the bad guys” and proceeds to dismantle the common theme of a prophetic orphaned child embraced by a rebellion who overthrows an evil empire. While not as morally complex as George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the characters in these novels fall along a spectrum of good and bad, where history is relative and the winner has the last word.
The narrator of these novels is the company’s physician and historian, Croaker. Life for the mercenaries continues to worsen as they find themselves contracted to serve the Lady, a powerful wizard who ruled most of the lands with her husband, the Dominator, hundreds of years ago. Along with the Lady there are ten lesser wizards known as the Taken, whom the Dominator turned to evil centuries ago. As with any fantasy series there needs to be a suspension of disbelief and, in some cases, an embrace of cheesiness (the Dominator, really?), but if you can get past that, it’s worth it.
Cook’s writing is not such that one would read it for his words, but that is rarely the case with fantasy novels. Normally, I don’t read much fantasy anymore, because the genre is fairly stale. Sure, there are standouts like George R.R. Martin, Patrick Rothfuss (though his second book was a disappointment) J.K. Rowling, and Brandon Sanderson, but for the most part it’s a predictable and shallow. What Cook offers is a fresh perspective, which is hard to come by in fantasy. If you like fantasy novels or used to, check out this series. The novels are well-paced and entertaining.