Chronicles of the Black Company collects the first three novels in Glen Cook's Black Company series into a single volume. This initial trilogy kicks off what is so far a series of ten books.
I've always enjoyed Fantasy, but as I've grown older I've found that most of my favorite books are Science Fiction. The problem is that much of Fantasy literature consists of Tolkien imitators, many of them, lacking any original vision or message. Glen Cook adopts this pattern but looks at things from the other side of the battle lines. The Black Company concedes the Tolkienesque world, but asks the question: What if our Heroes work not for Gandalf, but for The Dark Lord himself? It then goes about the daunting Humanistic task of making those villains relatable and sympathetic anti-heroes. This trick of creating a narrative with the bad guys in the lead is a difficult balance to strike, as the recent, rather poorly received Suicide Squad movie can attest to.
The Black Company
In this first book, we see the Black Company through the eyes of Croaker, the band's Doctor and Historian. We meet them in the inauspicious time before the end of their fateful commission in Beryl. The company faces an existential threat but is offered an out, if they will betray their employer and help overthrow the city. To their credit, the Mercenary leadership does not take the decision lightly, being men of honor with a proud history of completing their commissions. Only when the Syndic's own refusal to face the dire situation leaves them no choice do they accept the emissary's proposal. But the joke is ultimately on the Black Company as it soon turns out they are now working for this Fantasy World's version of Sauron, known simply as "The Lady".
The company soon takes on a new recruit, Raven. Raven is a Byronic Hero. He contributes considerable prowess to the company, yet remains unpredictable and dangerous.
The Black Company become the Lady's most elite unit, but remain sympathetic protagonists since they are not as bad as her regular troops. They ultimately help the Lady defeat the rebels and her Taken rivals, while at the same time planting the seeds for her eventual downfall.
The second book in the trilogy mostly takes place in the city of Juniper. It is, for the most part, a detective story(I'm not surprised to find that Glen Cook's other popular series is in the Hardboiled Detective genre.) Something strange is going on in the city, but no one seems to hold all the pieces of the puzzle. Croaker teams up with a toughened detective from the City Watch named Bullock in an attempt to get to the bottom of matters. Unbeknownst to them, Raven plays a big part of this mystery. His actions unwittingly lead to the almost total destruction of the Company. In this way, Croaker and Raven are unwitting adversaries throughout the book.
The White Rose
Ultimately, Raven and Croaker's ark in the trilogy pits two types of anti-hero against one another, Croaker's Hardboiled here and Raven's Byronic Hero. The Byronic Hero is a decidedly Modern character, assured in his power, the world is his oyster and he intends to harvest the pearl. The Hardboiled Hero is Postmodern, struggling with his own faults and limitations. Both are products of a wicked age, yet while the Hardboiled Hero hangs onto his moral code, the Byronic Hero is blown chaotically between acts of kindness and cruelty by his own inscrutable whims. In the end, Chronicles of the Black Company chooses the Croakers of the world over the Ravens.
The Roots of the Hardboiled Hero
|Men of David, James Tissot|
The Hardboiled Hero continues to speak to us today, as police and security forces are caught time and again using deadly force inappropriately. This timeless theme is what makes the Black Company novels work so well. In Croaker's own moral struggle in a Dark Fantasy world, we see our own struggles, and in his ultimate redemption, we see hope for ourselves in the darkest corners of our own existence.