Some of its members honestly seem like they want to do the right thing. Some simply try to survive. And others will pillage, rape, or murder on occasion. This reminded me of some of the better War films I've seen. Such harsh circumstances can lead to diminished morals in some men, and I enjoyed that element of realism.
Each chapter of this book reads like a separate mission, with its own conflict and resolution. This approach worked well here in my opinion. Right from chapter one, we are introduced to the Black Company and plunged into action, through the writings of the army's annalist, Croaker. Unfortunately, you may feel like you've missed some important details, as Cook bombards you with names, events, and his advanced vocabulary. He doesn't explain everything very well at first, and it can be quite confusing.
After finishing the second chapter, I went and reread the first chapter to iron out some details, and that helped out quite a bit. From then on, it was smooth sailing and well worth my patience. With plenty of action, and a few laughs- this was a pretty entertaining read!
The book is structured as a series of episodes,
chronicling the lives of the core members of the Black
Company, a mercenary company with a history going back
thousands of years. Everything is told from the
viewpoint of Croaker, the company's head doctor, and
official historian. (One of this series' trademarks
is the abundance of evocative names, both people and
places. My favorite is "The Tower at Charm".)
In this first book, the setting is the struggle
between the Lady, who rules an empire with the help
of her enslaved sorcerors (called "The Taken"), and
the Rebels (of course). This conflict is raging
over the entire continent, with the Black Company
serving as a valuable pawn in the struggle. Usually,
the Company is in the thick of it, and Croaker's
viewpoint provides a gripping account of strategy,
intrigue, massive battles, and desperate chases.
I think this book is good because it incorporates a
lot of the great epic-style elements, such as the
titanic power struggles, while avoiding the usual
shortfalls of an epic, such as flatness in the
characters, and excessive, sometimes artificial
moralizing. There is no "struggle between good and
evil" in this book - the Rebels are just as bad as
the Lady and her minions. The characters, though,
are vivid, and, in the midst of this large-scale
warfare, brief moments of intimacy and sincerity
shine through, especially between members of the
Company, trying to help each other to survive in a
very imperfect world.
Gripping story. Wonderful characters. I'm glad
that the series is still in print.
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