Ladies and Gentlemen ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! This is your captain speaking ( again ). Now that the month beginning remembrance shows are over, time to get back to business as usual ( not that this remembrance was non-standard issue blog-business ). Outside it’s scorching 31 °C with virtually no wind, and about the same can be expected at our next destination. Strap in, as there might be some heavy turbulence on our transition from Culture space to Khatovar. We will be shortly joining the Black Company at Dejagore where we have left them about a month ago. Yes, it’s time for the next installment of the Black company (re)read project. And before I get down to discussing the details of the next book in series, the Dreams of Steel, I will repeat the usual disclamer.
This is a (re)read of the series that will encompass the better part of the year as I will be reading one book per month. I will be exploring the world of Khatovar, and as this is at least partly a reread there might be spoilers, so continue reading at your own risk, I did warn you. For the previous posts look up the links included at the end of this one.
Tor Fantasy (1990)
One month has passed, and those who read the previous installment of the article series do know that I was fairly angry abut how it ended, or rather how Mr. Cook chose to leave the threads loose. Since then I have calmed down, but it’s only due to the fact that just as I predicted I couldn’t wait and almost right away after finishing the previous Black Company post I picked up the sequel and flew through it in some two or three days stopping only to make some notes so I wouldn’t have trouble when writing this post.
And before I dive into the fifth book let me recapture some of the things that frustrated me in the previous one. First there was the lack of information about the Black Company’s past, practically no one spoke of it, not even those who were their descendants. Secondly there was a massive cliffhanger at the end of Shadow Games: Lady and Croaker presumed dead and Soulcatcher returning from the dead. Soulcatchers return even though partly being foreshadowed by the earlier appearance of other Taken also believed to be dead still seems to me to be a convenient excuse to bring in a “non-affiliated” player into the game of shadows. I mean why would she wait till this point ? If she wants revenge she would have probably started it earlier. Wasn’t it something along that line why she rebelled in the first place in the first book ? Well lets see if there is an answer to this ? And then what about the presumed death of Lady and Croaker. Being a veteran fiction reader I was sure that we will see their return in Dreams of Steel, but it didn’t help feeling that the writer is using such an inelegant contraption to heighten the tensions that already run high.
And then comes the first chapter of the fifth book, an quite big changes await us right from the start:
“I am no historian nor even much of a writer. Certainly I don’t have Croaker’s eye or ear or wit…
With that apologia, herewith, this addition to the annals of the Black Company, in the tradition of Annalists before me, the Book of Lady.”
–Lady, Annalist, Captain
The first change being the person of the narrator. This was inevitable as Croaker is believed dead, but even if not, still kidnapped by Soulcatcher. This is quite an interesting turn. We know quite much about the Lady, but that is all from Croakers perspective. Now we will get to see a bit more of her, with quite an insight on her present situation, thoughts, and her past. I approve of this. And as a kind of a collateral effect the Lady also assumes the command of the remnant forces of Taglios and heads northward to reorganise and build up the forces, as she has decided to revenge Croaker and destroy the Shadowmasters. Here I have let out a small scream of delight, as this means that she has decided to return to her old self. She will use all her knowledge and experiences she used to build a vast empire – and to defeat her husband later – to bring down a new/old menace. The Lady is back in the Game.
Just after the Lady has decided on her future course we go over to Soulcatcher. Croaker is alive, though badly hurt, but he will survive. The bad part in him surviving is that he is coerced to assist with Soulcatcher’s plans, the primary goal being the destruction of her sisters happiness, and the secondary that to thwart the design of the Shadowmasters. Teasingly she also reveals to Croaker some of her knowledge of the Black Company’s past, and that the Taglios wizard Smoke has hidden the early records he was so adamantly searching for. And from here the events suddenly speed up.
Suddenly all the information I was missing from the previous book starts pouring in from all sides. Radisha suddenly tells the whole story about Kina, the god of death and destruction, and her followers the Stranglers, who were just briefly mentioned in the Shadow Games, but will have a prominent role here. At this point it’s just slightly annoying that Radisha is sharing vital information with someone whom she perceives as a rival, if not outright enemy, the context being the unconcealed showing of Strangler allegiance on part of some members of the remnant army and that the Lady – though unknowingly – also shows it.
And the Stranglers contribute to the torrent of new information quite remarkably. They disclose their identity, that of being Kina worshipers. They are organised in small groups, so called hunting bands and one of the groups dignitaries, the priest keeps the deeds of the band recorded in a journal.
To support his decisions in the event of dispute, the priest keeps a detailed chronicle of the band’s activities.
Where have we seen this before ? Right, Black Company. ( Pay attention, further hints on collision course ! ) And it is no surprise to see that the Lady tries to use the power and the skills of the Stranglers to achieve her goals.
This shell is a mask Narayan. I entered this world before the Black Company passed this way the first time. I’ve done things no-one would believe. I know evil, intrigue and war like they’re my children. I nurtured them for centuries… I’m going to rebuild Narayan. It may wear another name for a while but behind the domino it will be the Black Company. And it will be the instrument of my will.
But it’s no surprise either that the Stranglers try to use the Lady to their own ends too. And did I mention that the other name of this cult is the Deceivers ? They lead us to believe that their interests lie with the Lady. Seeing her arcane powers returning, and her masterful command, we think that they want to reestablish their religion under the guise of her leadership, but it will be too late when their real intentions become obvious.
And then there are the Shadowmasters, though the only real danger comes from Longshadow, who allies himself in the meantime with the Howler. And it’s Longshadow who reveals to us that the standard of the Black Company is not an every day object, it is an ancient artifact made of body parts of ancient gods and shards of their weapons. And the banner seems to have a role in the coming of what is called the Year of the skulls, and which event is associated with the awakening of the god Kina etc. But the way this information has been shared with us, the readers bothers me. Longshadow was alone in his chamber when he contemplated the presence of the banner, as all the other banners, that have similar qualities and have been returned to the city of Khatovar since the free Companies initial outing into the world. There were not even crows, or the imp present, who we know are agents of Soulcatcher. Why is Longshadow a point of view character if he is not even remotely associated with any of the other point of view characters ? This was an annoyance, though not that big as the volume of new information, or rather the piecing together of all the scattered hints kept me busy enough not to concern myself too much with the fact how shabby, sloppy this design is on the part of our dear writer, Mr. Cook.
And as we proceed toward the end of the book, the main narrative is pretty straightforward: Lady reorganises the Taglios forces and kicks some ass, and this is not that much interesting and neither impressing. But beside this the games of shadows are continued too. Radisha is trying to politically outmanoeuvre the priests of Taglios and stave off a foreign invasion. Lady trying to outmanoeuvre everyone so she could get on with her revenge business. And here shows the main difference between the Lady and Croaker: while Croaker attempts to work through the dense political fog of Taglios, Lady gets all the priests in one place and has her soldiers fill them full of arrows. And if that isn’t enough, she cuts the throats of the survivors. Longshadow is having plans for the Black Company as he is heavily invested and involved with the glittering plain ( of which we caught a glance at the end of Shadow Games ), which seems to be the locale of Khatovar. Though I am not sure he needs the Black Company to do something, or rather abstain from doing something, whether it’s in his interest for the standard to get back to it’s “rightly” place, or would it be better for him and maybe even for the rest of the world if it doesn’t get there. But it is sure that he is in need of the knowledge that Lady is in possesion of. He even tried to abduct her, but actually getting Soulcatcher, which had some unpleasant consequences, leading to actions that might cause at least many bad memories, if not outright downfall of his, which again might spell the doom of the rest of the world as something is lurking in the shadows of Khatovar. And if I already mentioned Soulcatcher, she is seemingly rampaging, thwarting the designs of others, just for the sake of having fun, or at least that’s what she says and yet also seems interested in the past and possible future of the Black Company. She is a wild card, maybe even more so than like at the beginning of this book. And then there are the Stranglers, who seemingly try to stay close to the Lady, and are believed to be trying to recruit her into their ranks.
And there are the Nar and the rest of the Black Company who got stuck in Dejagore. They didn’t play a significant role this time, but they did earn some respect for pinning down the Shadowspinners forces. Nearing the end Strangler agents, and later even some members of the Black Company inform both Lady and Croaker that the Nar are practitioners of the old faith, that they are Kina worshipers, or at least part of them. The Stranglers consider them heretics. At the end Croaker meets their leader who assumed the command of the forces stuck in Dejagore, and in a bloodless stand off takes back his own command. The leader of the Nar leaves with three other loyal soldiers. Will this have an impact on the later events ? We will see. So I got my cultural conflict between the old and new members of the Black Company however brief it was. But there might be more in the store in the sequels.
In the end this is the story as the Lady saw it, and is very much involving thanks to a different point of view than what we are used to. Glen Cook uses cleverly this fact and the ensuing chaos due to the emergence of all the new information after darting around so much from one place to another to keep us guessing whether it will be Lady who enlists the Stranglers, or whether it will be the other way around. There is definitely an air of mutual reliance from both parties and Lady knows that her new allies are hiding something. Was it her overconfidence in her own skills that made it possible for the Stranglers to deceive her ? Or was it rather that she was used to looking at the big picture that she missed the intention of people who were having a much more specific, so to say narrow focus ? Whichever, it is a hell of a twist in the story. And a game changer at that. We are lead to believe over an entire book, that the Stranglers want Lady. And then in the last moment you – and Lady herself – realise that they were after her child all along. And when you would turn the page to continue, instead you find it that the book ends there.
Kablam ! BANG ! Once again a cliffhanger. Although this time it doesn’t leave a bad taste behind. But it sure ratchets up the tension and the expectations. We have seen what the Lady was capable of when she set out to exact revenge on behalf of her beloved man, and she wasn’t even commanding the full spectrum of her martial and arcane skills. But now, they took her child, her powers seem to be restored, and even her beloved man is there with all the might and support of the Black Company. Fuck me ! I wouldn’t like to be in the place of the Stranglers or that of Longshadow. They are having some heavy “shitstorm” coming their way. And factor in the chaotic presence of the also fully restored Soulcatcher. The riders of Apocalypse have arrived Ladies and Gentlemen ! Yeeeee-haaaawww !
And that would be it for this month folks ! Next time we are going to visit a side theater, a show that will reunite us with some old acquaintances from the north, just so we could return with a bigger momentum to the main theater. Till then take care and have fun ! But do feel free to come by in the meantime as there will be other delicacies also served in the canteen of the ship. Captain of I. S. S. Rover over and out !
Introduction: the plan
Black Company – The Black Company reread part 1
Shadows Linger – The Black Company reread part 2
The White Rose – The Black Company reread part 3
Shadow Games – The Black Company reread part 4