Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen ! Bonsoir Mesdames et Messieurs ! It has been a while since we have met here. And as I perceive the things I´m a bit late with this post. Till now I managed to be more or less timely with the publishing the posts pertaining the adventures of the Black Company, but this last volume, the Soldiers Live has been dragging on a bit longer than I expected, and also my personal and professional life did also throw challenges toward me that made it harder for me to keep to the self imposed timetable. But no need to worry, there is almost still a month to the end of the year, so effectively there is still plenty of time to correct this omission, and actually there is no need to wait more. But lets get down to business, and let me include the usual disclamer for one last time.
This is a (re)read of the series that encompassed the better part of the year as I was reading one book per month. I explored the world of (what for long time believed is ) Khatovar, and as this was at least partly a reread there still 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.
So we, but at least I arrived to an end of a series. It is kind of a relief. Thiss last book was kinda hard to read, many small chapters, the narrative being broken up by the many different points of view and the aforementioned hurdles of personal life. But bear with me for this last post, I will try not to drag this on for too long.
Four years have passed since the events in the Water Sleeps, another book that could have been yet another “good” ending for the series as it became evident that Khatovar is and will stay out of the Black Company´s, or to be more specific Croaker´s reach. The Black Company Walks out of the known world and walks off the Plain of the Glittering Stones, with Goblin presumed dead, One-Eye having survived multiple strokes, with one foot and hand in the grave already; this is not the Black Company we got to know and love, it has changed.
And the Black Company continues to change – not that it is bad – it is inevitable. The first surprise – for me at least was the return of Croaker as the annalist and the main narrator of the events. And he kicks off right away with the notion of change and passing of the “old glory” as Otto and Hagop died soon after the Black Company-s arrival to their new home. And it is not the only death of the “old guard”, there will be – or rather were – many others that left before the book reached a conclusion, which kind of emphasizes the feeling that a new era is coming, or has already begun for the Black Company. Some of these departures came as no surprise, but some of them did, but of that a bit later – if I remember to return to this matter.
The Black Company has prospered under the captaincy of Sleepy: the sleeping/captured brothers have been all retrieved, new recruits have pumped up the ranks of the company and they are ready to return to their world to finish what they have started in the previous book.
In the first few chapters all the majors actors of the last act of the series are (re)introduced: Croaker, Sleepy, Tobo ( of the Black Company ), Narayan and The Daugter of Night – or Booboo as they prefer to call her in the Black Company – ( of the Deceivers ), Soulcatcher, Mogaba, Aridatha and Ghopal Singh ( of Taglios ). And then the things start to roll, and there is a strong sense of Cook hastily trying to wrap up the things in this book. First we have an (un)expected return of a vengeful Lisa Bowalk that ends in the death of One-Eye, just days after the passing of his companion Mother Gota. This just strengthens the underlying message of change and passing. And I suppose this message is the reason Cook chose to bring back Croaker as the annalist.
After this the remaining old members of the Black Company embark on hunt much resembling that of the one in the first chapter of the first book: Black Company against a forvalaka. A tribute ? Or just a last wink of the ones who feel that their time is up ? Let me borrow Croaker´s words here:
I remembered everyone who had gone before me. I remembered the places and times swollen with unhappiness, pain and fear. Some died. Some did not. It makes no sense when you try to figure it out. Soldiers live. And wonder why.
Oh, it´s a soldiers life for me. Oh, the adventure and glory !
And while Croaker and Co. hunt Lisa Bovalk and meet the new rulers of the world that was the origin of the Black Company – which will have some major impact on the future events, and future of the Black Company itself – the core of the Black Company returns home to finish what has been left unfinished: “Water sleeps”, “Brother unforgiven”.
Tobo has grown up to be great wizard of his own, enlisting the services of the mysterious “shadow folks” of their new home. And with their help the Black Company doesn´t encounter major challenges for quite a while: they pretty march unopposed in the direction of Taglios.
The middle part of the book deals mainly with the personal matters of our heroes and anti heroes. Croaker and Lady try to prepare themselves for meating their daughter in person for first time; Mogaba finally confronts the ghosts of his past; Soulcatcher is still the same, searching for some fun. And so the events are filing up and passing us. A skirmish is followed by a skirmish, some new characters are introduced – the Voroshk of the former Khatovar. And ultimately the Black Company achieves it´s goal: Soulcatcher is deposed of, the Deceivers plot to bring on the Year of the Skull and revive Kina is thwarted, but the cost is big: the last of the old guard, Loftus and Cleetus, Murgen die, Sahra goes missing. And what struck me as a surprise, even Sleepy dies a “stupid” death; but as it resounds through all the book: “Soldiers live. And wonder why.“
Croaker´s and Lady´s reunion with their daughter does not end on a good note – Croaker almost looses the woman he liked, but ends up loosing a child he never knew, but seems to have loved. And despite this sorrow he finds a piece of happiness as he provisionally adopts two girls who became their prisoners when they went to Khatovar to kill Lisa Bovalk. And not only that, but in the end he got what he ultimately long for allways. In the last chapter he trades with Shivetya: he becoming the immortal guardian of the Plain of Glittering Stones – and as such gains acces to the wast knowledge of Shivetya, and the countless worlds that are connected to the plain – finally getting the answers to the questions he allways wanted to ask, and also gaining the means to gurad the loved ones that are still among the living. And as a last humorous wink, his adopted daughters take on the role of the Black Company´s annalists.
It is a solid ending of the series, but I wasn´t really satisfied. Maybe it was of the fact that Cook went to a great length to give evryone the time needed to wrap up their story. Too much detail, that at some points is rather encumbering, than helping the storytelling, but if done otherwise the story would be full of holes. And I had a feeling that Cook´s style, storytelling matured since the start of the series, but the feeling that he was kind of rushed to wrap up everything in this book was stronger – probably as he didn´t know that he will get a chance to write a book or two more in the series, as we are aware now, years after the first publication of this last book.
I must say that i enjoyed the series, more so the first half of it, than the later parts, but there was enough good elements in the later volumes too, so that I won´t have bitter memories of them. Sleepy is my favorite annalist, and as for the favourite book of the series there is a tie at the moment between the first two books of the series, but due to the fresher memories of the later volumes, and appealing storytelling and the impressive characterisaton of Sleepy, the Water Sleeps is easily my favourite of the second half of the series.
Well thats it for the Black Company series for now and a long time coming. Thank you everyone, who kept coming back, and to those who chose to comment and share their own experiences and oppinions. Hopefully I will see you around in some other journeys I make. The captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !