Mesdames et Messieurs ! Ladies and Gentlemen ! I greet you on board of I.S.S. Rover ! I see that there are returning visitors among you, but I can see some new faces too. If it’s the heat that you want to escape, or the whole ruckus that follows in the wake of the World Cup ( What World Cup, you ask ? Well of course I’m talking about football – or with other word: soccer – world cup ) you have come to the right place, as we are just about to depart for the northern continent of a world I called Khatovar, though it might be that it is only the name of a single city. Whatever ! Lets go to Forsberg where we have left Raven, Darling and Silent – and well, some less entertaining entities as well. It’s time to look up what offers The Silver Spike. But before I get into the details let me repeat the rules of this project.
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.
And now that we are clear with the rules – once again – lets get down to business. At this point I have mixed feelings about this book. To be more precise these emotions concern mainly the place of this novel in the greater narrative arc of the whole series. If you have read the previous installments – but at least the last two – of the (re)read project, you remember how pissed I was at first of how the Shadow Games ended: it came to an abrupt stop leaving everything hanging in the middle of nothing, dozens of questions and almost no answers. And you also remember that Dreams of Steel managed to appease me somewhat with some masterful strokes like making the Lady the narrator – and thus showing more of her than ever before – and accelerating the storytelling, revealing far more information on the past of the Black Company than I expected and what seemed preferable ( but then again, I read these two books of the series for the first time so I don’t really know what Cook is trying to do exactly ). And now that there are new actors and new developments in the whole quest that Croaker took up, I am eager to get on with it and start reading the Bleak Seasons, and yet I have to take step back and read first The Silver Spike. Why ?
The events described in The Silver Spike happen at the same time as those of Shadow Games and deal with the aftermath of the great battle at the Barrowland – desccribed in The White Rose - and also gives a much needed closure to some characters we left in the north. This is the story of Raven and Darling, or so it seems at first. And seeing this ( and actually suspecting it already earlier ) I felt that I wanted to read this book after The White Rose, but again there is the Shadow Games too, that is happening at the same time and I was more interested in Croaker’s and Lady’s fate. So I feel something akin to remorse for not being able to read the two books at the same time. That would be the right way to do it, as after reading The Silver Spike it is clear that it wouldn’t make sense to read it first and only then The Shadow Games. And after finishing The Shadow Games it doesn’t make much sense to read The Silver Spike before one starts the Dreams of Steel. So the only option was to make a small pause in the series after the Dreams of Steel and catch up on the events in the north before one continues with the actual story of the Black Company. Not to mention that this is also the sequence of the books in the Tor’s omnibus edition ( The Books of the South ) which i am using for the purposes of the (re)read. Please tell me if you have a better solution to this problem, I’m awaiting answers in the comments.
And now that I have given voice to my geek worries lets talk about the book itself. The book can be generally divided into two parts: one discussing the sorry life of a now sorry character: Raven; and the other part discussing the fate of the seemingly sorry Smeds Stahl and his gang, but about that later. Like in all previous books we have one main narrator who is writing a sort of a journal. This time it’s Case, an imperial guard who became Raven’s friend and is now travelling with him.
The first part, dealing with Raven and his new and old companions: Case, Darling, Silent and Bomanz – Do I hear you all say: “What ?! Didn’t he die in The White Rose ?” Well, apparently he didn’t. It looks like this is the season of wizards returning from the dead, and not like zombies or vampires. It might be that the magic is more about showmanship than what we conceive as taumaturgy. But still, boy it gets old that every single “noteworthy” wizard reappears when it seems the most convenient for the writer. But whatevs, as I cried about this in the previous two posts - is kind of a disappointment. Why ? Well for the better part it’s a sort of a pointless Cannonball race through the endless lands of the Empire: the partly restored Limper ( I told you that it’s the season of wizards returning from the dead. They should have really searched for his head. ) chasing after Croaker and the remnants of the Black Company, not knowing that Raven is riding ahead of him also chasing Croaker, trying to reach them and ask for their help to put him down once and for all, and then we have Darling and Co. chasing after the Limper. It’s just like watching an episode of the Wacky Races, especialy when Limper decides to return to the north and stumbles from one trap to the other all the way.
The only good part of this first half is the moment when Raven is forced to meet his son and daughter whom he abandoned years earlier. Darling explains to the baffled children what was the reason behind Raven’s departure and how she benefited from meeting him. At the end Raven’s daughter seems to have come to terms with her father:
Just before the girl went over the side she turned and told me, “If my father was alive today he wouldn’t have to fear that he would be unwelcome in his daughter’s house.” Then she went.
Yet, Raven broken as he is cannot find the strength in himself to accept a way back into his children’s life. A sad moment, but that’s it, I didn’t have any sympathy left for him after the second book ( Shadows Linger ). That’s what you get when you fuck around with the feelings of people who matter to you.
But let me talk now a bit about the second half of the book. While everyone who counted was concentrating on subduing the Limper Smeds and his motley crew ( Tuly, Timmy Locan and Old Man Fish ) went and with a small trick they successfully retrieved the silver spike from the tree in which it was buried. ( Why no one thought that this might happen is beyond me, and is a serious omission on part of the Lady and the Black Company, but that is an issue I don’t want to tackle now.) I think this book is actually their story. And this story is what redeems this whole book, it does something we have last seen in Shadows Linger. Their story feels like the one of Marron Shed: a story born from the depths of debauchery and desperation. Once again we get to see the dark side of the world: zoom down to the ground level where the common people dwell and you don’t find much happiness there. Those people struggle not only during the times of war, but often even after the war has ended. And this is one such period: the war has ended, The White Rose and the Lady are gone, the empire is trying to adjust itself to peacetime, but it’s not to everyone’s tastes.
And it is in such times that some commoners try their luck to found their future. The true stars of this story are Smeds and Fish. They are being chased by imperial officials who have at their disposal whole army regiments, by Darling and her rebel cohorts with such renowned figures like Silent, Bomanz and Raven, and not to mention all the other unnamed rogue wizards and criminals who are after money and fame – and yet they successfully ellude them. OK, as it turns out Old Man Fish is a veteran of the olden days. He has been in the army at the time the Black Company served the Lady, and also was there at Queen’s Bridge where the imperial forces ambushed and humiliated the Black Company – that abandoned Lady’s service – for the first time since they came to north some ten years earlier.
The town of Oar is in lockdown. And amidst the growing pressure and rampant paranoia that everybody is after them, or to be more precise after what they have – Fish and Smeds team up and are more than a match to such veterans of unorthodox tactics and hand to hand combat like Raven – who is known to be more than badass – or Silent and Bomanz, who are also more than apt practicioners of magic. Raven gets hoodwinked twice by Fish and once by Smeds. And all this to no avail, as in this world there is no justice, and Smeds finds it out the hard way. After they have played the imperials and Darling with her rebels both and got what they wanted, after they pulled through the apocalyptic siege of Oar mounted by the returning Limper, after they have left the ruined city, Fish succumbs to illness contracted there:
It was not right that Fish should have fallen to cholera after taking the worst that could be thrown by the world’s nastiest villains. But there was no justice in this existence.
You can be on top of your game, you might deserve better, but it doesn’t matter, in Death everyone is equal. And we see quite a number of deaths in the clymactic battle at the end of the novel. The hope of the empire, an able governor is betrayed and assassinated by his subordinates, Silent and Bomanz sacrifice themselves trying to stop the Limper and Raven dies when he is overtaken by the power emanating from the silver spike. It’s only Case and Darling who get to have a peaceful life thereafter. Or do they ? Maybe we will get to see them in the eleventh and tvefth books that are not yet published ( Just found out about them last week, and have been frustrated since that I won’t be able to finish the series this year, as the 11th novel comes next year: Frack ! )
At the end the silver spike and what is left of Limper is being thrown into another dimension where they are meant to be out of reach for anyone of this world, but after all the returning dead wizards, and other shocking revelations of the last three books I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Limper returning once again.
And that’s it for this month. I hope you enjoyed this short ride. And now that I have cleared this out of the way, time for me to return to Croaker and Lady, to see what they are scheming in the south. See you all in about a month with further chronicles of my – and their – adventures on the way to Khatovar. Take care and have fun ! Captain of I.S.S. Rover over and out !