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Sunday, June 12, 2005

Shadows Linger, A Novel of the Black Company

Title: Shadows Linger, A Novel of the Black Company
Author: Glen Cook
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 0812508424

The Chronicles of the Black Company (of which Shadows Linger is the second novel) is a series of fantasy novels that follows the activities of a mercenary group called…the Black Company. I guess that was obvious, huh? What’s not so obvious is how the story line goes.

Imagine reading the Lord of the Rings from the perspective of one of Sauron’s orcs, or a guardsman of Gondor, and you’ll start to get an idea of what the Black Company novels are like. The world of the novels is a high-fantasy world, with powerful sorcerers and epic battles, and the Black Company…are a bunch of really good mercenaries who get hired by those people. This isn’t to say that they’re completely weak or incompetent…on the contrary, they manage to occasionally take down one of the big bads of the setting…with a lot of hard work, and some SERIOUS planning. But they aren’t the sort of people who you’d normally think of as being the main characters of a fantasy series. Which is,of course, what makes it so interesting.

Shadows Lingeractually follows two story lines. The first is told by Croaker, the chronicler of the Black Company, and primary narrator of the novels. The second story is told in third person. The two, not surprisingly, come together by the end.

One of the things I like about this series is that, much like REH, Cook doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on Tolkein-esqueworld-building. Shadows Linger takes place mostly in the city of Juniper,which is apparently, very far to the north of the Empire that the Company works for. How far north? VERY. How far is VERY? Far enough to make it a plot point. That’s all you’re told, and really, it’s all you need to know.

Don’t get me wrong…I LOVE Tolkien. He is, without question,my all-time favorite fantasy author. If I was going to take a trip and could only take one book with me, I’d get one of those big one-volume editions of LoTR, and amuse myself for years.

But…too many fantasy authors try to emulate Tolkein’s obsessive level of world-building, and it’s not only unnecessary, but most of the time, it’s not that good. Cook does a wonderful job of giving the reader just enough information to know what’s going on, without getting bogged down in random detail. Many writers could learn from this…I know I’m trying to.

Cook writes his characters well. They’re fun, engaging, and very capable of surprising you at times. It’s particularly interesting watching the various members of the Company struggle with their own peculiar brand of honor (which generally extends to people inside the Company, but not outside of it). There’s enough characters that sometimes one or two get lost in the background, but most of the stand out well, and are quite memorable.