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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tolkien Reading Day

Unbeknownst to me, today apparently is Tolkein Reading Day. It's only thanks to the Cimmerian that I'm aware of this.

Through no particular planning of my own, I'm wrapping up listening to the Hobbit again. It's always a fun and interesting listen or read. While the Lord of the Rings is arguably a more "mature" work (it is certainly much more developed), the Hobbit is filled with a lot of wonderful and thought-provoking moments as well.

Also, Rob Ingles is a wonderful narrator. Just sayin'.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company

The Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company
Glen Cook
Publisher: Tor Books; 1st edition (June 10, 2008)

The Books of the South is an omnibus that collects three books in the Glen Cook's Black Company Series. The first two books, Shadow Games and Dreams of Steel, deal with the company's journey south after the events of the White Rose. The last book, the Silver Spike, deals with the titular object, and events surrounding it's fate.

Shadow Games picks up shortly after the end of the White Rose, with Croaker now in charge of the remnants of the Black Company. He's decided to march them south to the city of Khatovar, which is where the Company supposedly originated. Of course, the book would be pretty boring if they just got home fine, so there's a lot of complications, mostly courtesy of the Shadowmasters, a new group of antagonists who have a problem with the Black Company...

Like previous books in the series, the narration jumps around in perspective and person; Croaker narrates the portions he participates in directly, while other chapters switch to the third-person narrative. It's a little jarring at first, but Cook's writing is engaging and consistent enough in tone that it's easy to get absorbed in pretty quickly. Despite not having revisited the Black Company series in a few years, I was able to get caught back up pretty quickly, which was nice.
Nothing is worse than jumping into a new book and realizing you need to re-read three other ones just to know what's going on (GRRM, I'm looking at you).

While Shadow Games is fun and engaging, the plot of it is glacially slow. Really. The whole book is set up for Dreams of Steel, which isn't much of a problem when you've got a collection, but I can't imagine how frustrating this would have been to read by itself. I found myself constantly checking the page count, wondering how much I had left, and when something was actuallygoing to happen. Fortunately, I was able to just jump right into Dreams of Steel .

While the plot of Shadow Games is almost all set up, Dreams of Steel is a plot in motion. The first-person narration duties get shifted to another character (for reasons I won't get into), and the plots that were set up in Shadow Games start crashing forward at a rapid pace. There's a lot more twists, turns, and double crosses, but it's all very, very engaging.

It also does not resolve itself at ALL.

Which leads me to my big complaint about this collection.

Many, many years ago, I attended a writing lecture by Michael Stackpole (an author I still have yet to read, oddly). In it, Stackpole said that his worst nightmare was to be stuck in an airport where the airport bookstore was stocked only with the second book in a trilogy. His reasoning was that most authors tend to write the middle book of a trilogy as a cliffhanger, which makes it totally unreadable on it's own.

This is precisely the problem with the Books of the South. Or rather, it's the problem with two-thirds of the Books of the South; they set up a very interesting story and scenario, but don't end it. Frankly, it doesn't even give you an acceptable stopping point. Now, my beloved JRR Tolkien does the same thing in the Two Towers, but that doesn't make it right.

The third book, the Silver Spike, is actually a self-contained story, but has very little to do with the previous two books. It moves back up north to revisit Darling, Raven, and a few other characters who were left out of the Books of the South. It's a well-written novel, and I enjoyed it, but I also found myself wondering why I cared about this story when stuff down south hadn't resolved. I thought maybe things would all tie together at the end, but no such luck. If there is a tie-in, it happens in a later book.

So is this collection worth it? If you read the first Black Company Series. , and want more military fantasy action, yes. If you DIDN'T read the first trilogy, start with that before moving on to this one. Reading this the collection alone will just give you a headache.

(Like this review? Visit my Amazon store and pick up a copy, or any number of other titles I've reviewed and recommended.)