I’ve mentioned before that Fantasy isn’t my genre, so it’s no surprise I never read this. Still, I was aware of Glen Cook’s work. It was D&D YouTuber Matt Colville (author of Priest), who talked up the books enough to finally make me give ‘em a read. I found a copy of Chronicles of the Black Company, which collects the first three books in the series, so here I go.
The conceit of the book is that the narrator is a medic for a mercenary unit and also its chronicler-historian. The mercenary group, the titular Black Company, has a long and storied history, but has fallen on bad times. They end up signing on with a dubious benefactor who turns out to be more than just sketchy, (s)he turns out to be downright evil.
What follows are various postings and assignments, as the narrator (known as Croaker) tries to stay alive and sometimes tries to be the conscience for a bunch of heartless bastards. Plenty of colorful characters join the tale, as the Company experiences highs and lows. Someone mentioned that it read like a Fantasy version of the Vietnam War, and I can see where they’re coming from. Each chapter tells a different story, though an overall arc builds across the whole book.
The world it takes place in is definitely fully into the Fantasy paradigm. Ancient, villainous wizards, flying carpets, chosen-one prophecies, and more. It’s fairly high Fantasy, yet due in part to the perspective, it often feels like grounded, down to earth stuff. I’m not one for hard lines of genre definition, nor am I well versed on all the various subclasses of genre out there. But this definitely feels like it set the stage for what the kids are calling Grimdark. It kept reminding me of Warhammer Fantasy, and if you told me the creators of that game were inspired by this series, I’d be 0% surprised.
Colville has been very open about the fact that he’s lifted liberally from this book series for his D&D game, and now having read the first book, I know it’s true. There are a few things in it I’ll be lifting for my own games.
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