I like that the second Black Company novel continues the story without feeling repetitive. This book is very different, yet feels like a very logical continuation. The story of Croaker, the Lady, and the White Rose is definitely interesting.
Where the first novel feels like a long military campaign, featuring the Black Company moving from one location to another, from one action or battle to another, this book settles down on a single primary location for the lion’s share. We settle into the city of Juniper, getting to know some of the locals, its culture and religion. And there is a colorful cast of characters, particularly Shed, as broken a character as you’ll meet, yet compelling.
Moral quandaries abound. Questions of loyalty, ultimate right and wrong, desperate choices, and more. Nobody is sinless. Even some of the ugliest souls have some spark of light. Good stuff.
One of the things I find especially fascinating about Glen Cook’s creation is the strange relationship between High Fantasy (flying carpets, ultra-powerful demi-gods, undead castles, etc.) and gut wrenching, in-the-trenches, meat-hook realism. I may have mentioned this before, but I’d be shocked if these books didn’t influence the early days of Warhammer (both Fantasy and 40,000). In some ways, it feels very much like someone’s D&D campaign (in fact, Matthew Colville’s D&D campaign is very much inspired by this). But in some ways it feels like some wrestling with the memories of their combat experience. Most of the focus of the books is on the nitty-gritty of the everyday slogs of ground-pounders. But sometimes, like airstrikes or off-shore bombardments, the colossal forces of magic and horror send the little guys scurrying. It’s an interesting mix.
I also like the way Cook handles action and major events. Sometimes, our narrator is right in the thick of world-changing events both big and small. He might be witness to titanic forces duking it out in the skies over a city or in rooting out a hidden truth from a box hidden in the woods. Yet other events happen completely ‘off camera.’ He’ll only learn about them in third-hand stories told by folks who fled in the aftermath of an event. Important characters sometimes simply die and Croaker doesn’t learn about it until days or weeks later.
So far, I’ve very much enjoyed this series and look forward to reading the third novel. I’m not sure what the future holds for the series. Is the third book the conclusion of this story, with future books taking up a new tale of the Black Company? Or does Croaker remain the narrator? I suspect the former, but I’ll be here for the latter.
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