Customer Reviews: Chronicles of the Black Company
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on December 10, 2007
The Black Company stands apart from other works in the genre. True, it's the story of an epic struggle, a rebellion against a dark sorceress, and a prophecy. But this story is told from a very human perspective. It's stripped of the grandeur and nobility found in other fantasy fiction. The characters are real in a way that most other fantasy characters aren't: you can't pin them down. In fact, it often seems as though Cook's overriding point in these novels is to keep reminding us that nobody is either purely good or purely evil.

This edition collects the first three novels of the Black Company, what the stories refer to as the Books of the North. All three are told from the perspective Croaker, the physician/narrator whose selective storytelling shows us the realism of a mystical war. He admits to -- and glosses over -- the shortcomings of his brethren, and shows us his own limitations as a narrator. It feels as though Croaker is a war correspondent, intent on telling the truth, but unable and unwilling to share everything he sees and feels. The limitations Cook places on Croaker can frustrate; at times, plot twists appear out of nowhere, due to events that took place outside of Croaker's presence. But by sticking to this narrative form, Cook provides the reader with an easy way in. Before you know it, you'll have accepted Croaker's world, and you'll want more.

Despite the size of this edition, the Black Company novels are a quick read. Cook doesn't waste words with frilly descriptions, and he pares his sentences down to their most basic elements. The spare writing style keeps the story moving along at a rapid clip. There isn't a phrase or sentence you can get away with skipping.

I highly recommend this collection to anyone looking for something a little different from their fantasy fiction. It will disappoint fans of Robert Jordan, and leave die-hard Goodkind aficionados cold. Fans of George R. R. Martin will appreciate that no character's motives are pure, and that some plot twists come in the form of unexpected deaths. If you start reading the Black Company expecting high fantasy, you'll be let down. But if you want a breath of fresh air, this is a great starting point.
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on April 19, 2009
I had already begun Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series (which bears an obvious and admitted debt to Cook's works) prior to delving into this omnibus. I knew that the two series shared similarities, but knew precious little of the Black Company before I began.

Those similarities are pretty evident: both write in a rather clipped style and much attention is paid to military conflict. There are also some pretty big differences. Cook seems not at all interested in world building--city and town names are given with little detail given to where they are in relationship to each other and there is no map included with the book. In a lot of fantasy, a lot of the story is the journey; here, much of the journey is simply summarized. In the world of the Black Company, these details are not as important as the people who undertake them.

I also found the characters in Cook's world to be much more three-dimensional. This isn't a knock on Erickson, since he is juggling many more characters, but there are certain archetypes that show up in Malazan that serve the same function but in different portions/time periods of the world (comic relief, mysterious old god, etc.).

There was also a romantic thread that ran through all of these three books that started out as coloring and then blossomed into a major plot strand that I particularly liked, as it allowed the hard men and women who inhabit these books a chance to be more human.

I think both Erickson and Cook's works are worthy reads for anyone who enjoys fantasy: both write conflict-heavy page-turners that you'll being racing through to see what happens next. If you're looking for something epic and complicated, then Erickson is your man; if you're prefer something more straightforward and self-contained, then this omnibus is for you. Fans of one author who have never read the other are hereby encouraged to do so.
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on December 17, 2007
The annals of the Black Company is one of my all time favorite fantasy settings and series and one that no fan of the genre should pass up. I was very excited to see this book available recently (Though I wish it were a Hardcover...)
This contains the first three novels of the ~10 novel series and comprises the first major plot arc involving the introduction of the mercenary group "The Black Company", their rise to power, and their near destruction. Cook's writing style comes off as concise and to the point with dry humour and classic characters. Throughout these books you will see the characters grow in power and wisdom, changing roles within the Company as they mature. The primary character, Croaker, at times seems like a witty "every mans hero" and at others is truly inspired by greatness and heroism. The story follows him and the other black hearted criminals, wizards and odds and ends that comprise the company. Fantasy elements are at times very light making it seem very real world and dangerous, characters die, get stabbed, get sick and get crippled. At other times wizards conjure deadly magics and physics and reality are tossed out the window for massive battles of magical powers.

All in all every single moment of these books is very satisfying and will leave you wanting more. Upon reading the final sentence of the final book I felt a real sense of completion, though I wished for more stories I was not unhappy with where things ended.

Only complaints: Bring a hardcover! Write another book! We want to know what happens to the soldiers that lived!
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on April 2, 2010
This omnibus features all three books in the Chronicles of the Black Company trilogy by Glen Cook. The trilogy follows the trials and tribulations of an elite mercenary group as they are enlisted to fight for the Lady, the dark ruler of the Empire, as she tries to suppress a rebellion. The rebellion depends on the re-birth of the White Rose, the enigmatic figure who defeated the Lady and her minions four hundred years ago (the Lady had subsequently been freed from captivity).

The Chronicles of the Black Company was gritty for its time (the mid-1980s), but a reader today will notice that it is relatively mild compared to the likes of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire or Erikson's Malazan series. There is minimal cursing (and none of the really bad words), no sex (nothing more than hints), and no real hardcore gore (obviously there is violence, but it is not depicted graphically).

Further, the Chronicles of the Black Company was touted as highly realistic fantasy. Again, for its time, this was true. In the 1980s, the vast majority of fantasy novels were little more than knockoffs of the Lord of the Rings. But the Black Company has its fair share of magic (more than, say, A Song of Ice and Fire), including sorcery and magic carpets.

Finally, although frequently called morally ambiguous, that phrase is somewhat misleading. There are really no "good' people in the Chronicles of the Black Company. The Black Company are soldiers, murderers, some of them even rapists. The Lady is evil (although her character develops in an interesting way), but the rebels are little better. But that being said, although the Company finds itself in the service of the Lady, they, in the end, always seem to do the moral thing when it's really important. Unlike George R. R. Martin, whose protagonists often do bad things, even at the key moments (Jaime Lannister comes to mind), the Company usually does the right thing, in the end.

All of that is meant to simply warn a new reader that the Black Company is a little dated in those ways. But it should be noted that guys like Martin and Erikson owe a big debt to Glen Cook, who's Chronicles of the Black Company really paved the way for a key evolution in the realm of fantasy.

Even if you don't care about the Black Company's role in the history of fantasy, it is definitely worth a read. It is, for the most part, told from a first person perspective, by Croaker, a historian and physician in the employ of the Black Company. The language can be terse (indeed, it is often written as a person might talk). But Croaker is capable of poignancy when the moment is right. On rare occasions, the dialogue or prose can be a little hard to understand, but, for the most part, is very well executed. As one last note on the writing front, Cook writes some of the most exciting and captivating action scenes I have ever read. He definitely knows how to stage a battle.

Overall, the characters are very appealing. Croaker is a weary, realistic man who does his job but seems to take little pleasure in it. The Taken, Cook's version of the Nazgul from the Lord of the Rings, are fascinating. Unlike the Nazgul, which are little more than vague embodiments of evil, the Taken are very human, even if they are extremely powerful and difficult to kill. They have flaws, they can be petty, and they bicker amongst each other. Each Taken (although only a few are ever really in focus) have unique personalities and talents. Some of them, like the Hanged Man and Shapeshifter, are downright cool. The Lady is an enigmatic villain whose motives are very real and who, despite her otherworldly power and near omniscience, is very human.

Character development is one of Cook's strong points. Although many characters are not very well fleshed out (mostly because they aren't very important to the story), those that are fleshed out are done so brilliantly. Indeed, the second novel of the trilogy, Shadows Linger, features one of the finest exemplars of character development I have ever read. Cook's development of the character Shed (who provides one of the two first person perspectives in the book, along with Croaker) is incredible and, more impressively, very realistic. It was an unpredictable and remarkable character evolution that I cannot praise enough.

Otherwise, the plot can at times be a little silly. Shadows Linger, for example, features an evil castle that grows with the consumption of dead bodies (which Shed, incidentally, sells). But even something silly as a growing castle that somehow consumes dead bodies is done in a surprisingly realistic and understated way. Cook handles even the greatest silliness maturely.

In sum, I highly recommend picking up the Chronicles of the Black Company. Although you can buy the books separately, the omnibus is the best way to go. You get three very good, complete novels for the price of one trade paperback book. Each one is a substantial book, but a quick read. Further, the Chronicles of the Black Company is a complete story. Although Cook writes later books about the same characters, you can finish with the White Rose (book three) and never need to pick up another book, a rarity today where fantasy series need 7-12 books to wrap up. If I had to guess, though, you're going to want to pick up the next series. The Chronicles of the Black Company is that good. I gave each individual book a 4 star rating (although Shadows Linger properly deserved a 4.5 star rating), but the sum really is greater than its parts here.

Pick this up as soon as you can. You won't regret it.
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on April 22, 2010
Black Company is a very gritty take on fantasy. The story follows a band of ruthless mercenaries who were hired by an evil sorceress to do battle against an evil wizard. If you enjoy Dark Fantasy, this is about as dark as it can get.

The book is an omnibus of 3 tales: The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose. The Black Company is probably the most interesting of the three.

The story follows Croaker, the physician of the Black Company. He chronicles the events of the mercenary band as they perform their missions, battling enemy wizards, fantastic beasts, and invading armies. The entire story is told through Croaker's perspective, so you never really get a bird's eye view of the action. In some ways, this is good because it keeps you on your toes.

This is a dark fantasy world seen through the eyes of a guy who kills people for money. The world is vast, there's plenty of magic, fantastic beasts, mystic places, and turmoil. But, it's definitely tinted dark because the guy telling the story is a cold blooded murdering sociopath.

Writing Style:
The Black Company is narrated by Croaker and he talks like he's an old timey private eye. "This dame came into my office. She had a great set of gams. Great gams, they were. Had me thinkin' and that sorta thinkin' gets me into trouble." Unfortunately, the whole book reads like that. Sure, the descriptions of things are amusing and they'll make you smirk, but it just doesn't get the job done. There are many events and characters that are just glossed over and you'll probably end up re-reading a bunch of paragraphs to find out what happened. At times, it gets confusing and frustrating. It's almost impossible to visualize any of the scenes because you never get a good description of anything.

The other two stories are much more traditional with a narrator and dialogue.

There's plenty of visceral action in the book, but most of the time, it just gets glossed over thanks to the minimalistic narration of Croaker. There are magic battles, duels, monsters... but all of these conflicts are over in a paragraph or two. It's really hard to get invested into the action when you barely know the characters and all of the details and suspense are omitted.

Gang Rape, Murder, Torture, Gore, etc... This book can be disturbing for those at any age.

Reading The Black Company is like listening to a medieval fantasy version of Sin City. I say listening because you get the over the top narration, "I was about as useful as a Palsy victim doing brain surgery with a pipe wrench." But you don't get much description of the world, the settings, the characters... All of that is missing. As a result, the story and the action are really hard to follow and it's really hard to get into the characters.

The other two stories are more traditional, but you have to get through The Black Company first. Personally, it was really difficult for me to read.

Read it if you like Dark Fantasy and you want a departure from Tolkien-esque worlds.
Read it if you want to follow a band of Mercenaries.
Read it if you don't mind the incredibly fast paced writing style.
Avoid it if you like traditional narration.
Avoid it if you don't like violence, gore, murder, and fairly evil heroes.

If you liked the book, or liked the concept of the book, I can whole heartedly recommend, "The First Law Trilogy" by Joe Abercrombie.
The characters are just as dark, but Abercrombie's writing style does a better job at flushing out the world.
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on January 15, 2014
These three novels are stripped down rough and tough fantasy. The cast of characters is fairly small and the author does not spend a lot of words on vivid descriptions of scenery and world creation. The main character and narrator, Croaker the company's physician/chronicler, describes the world and events that are happening around him in ordinary terms as an ordinary soldier rather than poet. This book is a "keeper". I know that I WILL be picking this book back off the shelf sometime down the road and revisiting Croaker and the rest of the Black Company on their quests.
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on April 20, 2012
This is the worst kindle edition of a book I have read to date. It feels like it was run through a scanner and left as is, without proofreading. Letters will randomly be swapped with other letters, spaces will be left out, and about half of the commas in the kindle edition should be periods.
It's still readable, but definitely annoying.

The story itself left me feeling lukewarm. I went into it expecting a collection of shorter stories about the various jobs a mercenary army would do in a fantasy world. Instead, all three of these stories follow the same overarching plot. It's so focused that there's very little information about the parts of the world that don't directly concern that plot. I generally like my fantasy to have a world that is at least hinted at being interesting outside of the main attraction.
The writing style is very curt, but I got over that after a chapter or so. I'm more bothered by the lack of visual descriptions of things. Several major characters are never described properly, and the effects of one of the more interesting things about the world - a storm which leaves things caught in it changed somehow - are also glossed over.
The first story is about a the company coming to work for a female evil overlord called the Lady, and is more of an intro to the setting and major characters for the next few books.
I liked the second story a lot more, with the added alternate perspective of a cowardly inn owner caught up in a supernatural conflict and a general sense of urgency and escalation.
The third one gives some more backstory to the resurrection of the ancient evil that's been the main subject for the past two books, but is pretty slow aside from a single battle and the finale.

Anyway, 3/5 for the books, 1/5 for the lazy kindle effort.
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on October 19, 2009
Listen, I'm not a big fan of the fantasy universes. The most I've read of any type of Fantasy type series is Steven King's, The Dark Tower. A month or so ago I was bored on a day off and wandering through my local book store when I noticed a book called The Black company. I turn the book over to see what its about and all I got was "With the black company series, Glenn cook single handedly changed the face of fantasy...blah blah." I put the book down and forgot about it.
Last week I was again walking through the book store (still hadn't found a book to read) with the idea that I wanted and Epic. I'm waiting on some books to get released and it is going to be a while. I again picked up the Black Company, read the first page, and I decided to take a risk and buy it. I finished all 3 books collected in "The Chronicles of the Black Company" in a week. I even went out and picked up the next 2 installments (The Book of the South) before I was finished with the last chapter of TBC.
Cook's characters are instant Classics without all the usual fantasy cookie-cutter Douche bags.
Honestly, I've never felt the need to write a review before, But this series is worth my time and effort. I'm sure if you gamble on these books as I did, you will not be dissapointed.
On a side note, kudos to the guy who was able to use the terms "kickassness" and "Badassery" in his review.
This first collection is for sure the best read and well written of the series. Although I am enjoying the story as a whole still.
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on September 15, 2015
So my colleague recommended this book to me as an "(a)mazing read, and characteristic of fantasy" and that if I liked a certain pair of authors then I'd "love" this book.

But here's the thing: I was able to correctly guess the "end" based on the first half of each story. I'm sure there was a time when these tropes/twists were novel and I do agree that it reads almost like a Vietnam-esque memoir but instead of staring at the book and thinking wondering "Who will I recommend this to?" I found myself thinking "I wonder what the resale value of this book is?"
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on December 10, 2014
I'm only halfway through the first book but the writing style is just so bare bones. I'll keep reading but - if you enjoy a lot of descriptive detail and lengthy explanations this is NOT your series. The story is great but it's just a skeleton, I need more meat (adjectives, descriptions, details..) Without ruining anything, my best example of what I mean is that a single paragraph (sometimes even a sentence) can skip through years of story, and the language is only descriptive enough for me to imagine something that my brain makes the rest of up and I'm left wondering if my imagination is at all accurate compared to what the author actually meant. If someone gave me this and asked me to be the editor I would be demanding explanations from nearly every page. This book definitely encourages strong imaginations that don't mind being left to their own devices.
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