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The Black Company (Chronicles of The Black Company #1) Mass Market Paperback – March 15, 1992


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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Fantasy (March 15, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812521390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812521399
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 4.1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (234 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #51,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Born in 1944, Glen Cook grew up in northern California, served in the U.S. Navy, attended the University of Missouri, and was one of the earliest graduates of the well-known "Clarion" workshop SF writers. Since 1971 he has published a large number of SF and fantasy novels, including the "Dread Empire" series, the occult-detective "Garrett" novels, and the very popular "Black Company" sequence that began with the publication of The Black Company in 1984. Among his SF novels is A Passage at Arms.

After working many years for General Motors, Cook now writes full-time. He lives near St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Carol.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One:LEGATE
 
 
There were prodigies and portents enough, One-Eye says. We must blame ourselves for misinterpreting them. One-Eye's handicap in no way impairs his marvelous hindsight.
Lightning from a clear sky smote the Necropolitan Hill. One bolt struck the bronze plaque sealing the tomb of the forvalaka, obliterating half the spell of confinement. It rained stones. Statues bled. Priests at several temples reported sacrificial victims without hearts or livers. One victim escaped after its bowels were opened and was not recaptured. At the Fork Barracks, where the Urban Cohorts were billeted, the image of Teux turned completely around. For nine evenings running, ten black vultures circled the Bastion. Then one evicted the eagle which lived atop the Paper Tower.
Astrologers refused readings, fearing for their lives. A mad soothsayer wandered the streets proclaiming the imminent end of the world. At the Bastion, the eagle not only departed, the ivy on the outer ramparts withered and gave way to a creeper which appeared black in all but the most intense sunlight.
But that happens every year. Fools can make an omen of anything in retrospect.
We should have been better prepared. We did have four modestly accomplished wizards to stand sentinel against predatory tomorrows--though never by any means as sophisticated as divining through sheeps' entrails.
Still, the best augurs are those who divine from the portents of the past. They compile phenomenal records.
Beryl totters perpetually, ready to stumble over a precipice into chaos. The Queen of the Jewel Cities was old and decadent and mad, filled with the stench of degeneracy and moral dryrot. Only a fool would be surprised by anything found creeping its night streets.
* * *
I had every shutter thrown wide, praying for a breath off the harbor, rotting fish and all. There wasn't enough breeze to stir a cobweb. I mopped my face and grimaced at my first patient. "Crabs again, Curly?"
He grinned feebly. His face was pale. "It's my stomach, Croaker." His pate looks like a polished ostrich egg. Thus the name. I checked the watch schedule and duty roster. Nothing there he would want to avoid. "It's bad, Croaker. Really."
"Uhm." I assumed my professional demeanor, sure what it was. His skin was clammy, despite the heat. "Eaten outside the commissary lately, Curly?" A fly landed on his head, strutted like a conqueror. He didn't notice.
"Yeah. Three, four times."
"Uhm." I mixed a nasty, milky concoction. "Drink this. All of it."
His whole face puckered at the first taste. "Look, Croaker, I.…"
The smell of the stuff revolted me. "Drink, friend. Two men died before I came up with that. Then Pokey took it and lived." Word was out about that.
He drank.
"You mean it's poison? The damned Blues slipped me something?"
"Take it easy. You'll be okay. Yeah. It looks that way." I'd had to open up Walleye and Wild Bruce to learn the truth. It was a subtle poison. "Get over there on the cot where the breeze will hit you--if the son of a bitch ever comes up. And lie still. Let the stuff work." I settled him down.
"Tell me what you ate outside." I collected a pen and a chart tacked onto a board. I had done the same with Pokey, and with Wild Bruce before he died, and had had Walleye's platoon sergeant backtrack his movements. I was sure the poison had come from one of several nearby dives frequented by the Bastion garrison.
Curly produced one across-the-board match. "Bingo! We've got the bastards now."
"Who?" He was ready to go settle up himself.
"You rest. I'll see the Captain." I patted his shoulder, checked the next room. Curly was it for morning sick call.
I took the long route, along Trejan's Wall, which overlooks Beryl's harbor. Halfway over I paused, stared north, past the mole and lighthouse and Fortress Island, at the Sea of Torments. Particolored sails speckled the dingy grey-brown water as coastal dhows scooted out along the spiderweb of routes linking the Jewel Cities. The upper air was still and heavy and hazy. The horizon could not be discerned. But down on the water the air was in motion. There was always a breeze out around the Island, though it avoided the shore as if fearing leprosy. Closer at hand, the wheeling gulls were as surly and lackadaisical as the day promised to make most men.
Another summer in service to the Syndic of Beryl, sweating and grimy, thanklessly shielding him from political rivals and his undisciplined native troops. Another summer busting our butts for Curly's reward. The pay was good, but not in coin of the soul. Our forebrethren would be embarrassed to see us so diminished.
Beryl is misery curdled, but also ancient and intriguing. Its history is a bottomless well filled with murky water. I amuse myself plumbing its shadowy depths, trying to isolate fact from fiction, legend, and myth. No easy task, for the city's earlier historians wrote with an eye to pleasing the powers of their day.
The most interesting period, for me, is the ancient kingdom, which is the least satisfactorily chronicled. It was then, in the reign of Niam, that the forvalaka came, were overcome after a decade of terror, and were confined in their dark tomb atop the Necropolitan Hill. Echoes of that terror persist in folklore and matronly admonitions to unruly children. No one recalls what the forvalaka were, now.
I resumed walking, despairing of beating the heat. The sentries, in their shaded kiosks, wore towels draped around their necks.
A breeze startled me. I faced the harbor. A ship was rounding the Island, a great lumbering beast that dwarfed the dhows and feluccas. A silver skull bulged in the center of its full-bellied black sail. That skull's red eyes glowed. Fires flickered behind its broken teeth. A glittering silver band encircled the skull.
"What the hell is that?" a sentry asked.
"I don't know, Whitey." The ship's size impressed me more than did its flashy sail. The four minor wizards we had with the Company could match that showmanship. But I'd never seen a galley sporting five banks of oars.
I recalled my mission.
I knocked on the Captain's door. He did not respond. I invited myself inside, found him snoring in his big wooden chair. "Yo!" I hollered. "Fire! Riots in the Groan! Dancing at the Gate of Dawn!" Dancing was an old time general who nearly destroyed Beryl. People still shudder at his name.
The Captain was cool. He didn't crack an eyelid or smile. "You're presumptuous, Croaker. When are you going to learn to go through channels?" Channels meant bug the Lieutenant first. Don't interrupt his nap unless the Blues were storming the Bastion.
I explained about Curly and my chart.
He swung his feet off the desk. "Sounds like work for Mercy." His voice had a hard edge. The Black Company does not suffer malicious attacks upon its men.
* * *
Mercy was our nastiest platoon leader. He thought a dozen men would suffice, but let Silent and me tag along. I could patch the wounded. Silent would be useful if the Blues played rough. Silent held us up half a day while he made a quick trip to the woods.
"What the hell you up to?" I asked when he got back, lugging a ratty-looking sack.
He just grinned. Silent he is and silent he stays.
The place was called Mole Tavern. It was a comfortable hangout. I had passed many an evening there. Mercy assigned three men to the back door, and a pair each to the two windows. He sent another two to the roof. Every building in Beryl has a roof hatch. People sleep up top during the summer.
He led the rest of us through the Mole's front door.
Mercy was a smallish, cocky fellow, fond of the dramatic gesture. His entry should have been preceded by fanfares.
The crowd froze, stared at our shields and bared blades, at snatches of grim faces barely visible through gaps in our face guards. "Verus!" Mercy shouted. "Get your butt out here!"
The grandfather of the managing family appeared. He sidled toward us like a mutt expecting a kick. The customers began buzzing. "Silence!" Mercy thundered. He could get a big roar out of his small body.
"How may we help you, honored sirs?" the old man asked.
"You can get your sons and grandsons out here, Blue."
Chairs squeaked. A soldier slammed his blade into a tabletop.
"Sit still," Mercy said. "You're just having lunch, fine. You'll be loose in an hour."
The old man began shaking. "I don't understand, sir. What have we done?"
Mercy grinned evilly. "He plays the innocent well. It's murder, Verus. Two charges of murder by poisoning. Two of attempted murder by poisoning. The magistrates decreed the punishment of slaves." He was having fun.
Mercy wasn't one of my favorite people. He never stopped being the boy who pulled wings off flies.
The punishment of slaves meant being left up for scavenger birds after public crucifixion. In Beryl only criminals are buried uncremated, or not buried at all.
An uproar rose in the kitchen. Somebody was trying to get out the back door. Our men were objecting.
The public room exploded. A wave of dagger-brandishing humanity hit us.
They forced us back to the door. Those who were not guilty obviously feared they would be condemned with those who were. Beryl's justice is fast, crude, and harsh, and seldom gives a defendant opportunity to clear himself.
A dagger slipped past a shield. One of our men went down. I am not much as a fighter, but I stepped into his place. Mercy said something snide that I did not catch. "That's your chance at heaven wasted," I countered. "You're out of the Annals forever."
"Crap. You don't leave out anything."
A dozen citizens went down. Blood pooled in low places on the floor. Spectators gathered outside. Soon some adventurer would hit us from behind.
A dagger nicked Mercy. He lost patience. "Silent!"
Silent was on the job already, but he was Silent. That meant no sound, and very little flash or fury.
Mole patrons began slapping their faces and pawing the air, forsaking us. They hopped and danced, grabbed their backs and behinds, squealed and howled piteously. Several c...

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 61 people found the following review helpful By "rhamnusia2" on November 11, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Some may have a problem with the fact that THE BLACK COMPANY is told from the viewpoint of characters with a somewhat evil background, but I found it to be totally refreshing. After so many fantasy novels with trite "goody goody" characters that rot your teeth, Glen Cook, creates a very unique group of mercenaries that have their own code of honor and rich history.
Admittedly, at first, I was confused by the strange feeling of being in the trenches with the soldiers, instead of the royal gardens with the king, but soon after I really enjoyed Cook's realistic characters. Think of how many soldiers fight in the epic wars almost all fantasy novels include. How many authors actually describe the soldiers feelings and reasons for their choice of joining the ranks of good or evil?
All in all, this book and the whole series, is a fun and gritty read with tons of battle scenes. It is a definite needed break from some of the recent attacks of gigantic fantasy sagas. One of the most amazing things about the book was that I felt that I knew the characters without being told all that much, instead I was able to pull from the characters' actions all I ever needed to know. To me that is the mark of wonderful storytelling.
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38 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Nash on January 23, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is the first installment of a series of Black Company novels and it also happens to be the best. Cook easily conveys a 'you are there' sense of first-person realism that eludes so many of today's fantasy authors. He is content to weave a masterful, fast-paced, and addictive plot--one driven by deep character developement and rich, flavorfull dialogue--and leaves mundane descriptions of the local flora and fauna to the readers imagination. Afterall, once you've seen one 'Boars Head Inn,' you really have seen them all. The bottom line? If you are looking for a Tolken-esk experience, forget it. Cook's Black Company is all about plot and action. It's a hard-boiled, pan-fried look at life in a brotherhood of mercenaries as the men strive to meet the obligations of their duty, their employers, and their stomachs, and still get out of town alive. Cook's primary villains have vast reserves of magical power at their command, but don't expect any high-brow, mumbo-jumbo approach to magic in THIS book. The mages found in 'The Black Company' are frighteningly powerful, and they wield that power with a casual brutality that underscores their no-nonsense approach to world domination. Yes, THIS IS IT fantasy fans! This is the breath of fresh air we have all been looking for! 'The Black Company' is a raw and invigorating departure from classic fantasy. It's hard, it's gritty, and once you start reading, you WILL NOT be able to stop until you have completed the entire series! Buy it now, worry about the addiction later.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Eric on January 1, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I first read The Black Company about two years ago. I loved it from the start and have convinced a number of my friends to give it a try. What surprised me was the divided responses I received from them after they'd finished it. About half of them loved it, the others ranged from ambivalence to disgust.
I don't get it!
Perhaps it is because the book lacks the epic scope that has, for some reason, become almost synonymous with the fantasy genre. The Black Company is NOT epic, the purpose of the book is not to flesh out and then explore a complex fantasy world. Rather it is a dirty closeup of a mercenary group and of the means by which they survive. The main draw is in its gritty intelligence. These are characters that use subterfuge and wit rather than brawn. Cook manages to convince the reader that these truly *are* experienced proffesionals.
Also, the hackneyed premise behind so many other fantasy novels (that of the naive group, chased by evil) is discarded. Glen Cook describes a world where the characters must navigate in shades of grey, where they must make the best choices they can. I appreciate the lack of rigid good versus evil conflicts.
It is a quick and enjoyable read which rejueventates a stagnating genre
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54 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Elyon on February 15, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
It's hard not to enjoy this book. A quick read that begins immediately with action that rarely comes to a pause or dithers, this book episodically speeds along from one conflict to another, battles and sorcerous conflicts mounting, following the exploits of an readily likeable if amoral bunch of mercenaries. Despite the inherent grimness and cruelty of their profession, Cook invests his characters with a great amount of humor, reminiscent of the assassin Vlad Taltos in Steven Brust's ongoing series, and a suspicion of underlying compassion and camaraderie. These are men who through circumstance have found themselves engaged in a disreputable occupation, more often than not serving less than noble ends, but who can nonetheless rise on occasion to altruistic acts inconsistent with their brutish environment or hardened demeanor. Sheer fantasy, but it leavens their characters from an otherwise ignoble and immoral cast.
It is difficult not to chuckle at the feigned combative antics of Goblin and One-Eye, or the self-deprecating humor of the narrator, Croaker. While these are not men you would want to associate with in real life---their activities would likely quickly shorten your life expectancy or land you in goal---they nonetheless will inevitably appeal to male romantic notions exemplified by any number of anti-hero figures, most typified in Hollywood by the film roles of Clint Eastwood, and, if not too closely examined, certain to provide unadulterated masculine entertainment. The boy in you will be delighted.
Glen Cook invests his writing with assured skill and a tone completely complimentary to the task at hand.
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