Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Return of the Black Company

In Bleak Seasons; the 7th book of the series, Glen Cook uses Croaker’s apprentice, and one of the younger members of the original Black Company from the North, Murgen to tell the story. It’s also the first book since the original Black Company novel that only has one point of view, unless you count the marvellous chapter where One-Eye is given the opportunity to try his hand at chronicling. It’s quite a treat for readers (especially me, because One-Eye is my favourite character), although judging by this chapter if the cantankerous old sorcerer were the Company’s annalist then all the books would be about 10 pages in total.
As the Company is still stuck halfway to their intended destination I felt that the story has stagnated a little. The Company isn’t even really fighting the Shadowmasters anymore, they’re more concerned with the power struggle between various factions within the Company itself. To spice things up a little, Cook introduced a new race of people; the Nyueng Bao. They seem to be a permanent under class in the South of his world. The names and appearances make them sound as if they’re based on the Vietnamese, but the descriptions of how they fight and the warrior code that they adhere to was more of a cross between the Chinese Shaolin monks and the Japanese Samurai.
I enjoyed reading Murgen’s take on things, he’s definitely a fresh voice and I appreciated having to follow one point of view, rather than multiple stories, but even so it was still somewhat confusing and disjointed. Murgen seemed to able to enter a trance like state and obtain visions of the future and the past. At times it wasn’t really clear which time he was in. It was rather like trying to read a novelised version of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. It ended on a typically bleak note.
Despite it’s flaws, it left me wanting more, but I also want to see some sort of forward movement from the Company itself.

She is the Darkness picks up where Bleak Seasons left off. The title could refer to a number of characters; the Taglian Goddess of Death, Kina, Croaker and Lady's stolen baby, who has been promised to Kina and does her bidding, it could be Lady or even Lady's sister the former Taken Soulcatcher. Murgen is again the narrator and only his point of view is seen throughout the narrative.

To show more of the story outside of where Murgen can be, Cook reuses the technique from Bleak Seasons of having Murgen put in a trancelike state which allows him to go places and see things he shouldn't be able to. He does not seem to travel through time in this installment, but only space.

For most of the book they were stalled, locked in a seemingly endless struggle with Kina, her followers, a breakaway division of the Company and Soulcatcher. There was one somewhat extraordinary exchange between Croaker and Murgen where the former annalist critiques his replacement's work. It's almost as if Cook had heard some criticism of recent books and decided to air it in the storyline. It was rather surrealistic.

I found Murgen's devotion to his dead Nyueng Bao wife somewhat unbelievable. There had just never been that level of affection between them. If anything he seemed closer to his horrible mother-in-law than his wife.

The Company did move forward and they may have finally reached their fabled home of Khatovar. That won't become clear until the next volume. There's still reasons to read as there are a lot of unresolved issues.

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