Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hardbitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead - until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more.
There must be a way for the Black Company to find her....
©1984 Glen Cook (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
A refreshing romp through a gritty yet colorful medieval fantasy setting that follows a mercenary company recruited by the arch villain. They'll stick it to the rebel "good guys" all the way, often with cheerful deviousness. The story follows the sole 1'st person perspective of the Black Company's annalist/historian/medic giving it a distinct grunt's eye view of a much bigger conflict. There's also no shortage of likeable characters to get attached to; it's neither too serious or too somber.
The narrator definitely takes some getting used to though. At first he sounded like he was channeling Captain Kirk or something and it was most distracting; you'll see some hate on that topic in the other reviews. However, I think he settles into the role eventually and about 1/3 in I didn't even notice anymore. He manages the few female voices there are well enough. Certainly not so cringe worthy as other male narrators I've heard trying the same.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
Glen Cook slaps a devastating battle magic spell on epic fantasy clich??s (e.g., evil empire, virtuous rebels, dark lord, blasted wasteland around his headquarters, & clear division of good from evil). He writes a hard-boiled fantasy about the heroic feats of human anti-heroes in a world in which, as in our own, the historians of the victors determine good and evil. His novel is by turns funny or scary, horrifying or moving, grotesque or beautiful. It's enjoyable to watch the memorable members of the mercenary Black Company playing cards or pranks and suspenseful to follow them going on dangerous missions. Cook vividly captures the way that men working together in intense situations indulge in petty resentments even as they bond into a family through shared adversity. The short story chapters--without transitions between them--are narrated by the company's doctor and historian Croaker to make a single compelling tale.
I sympathize with the reviewers who find the novel too ??? rawly written, but I liked most of the graphic similes and the in medias res openings of each chapter-story and appreciate how each new chapter adds a few more pieces to the dramatic situation of the fantasy world.
I can't understand why some reviewers dislike Marc Vietor's reading of the novel. I feel that he does a fine job, enhancing Croaker's hard-boiled exterior and sensitive interior, as well as modifying his voice appropriately for the other characters, from the hysterical high-pitched mage Goblin to the laconic Clint Eastwood-like killer Raven. Vietor's reading of each of the very different voices of Soulcatcher's different souls is fun, creepy, and impressive.
The novel, first in a long series of Black Company annals, feels complete enough at its conclusion and at the same time promises an eventful, long future for Croaker and his mercenary brothers. A vivid and satisfying audiobook.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
The Black Company is gritty-as-can-be swords-and-sorcery fantasy, written years before that became a trendy idea. The “Company” of the book is a group of mercenaries that hires on with a powerful sorceress known as The Lady, and does various unpleasant jobs for her high command, a circle of grotesque and generally nasty wizards called The Taken. Imagine if the Lord of the Rings were told from the perspective of a group of Sauron’s hirelings, and you might have a sense of what to expect. Except, here, there isn’t much chivalry from anyone -- the “rebels”, while less defined, aren’t much more savory than the Lady’s minions.
The writing, accordingly, has a bracingly hard-boiled flavor. The story’s narrator is the Black Company’s chief medic and historian, a man named Croaker. He entertains few illusions that his brothers in arms are “nice people”, as they go from territory to territory, pacifying the inhabitants in the traditional manner, but there’s a sort of professional honor code that holds the company of rogues, fallen men, weirdos, and thugs together. They might be fighting for money, but they operate with discipline, take care of their own, and display occasional human decency. In a world where the unimportant often end up dead in piles as the armies sweep through, that’s better than nothing.
Overall, I really enjoyed the Platoon-meets-Lord of the Rings feel. The writing is a little choppy, though, often skipping past major events with a terse summary, or dropping in new characters with minimal introduction. But, the style fits well -- Croaker isn’t a guy who believes in the glory or righteousness of the cause and he’s patched up the wounded so many battles, he has little taste for describing what happens on the field, but, at the same time, he feels that what happens to him and his comrades ought to be recorded. I found the simple immediacy refreshing -- even in a fantasy world, the experience of ground soldiers might be universal, including their distance from the politics of everything. That said, some of the anachronisms got a little annoying: I wouldn’t expect someone in this world to know about biological evolution or use the term “sandbagging”. On the other hand, I suppose the use of spellcasters in the lines would enable soldiers to employ somewhat more “modern” tactics.
Other aspects of the book aren’t as ground-breaking. Once you get past Cook’s different take, the world-building and plot fall into familiar molds. But the action, initially aimless, begins to take on a purpose, and I got caught up in the story around the midpoint of the novel. The climax features an epic siege battle as good (and ghastly) as any in fantasy. I also enjoyed the endless bickering between two rank-and-file wizards, who seem to devote more energy to petty magical squabbles with each other than doing their jobs. I don’t know how well Cook maintains the strengths of his grunt-level perspective in subsequent books, but I’ll have to check out the next one. You can certainly enjoy this entry as a standalone work, if you choose not to go further.
Audiobook notes: I thought the narrator did a competent if uninspiring job. He sounds a little “older” than I would expect Croaker to be, but, then, it’s not clear how many years after the fact he’s supposed to be telling his story.
Yes, it is a fantastic book with characters that are easy to love. Though the narration takes maybe a chapter to get used it really starts to work after that point
One-Eye and Goblin, they squabble like children are just very entertaining to read about
Marc Vietor perfectly embodied Croaker, the main character. His performance and delivery did justice to the dry wit and cynicism contained within the story. Most importantly he did not distract the listener from the story
Not sure it could be made into a film. Audiences would probably not appreciate main characters who are mercenaries...the whole raping and pillaging thing probably wouldn't go over well
A common complaint about this book is that it is not descriptive enough. This may be true, but it is actually a strength. Rather than inserting a few hundred pages to add descriptions of every tree the company walk by the story focuses on characters and event. This book is only 350 pages, a mere short story in today's world of tomes. It includes whats necessary and not superfluous words added simply for the sake of being there.Also, in today's world of epic fantasy this book is good, but not quite as dark as the First Law Trilogy or aSoIaF. What makes it stand out is that it predates those series by decades. This was possibly the first book in the genre that did not have the ultra good vs the ultra bad, and in that way it was revolutionary. For this reason alone, let alone the great story and wonderful characters, this book is an important read/listen to any true fan of the genre
“I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."
I enjoyed this story of imperfect characters struggling to find meaning, in a dark, and often times, savage and merciless world, through their brotherly bond shaped by their union: The Black Company.
My favorite character is Croaker: The Black Company's doctor and annalist. He, to me, is the embodiment, and the voice of the The Black Company and what it represents; though out the story, Croaker's struggles and attempts at finding some good in a very dark world, where to survive one must often times ignore the incessant inner voice that is always telling us to do what is morally right, seems to mirror The Black Company's struggles to do what is honorable, yet at the same time, do what it needs to do to survive; and what it needs to do to survive is not always the right or moral thing to do.
I have not.
There were several moments throughout the book that moved me. I love the way the author would pull the characters down to the point of utter despair, where all there is left is the brutal task of surviving at all cost; but when it appears this harsh and bleak world had reduce all the inhabitants to savage beasts, these same beasts/characters would pleasantly surprise you with their acts of kindness.
My only complaint with the Black Company is that the authors style of writing takes getting used to. At times, it was difficult to follow and determine what was going on. It seemed to me, that the author would transition from one point to the next without any transitional glues. Sometimes, I had no idea that the author had stop writing about some current event, but instead had already gone on to describing another event.
Although, I would like to note whether this is because of the way it was narated, or if it was in fact the way the story was written.
Glen Cook's The Black Company is one of the best series ever written. I've been waiting years for Audible to carry these books! The Black Company stories have been described as Vietnam War on peyote. The fantasy genre told by soldiers, sign up today to become a member of Black Company.
There was no payoff for my time invested.
Marc brought the end of the book. I'm have no doubt I wouldn't have continued to the end on my own if I was reading it. I had to make myself listen to it in the car and I still hate myself for it. I must have OCD. Marc's reading of the book was dead and seeing his name on the next recording I get would only be a bonus.
I almost jabbed a blunt object in my eye. Does that count?
How is this consistently on lists of top fantasy books to read? I am guessing people read it in their teens and are going on fond memories. I loved Stephen R. Donaldson as a kid and then sadly I ruined my favorite series of all time by rereading them. This has to be what is happening here. The writing is just terrible. The world is pretty much non-existent. I realize the world doesn't have to have much but the characters and story are just weak. The story felt like a Dungeon & Dragons campaign. How do these people get published? Maybe his writing matures at some point but this guy makes Jordan look like Martin.
Back in the Audible saddle. I really missed books in my life.
This is true military fiction that is hybridized with a very original fantasy setting. The characters feel like real soldiers, forced by honor, duty, and loyalty to one another into fighting on despite a nightmare situation. The style is simple and declarative; you won't have any trouble following The Black Company. But the characters and story are rich, despite the fairly bare bones nature of the text itself.
The skeleton of the story is this: The Black Company, a mercenary company over five hundred years old, is taken into the service of the archvillain, a sorceress referred to only as the Lady, a title spoken as if she were a god. But there is no black and white in the world of the Black Company. The characters are tough, hard-boiled soldiers, most of them with nothing else to live for beyond the curious brotherhood the Company offers. They are relentlessly competent, devious, and unburdened by the kind of pride that so-often causes terrible downfalls.
Some people will be turned off by the style. As I said, it is a bare bones sort of narrative, that skips long stretches of time (the narrative device is that these are the Annals of the deeds of the Black Company, recorded by the Annalist, Croaker. He only records things that he thinks are worth the telling) and often lands us in media res. There is no flowery Wheel of Time or Song of Ice and Fire scripting here, and no grand world building. We learn the setting, as much as the characters, places, and events, as we go. Still, this work is satisfying, and that's a fine thing.
Having read all of the Black Company series years ago, and wanting to enjoy them as a time-passer while commuting and working, I have to say... Marc Vietor did a commendable job to me of capturing the voice of the central character, Croaker. He's spared a multitude of female voices to deal with in this particular text, but does a good job of differentiating the other characters from one another, and does an exceptional job capturing the unsettling and varying voice of Soulcatcher.
There are numerous glowing reviews of this book, but I had a hard time finding positives about it. Full disclosure, I really tried but I could only make it 1/2 way through the book. My main issues are 1. Characters are just thrown into the mix - no description, examination, or reason why I should care about them 2. The story seemingly skips around - in one sentence the company is sailing toward a city, and the next they arrived and in the middle of a battle. 3. I didn't like the overall writing style-the final straw for me was having to listen to a 15 minute description of a card game - being played by characters that were not described even remotely as well.
Here's a very interesting twist to the typical fantasy story.
What if the Lord of The Rings had been told from the BAD GUYS perspective, say, from Mordor's elite guard?
They'd tell a story of thirteen rebels sent from different kingdoms bent on destroying Lord Sauron's passion to bring order to the chaos of the world. This rebel fellowship carries an ultimate doom with them, a ring once held by their glorious leader to keep peace between the races. They now carry it to its ultimate destruction, which will not only destroy that one last hope for unity, but also to destroy their king, who will die when the ring is consumed in the fires of Mount Doom! The fellowship must be stopped from completing their master plan to disrupt the world and kill their lord!
Guess it's all about perspective.
Glen Cook has created such a series, although not tied to Tolkien's work. A similar situation, yet a different world, using different literary vehicles and tools to accomplish the task.
You'll come to know Croaker, chief physician and historian for the Black Company, and many others in the group, along with a dark queen who holds their world in sway. The company is pressed into various quests, deeds, and services for her majesty, and they begin to question the ethics and intent brought on by the influence of her rule.
Sound interesting? It definitely is, and I've enjoyed Cook's twist on the typical.
Descriptive, rich and story-driven, this is a pleasure to the ears of fantasy lovers everywhere. It's mature, thoughtful, dark and entertaining. Cook suspends reality and draws you in, and THAT, my Audible listener, makes for a good audiobook.
I liked this audiobook so much, that I now own the entire series (ten audiobooks to date, I believe).
And the rest are good listening, as is this first in the series.
Who'd have thought I'd saddle up with the BAD guys? And LIKED it?
This had been on my list of things to read or listen to for a long while before I found it on Audible. I was a bit put off by the reviewer who said it was not suitable as an audio book. Some books can be harder to follow than others if you don't have the text to refer to. I have never even sampled anything by Glen Cook in a bookshop so I wasn't sure what to expect. But since it had been on my list for so long I downloaded it impulsively and was very surprised to discover that it is one of the most captivating books I have listened to for a while. It is very easy to follow. The sentences are very short and the plot is very simple. Nevertheless the language is evocative and rich. The words are well-chosen and there is an admirable economy of style that is quite rare in fantasy writing. The background is interesting and quite possibly the unacknowledged inspiration for many more recent fantasy novels. The conception is seminal and bold. I am really enjoying it.
"Good book; narration not quite there for me"
The Black Company is a hugely enjoyable book. It is not the best written nor is the plot the most sophisticated but in terms of capturing what's been called a 'grunt's eye' view of the fantasy battlefield it stands out. The story, of a company of hard-bitten mercenaries in the service of powerful and evil sorcerers could easily be hackneyed. It is to its credit that it isn't although it is no stranger to certain fantasy tropes. Where it wins is with a good yarn, engaging characters (heroes might be stretching it), undoubtedly villainous villains and a sense of humour.
For me though, there was an issue. I had read the entire series before coming to the audiobook and the moment I hit the start button I ran into a problem. The narrator's voice was not even close to the one I had in my head while reading the story. That is not a criticism of the narrator just one of those things that happens. The problem was - it wouldn't go away. So while I still enjoyed the story and will download more, I was left with a sense that the book hadn't quite been captured properly. This is probably compounded by the Black Company being written in the first person by Croaker, the Company's medic, and it just wasn't Croaker. There is no doubt the dissonance hurt the narration for me and because the voice was wrong, the narration just never quite came to life.
That said, the Black Company story and its perspective has had a big influence not only today's fantasy writers but also game designers - many of whom have acknowledged the debt. Try it. You will probably end up listening to or reading the entire series. I don't think you will be disappointed
"Give a decent try...you will not regret it"
One of the first gritty fantasy novels published, and it is a treat to read/listen to
Story – 4/5
The story does throw you in at the deep end. I found myself struggling to catch who was who and what was happening to start with, where most books introduce the setting and characters more slowly and smoothly (the only thing stopping it getting 5/5 stars). After about an hour, this settled into something a lot simpler and I began to care about each of the characters; I didn’t have to work hard at it. Give it until at least 90 minutes in before deciding to give up.
If you do stick with it, you are in for a huge treat. This is a mixture of gritty, dark and military fantasy – and it is very addictive for those who love these sub-genres. It is told with simple short sentences, but Glen Cook’s use of the English language and prose is superb. Nothing is said or described for the sake of it, so the whole story is concise and fast paced (not surprising at 10hrs long though)
There is plenty of action if you like that sort of thing, with a fantastically told epic battle at the end (and I love a good battle scene). There is plenty of sorcery, grey moral areas, brutality and humor, exactly what a good fantasy book is made of. You can definitely tell that a lot of popular modern fantasy novels have been influenced by Glen Cook’s work.
Give it a go, I assure you, you will not be disappointed. I can’t wait to get stuck into the sequels
Performance – 3.5/5
Marc Vietor grew on me more and more as the story went on, but this may be because I got used to his style. At first, he was just satisfactory – nothing amazing, but also not bad at all.
His voice acting is good enough to distinctly recognise the characters, but I found he could have enhanced the performance by acting out the exhales, whimpering etc rather than reading the verbs from the book, like most good narrators do.
His dark and dramatic tone of voice did suit the style of the story quite nicely, they are after all a company of mercenaries working for the evil side of the war and constantly outnumbered.
Overall – 4/5
"Not good enough"
I should never have bought this. This style of book is not suitable as an audio book. Its too fast and fragmented. I can see it might work as a reading book (maybe) but not for me. I could not get the characterisation or what anybody was actually doing. Maybe when I am really bored I will try again, but thats not likely to be any time soon.
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