Alchemical Words reviews Bleak Seasons, the seventh book of The Black Company epic military fantasy book series by Glen Cook.
Bleak Seasons is set during the same time period as Dreams of Steel. While The Lady was the first person POV narrator for Dreams of Steel, while Bleak Seasons is divided between telling the story from the point of view of Murgen, who is trapped within the siege of Dejagore and the events in Taglios, including the problems of the Deceivers and those pesky, never really quite dead enough to be really dead, Taken.
Synopsis of Bleak Seasons
“Let me tell you who I am, on the chance that these scribblings do survive….I am Murgen, Standard bearer of the Black Company, though I bear the shame of having lost that standard in battle. I am keeping these Annals because Croaker is dead. One-Eye won’t, and hardly anyone else can read or write. I will be your guide for however long it takes the Shadowlanders to force our present predicament to its inevitable end…”
So writes Murgen, seasoned veteran of the Black Company. The Company has taken the fortress of Stormgard from the evil Shadowlanders, lords of darkness from the far reaches of the earth. Now the waiting begins.
Exhausted from the siege, beset by sorcery, and vastly outnumbered, the Company have risked their souls as well as their lives to hold their prize. But this is the end of an age, and great forces are at work. The ancient race known as the Nyueng Bao swear that ancient gods are stirring. the Company’s commander has gone mad and flirts with the forces of darkness. Only Murgen, touched by a spell that has set his soul adrift in time, begins at last to comprehend the dark design that has made pawns of men and god alike.
What makes Bleak Seasons unique when compared to the previous Black Company books is the narrator Murgen. While in Degajore, Murgen begins to suffer seizures. One byproduct of these seizures is the ability to move fluidly through time. At any given time, Murgen might convulse and end up in the past, present or future with the outcome being a first person point of view that becomes omniscient. The reasons behind this ability remain a mystery through most of the book. At first, this technique felt strange but once I got a feel for what was going on, it worked.
This novel introduces a number of new elements and characters to the series. Most notable are the religious group the Decievers/Stranglers, which are loosely based on the Indian Thuggee and the Nyeung Bao, a group of people on pilgrimage before becoming trapped in Degajore, which Cook seems to have given something of an Asian feel. Cook also taps Indian culture for the Gunni, which resembles Hinduism and believe in reincarnation, vegetarianism and many deities; the Vedhna, which resembles Islam and believe in monotheism, deny reincarnation, believe in heaven and hell, oppose idolatry, pray several times each day; and the Shandar, which resembles Sikhism, the men wearing beards and their hair in turbans.
Brutal behavior and unspeakable acts are committed on both sides. Along with the usual cruelties, betrayals, murders and backstabbing typically found in The Black Company books, the list of atrocities is expanded to include cannibalism, human sacrifice and ritual suicide, not to mention the highly immoral and unethical manipulation of the comatose wizard Smoke.
I found the inclusion of multiple cultures to be a nice, unexpected touch. Cook goes out of his way in this book to flash out the environment and the clash of cultures embroiling the Black Company. However, I do think Cook missed an opportunity by not utilizing the characters of Lisa Bowalk and The Daughter of the Night to their fullest. Those two characters had the potential to do and be much more. Overall, a nice addition to The Black Company series with 4.0 of 5.0