Alchemical Words reviews Shadow Games by author Glen Cook.
Since I read all of The Black Company Books currently published in succession, I’m continuing with Shadow Games, the fifth book in the series following the out-rider novel, The Silver Spike. The story picks up with The Black Company following the The White Rose.
Synopsis of Shadow Games
After the devastating battle at the Tower of Charm, Croaker leads the greatly diminished Black Company south, in search of the lost Annals. The Annals will be returned to Khatovar, eight thousand miles away, a city that may exist only in legend…the origin of the first Free Companies.
Every step of the way, the Company is hounded by shadowy figured and carrion-eating crows. As they march every southward, through bug infested jungle, rivers dense with bloodthirsty pirates, and cities, dead and living, haunted by the passage of the Company north, their numbers grow until they are thousands strong.
But always they are watched–by the Shadowmasters–a deadly new enemy: twisted creature that deal in darkness and death: powerful, shadowy creatures bent on smothering the world in their foul embrace. This is the first round in a deadly game, a game that the Black Company cannot ea hope to win.
After defeating the Dominator at the Barrowlands, the Black Company has been nearly decimated. At the beginning of the story, it is down to just six men: Croaker, physician, Black Company historian, and the newly elected captain, Goblin and One-Eye, the Black Company wizards, the veteran soldiers, Otto and Hagop, and Murgen, the company standard bearer. The Lady, not despondent and depressed, follows along with the company as she attempts to cope with her changed life circumstances.
With the Company down to just a few men and without purpose or employer, Croaker decides to make a pilgrimage to Khatovar, the long lost birthplace of the Black Company and return the Company annals. The Company heads south, finding a number of missing annals along the way but while the recovered annals give them some insight into the Company’s history, the annals that contain the story of the Company’s beginning and the location of Khatovar are still missing.
They continue south through swamps and jungles, eventually arriving at the city of Gea-Xle. (Side note: Several member of the Company complain about how hard Gea-Xle is to pronounce. I found myself wishing that Cook had included a pronunciation somewhere. If any one has any idea about the pronunciation of this name, please comment!) In Gea-Xle, the company finds the Nar, a warrior caste that also happen to be the offspring of previous Company members.
The Nar, lead by a man named Mogaba, going the remains of the Black Company as they continue south in search of Khatovar. They eventually reach a city-state called Taglios and go into the employ of the rulers, the Prahbrindrah Drah and his sister, Radisha Drah who are under threat of invasion by a group of sorcerers known as Shadowmasters. The Black Company starts to recruit and train, rebuilding as they prepare to face the Shadowmasters. Then things get fun.
Out of all the Black Company books I’ve read so far, I like this one the best. We have a returning cast of familiar characters such as The Lady and Croaker, which we get to know much better. I always like it when I can get a handle on what motivates a character and Cook doesn’t disappoint.
One Eye and Goblin are just as funny and curmudgeonly as ever. The characters of Blade, Willow Swan and Cordy Mather were good additions although my favorite new characters were Smiley, a new female recruit who is every bit as much a badass as the regular Company men and surprisingly, the imp, Frogface. I wish I could tell you what it was about Frogface that clicked for me but I’ve thought about it for a while now and I still can’t put a finger on it.
Once again, Taken reappear and cause a lot of problems. I’m beginning to think that The Ten Who Were Taken can’t die. I mean, how many times do you have to kill an evil sorcerer before they are well and truly dead?
The character, Mogaba, is possibly the most significant addition to the story. Cook develops this character exquisitely beginning in this book and continuing through the next several installments.
The wizard Smoke, court wizard of Prahbrindrah and Radisha Drah is another noteworthy addition to the cast.
The one thing that really worked for me was using the standard bearer, Murgen, as narrator. This character is something of a blend between Croaker and Philodendron Case from The Silver Spike. His voice is believable, reliable and likable. I think Cook made an excellent choice to move away from Croaker and to this new narrator.
In the beginning, this series was a regular slogfest for me (Sorry, Mr. Cook, I wish I felt differently) But here’s the thing, as much as I didn’t like the way the first books were told, I became fascinated with the story and I stuck with it. And as the series has progressed, my patience has been richly rewarded many times over. The book isn’t that long, Amazon gives a page count of 311 but my trusty iPad says it’s 455 pages. Cook covers a lot of ground in those pages and sets up the next several chapters in the life of The Black Company.
This installment in the series basically goes about setting up and laying the groundwork for the next several books. Exotic locations, backstabbing, betrayals and mistaken assumptions create unexpected plot twists. More details are filled in concerning the magic system in place. But most importantly, the ending is truly gasp-worthy (I did, I seriously gasped!) and well worth the read. Overall, I’m giving Shadow Games 4.0 out of 5.0