Alchemical Words reviews Shadows Linger by author Glen Cook
In a previous post, I reviewed the first book of the series, The Black Company. Today, I’m tackling the second, Shadows Linger. This series is a unique challenge for me. It’s unlike other fantasy book series I have read and I’m still sorting out how I feel about it. I loved and hated the first installment but the story was intriguing enough that I decided to read the next book in the series.
The Black Company series of fantasy novels currently includes 10 books. I borrowed a series synopsis from The Black Company page on Wikipedia:
The series follows an elite mercenary unit, The Black Company, last of the Free Companies of Khatovar, through roughly forty years of its approximately four hundred year history. Cook mixes fantasy with military fiction in gritty, down-to-earth portrayals of the Company’s chief personalities and its struggles.
The main chronology spans nine novels, which can be grouped into three sections: The Books of the North recount the Company’s dealings with the Empire of Lady; the Books of the South follow the Company on its journey back to its beginnings in Khatovar; Glittering Stone sees the Company achieve victory over its employer’s enemies, and move on to its destiny.
Additionally, there is one spin-off novel, The Silver Spike, which follows events concerning former members of the Company and one of its adversaries.
There is rumor that Cook has two more installments in the works, titled: “A Pitiless Rain” and “A Port of Shadows” due out (tentatively) in 2015.
Synopsis of Shadows Linger
Mercenary soldiers in the service of the Lady, the Black Company stand against the rebels of the White Rose. They are tough men, proud of honoring their contracts. The Lady is evil, but so, too, are those who falsely profess to follow the White Rose, reincarnation of a centuries-dead heroine. Yet now some of the Company has discovered that the mute girl they rescued and sheltered is truly the White Rose reborn. Now there may be a path to the light, even for such as they – if they can survive it.
I found the Shadows Linger installment in The Black Company series much easier to follow. It is written in a mix of third person and first person with Croaker, the Company physician and historian, returning as narrator. Still in the employ of The Lady, the Company is on the move, heading to the Barrowlands where The Lady’s husband, The Dominator is trying to break free. En route, part of the Company is dispatched to the city of Juniper to investigate reports of strange happenings that may be connected to events in the Barrowlands.
In Juniper, Croaker finds Raven and Darling, living under assumed names and a strange, ever-growing black castle whose residents are purchasing dead and nearly dead bodies – convenient if you’ve got a pesky dead body to get rid off. The Company launches an attack on the black castle. In the confusion, Croaker and a number of the Black Company flee Juniper rather than reveal their secret to The Lady.
Two of the Ten Who Were Taken goes after them and another battle ensues with the outcome sending the Black Company on the run, waiting for the return of the Comet that will signal the downfall of The Lady.
There… a brief synopsis of Shadows Linger with as few spoilers as I could manage.
That Glen Cook can write a battle scene can be said with utmost certainty and he seems possess an intimate understanding of what it means to be a soldier. Certainly there is glory in a soldier’s life but there is also boredom, pain and death. Cook does not shy away from the messiness of a soldier’s life. In this, his hand is masterful. His portrayal is gritty and realistic. The men of Black Company are not good men but in their own way, they are honorable men that exist in a world that is not black and white, good and evil, but a tapestry of grays. Cook does not apologize for this, in fact, he revels in it and the reader gets an uncompromised, unapologetic story. We even come to care about the men of the Black Company and one death, in particular, was gasp worthy.
The development of secondary characters in Shadows Linger is quite good. However, the main characters still feel shadowy. It feels strange to have a better understanding of characters like Juniper residents, Krage and Marron Shed, than for more primary characters like Croaker or The Lady. And Raven… Raven is still an enigma even after two books.
The world in Shadows Linger is much better drawn in this second outing or perhaps my better understanding is a left over from having read the first book. And while I do understand that the books focus on the characters rather than world building, a little more attention to the world building would have been appreciated on my part.
The magic system still feels somewhat random. The rules of magic aren’t clear – the only thing that is clear is that magic is only used by wizards and sorcerers. However, beyond that distinction, the difference between individuals in regards to strength and ability is poorly explained. Is the difference due to training? In is due to some innate characteristic of the person? As someone who appreciates a well-developed magic system, I found the continued vagueness frustrating. One could argue that the magical element in unimportant compared to the other elements of the story but, if an author is going to include magic and rely on it as an important weapon then it needs to be better developed.
The story is well written and flows smoothly although the side story of Marron Shed’s misadventures with his loan shark creditors did seem to drag on after a while. For me, it reached a point that I found myself wondering: just how stupid is this character? I had to fight the urge to skim, which is an unfamiliar sensation for me. However, I will tell you that the character of Marron Shed did redeem himself for me by the end of the book.
And maybe I’m missing something but I still don’t care for Croaker as the narrator. It’s not that I don’t like the character but his narration just doesn’t do it for me. It is the chapters written in third person POV that worked the best for me. When Cook switched to third person POV, the prose sang. Well, maybe not sang but it is very, very good.
Overall, I’m giving Shadows Linger a 3.75 out of 5.0 stars. I liked it much better than The Black Company but Cook’s continuing with Croaker as the narrator and some draggy passages pulled the story down.