Alchemical Words reviews The White Rose by author Glen Cook.
The White Rose is the third book in The Black Company fantasy book series by Glen Cook. Following the debacle at Juniper, the Black Company has fled, hiding from The Lady in a place known as The Plain of Fear, a vast desert plain that is literally chock-full of magical, non-human creatures.
We are introduced creatures such as Old Father Tree, a god manifested as a tree planted in the exact center of the plain, Menhirs, monolithic stones that move and speak when they choose, gaseous windwhales and enormous manta rays that fly and a whole host of fascinating creatures I have never encountered before.
The Black Company has literally holed up in the Plain of Fear, as the White Rose rebuilds and plans the rebellion against The Lady’s empire. Things start to change when Croaker begins to receive letters regarding a wizard called Bomanz and the story kicks into high gear with the arrival of the characters Tracker and Toad Killer Dog who bear a letter for Croaker which tells them that the wizard Bomanz knows The Lady’s true name which, for those unfamiliar with wizard lore, is the one way in which a powerful wizard or sorcerer can be defeated, their power stripped away forever. The White Rose sends Croaker and Company to the Barrowlands to find the wizard Bomanz and the information she needs to defeat The Lady one and for all.
Meanwhile, in the Barrowlands, the Dominator is once again trying to break out of the barrow in which he is imprisoned. The various sides come together in the Barrowlands with death, magic and mayhem soon to follow.
I’m going to stop here because at this point, continuing on with a detailed summary would contain so may spoilers, sharing would take the fun out of reading the book for yourself. This book concludes the original Black Company trilogy.
Synopsis of The White Rose:
She is the last hope of good in the war against the evil sorceress known as the Lady. From a secret base on the Plains of Fear, where even the Lady hesitates to go, the Black Company, once in service to the Lady, now fights to bring victory to the White Rose. But now an even greater evil threatens the world. All the great battles that have gone before will seem a skirmishes when the Dominator rises from the grave.
I liked this installment of the series the best so far. It is dark, gritty and surprising in the way it plays out. The Plain of Fear was wonderfully surreal and Cook is once again unafraid to show us that the life of soldier is a balance between battles and boredom. We finally get the backstory of The Lady and the Dominator – who they were and how they ended up where they are now. We also get the story of the wizard Bomanz and realize that nothing is what it seemed.
One review I read of this installment in the Black Company series described it as “New Weird.” After researching this term, I found these definitions:
…a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy…
…fiction that subvert cliches of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends, breaking down the barriers between fantasy, science fiction and supernatural horror…
While The White Rose does have a surreal feel to it, especially when compared to the first two books of the series, having read a lot of fantasy, I don’t think I would categorize The White Rose as “New Weird.” It is, however, very, very different than the two preceding novels of the series. Magical elements take a much more prominent role in this book while at the same time, epic battles of military strength take a back seat.
The characters are well-drawn and realistic with the only thing somewhat out-of –whack being the character of Raven who has changed dramatically from the first two books… changed almost to the point of being unrecognizable as the same character. I’m not sure why Cook chose to do this but the difference is noticeable. What happens with Raven reminds me of the character Matt Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series. Somewhere about ¾ the way through the series, the character changes inexplicably. (Sigh… the vagaries of a book series, I suppose.)
The narrator for the first person POV chapters changes from Croaker to a new character, Philodendron Case. I liked the narrator voice of the character Philodendron Case far more than I did the narration of Croaker in the first two books. For some reason, I just found him more personable as a narrator.
One of my favorite new characters was the wizard Bomanz. By learning Bomanz’s story, we get better development of the magic system in place and, as such, the explanation of White Rose’s ability to defeat The Lady and her magic is well thought out and believable.
The characters of The Lady and Croaker are filled in and better defined. We get to see both the softer side and the hard edges. Cook takes them from characters that almost seemed like caricatures (The Lady is evil, Croaker is “good”) to characters that feel human. After all, sometimes a bad guy needs an occasional hug too, right?
There are twists, turns, a number of gasp worthy deaths and an ending that was unexpected, which is always satisfying. The story moved a lot faster and was easier to follow. There was good development of the new characters and the returning characters were fleshed out nicely. In my opinion, this book redeemed the first two installments.
Overall, I’m giving The White Rose a 3.75 out of 5
Have you read this fantasy series? What are your thoughts?