Fantasy Round 41: The Black Company
This book was fun. Or, rather, books; a colleague from work loaned me the whole triology in one volume (thanks, Unmesh!). Although there are many books in this series by Glen Cook, the trilogy includes The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose.
The books follow the exploits of the eponymous Black Company, a group of highly skilled (and highly amoral) mercenaries.
As you might expect, the books have quite a bit of black and gray morality. It gets dark and gruesome. And, I’m going to spoil parts of the ending of the trilogy so… you know. You have been warned.
Scarier Than Ringwraiths
The Taken are fascinating.
Short for The Ten Who Were Taken (at least in the first book), they are the highest minions of The Dominator and The Lady. They are wizards twisted and corrupted into their service.
Each one is different. Each one, created by being killed and resurrected and killed again, until brought under either The Dominator’s or The Lady’s direct control. We get to see this process occur once during the story, and it is brutal. The Lady takes Whisper, a wizard general leading a rebellion… and forces her to change sides.
The other Taken have similarly evocative names. Soulcatcher, probably-a-woman dressed all in black, who speaks with many different voices. Shapeshifter, a great shambling mass who appears as he desires. Limper, who is a mummified corpse behind his mask.
They are terrifying and fasinating all at once. There are flickers of the humanity they once had, now and then, which the Black Company soldiers rarely dare comment upon.
Thematically, they remind me of the ringwraiths from Lord of the Rings — except scarier, and with more variety.
Interestingly, the power structure reminds me of Lord of the Rings as well, if you put the Lady in for Saruman, and The Dominator for Sauron. Which tells you that they’re opposed to each other, with the Lady the less powerful. At least in this version, the Lady is smart enough to recruit some help in dealing with the Dominator’s threat, which she correctly notes is more a danger to the world than she is.
I loved these.
The Taken and the Lady are regularly shown flying around on literal flying carpets. They’re attached to wooden frames, and lifted up using magic. Stability is an issue like with a canoe, and for fast or heavily loaded trips, you’ll want to secure yourself with a rope. It all makes a certain amount of sense.
Even better, the last book introduces Darling as The White Rose, essentially as an anti-wizard — all magic stops when it gets too close to her. To manage this risk, the Lady equips her flying carpets with mechanical controls — allowing a co-pilot to take over control when she or one of the Taken can no longer use magic to do so. She also commissions some carpets with domes to keep the air in, allowing them to flying much higher… over the anti-magic zone.
Not With A Bang…
It really does feel like the trilogy ends on a whimper.
Both the Lady and the White Rose have their powers wiped out at the end when someone performs the appropriate incantation using their true names.
For the Lady, this was a foreshadowed outcome. There was a large amount of plot dedicated to people trying to figure out her true name, as well as the Dominator’s.
The White Rose? Not only was there no foreshadowing the Lady suddenly known the White Rose’s true name, I don’t know where she could have discovered it. Darling/the White Rose likely didn’t even know it herself, as she is completely deaf. All her relatives were killed during one of the rebellions against the Lady. Presumably, there would have been very limited records associated with her birth as a peasant, especially after her villaged was wiped off the map.
I’m kind of annoyed at that. It really felt like it came out of the nowhere.
Worse is the reaction after the Lady and the White Rose are depowered. The narrator, Croaker, talks about how it’s going to be awkward for them now, being women used to having power. I… I’m kind of annoyed by that. Seriously. This would take some getting used to even if they were men.
I know this is referring to the heavily sexist culture which these stories occur, but still. Darling/the White Rose may no longer have her anti-magic zone, but she is still a tactical genius, and the Lady has centuries of experience at political manipulation. Come on. How could you expect them not to continue to have some impact on the world?