"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.
It’s been a while since I last checked in on the Black Company. If you had asked me several years ago whether I would enjoy really dark military science fiction in a threatening fantasy world, I would have said, “No.” And I would have been quite definite about that. But I find myself really enjoying The Black Company series and this surprises me.
The Company itself is an eclectic mix of societal rejects who have banded together as mercenaries to earn a living and provide a kind of support group for each other. You can’t really call any of them likeable, and yet you find yourself glad to see the familiar faces: Goblin, One Eye, Big Bucket, Croaker, and Murgen (who is our narrator for this section of the Annals).
Cook manages to show us how awful warfare is, how neither side is right/good, and how much brutality accompanies war, all while entertaining us with the antics of the two wizards or the negotiation attempts of Murgen with various factions within the besieged city of Dejagore (what language are they speaking today? Or more importantly, claiming not to understand). Maybe you consider the Company men to be uneducated, but then they start speaking six or seven languages or building complex structures or negotiating their way out of bad situations, and it seems that they have learned quite a bit on the job.
Although the fantasy world is mostly medieval in technology, Cook uses a modern tone to the dialog. This combination doesn’t always work for me, but in this series it seems to mesh. I already have the next book in the series teed up and ready to go!
Book number 352 in my Science Fiction and Fantasy reading project.