The Black Company Reread on Tor.com

The Black Company Reread: She is the Darkness

So my wife saw me reading this the other day, took one look at it and said, “that looks like Michael Jackson on the cover.” Now I’ve seen it, it can’t be unseen so now I have no choice but to share it with everyone. Enjoy…

Anyway. After giving myself a massive headache trying to get my head around Bleak Seasons (seriously, drums pounding behind my eyeballs, the works) I was a little wary about She is the Darkness. There’s also the point that it has been years since I’ve read a series all the way through like this and, eight books in now, I’m starting to experience a little fatigue. That’s not to say that I haven’t had a great time re-reading, because I have. Let’s just say that I might be breaking out the “emergency David Eddings books,” once the reread is done, for a little lighter reading.

Having made it through She is the Darkness, I’d say that things are kind of back on the right track (in more ways than one). If Bleak Seasons was Crossroads of Twilight (trying to draw stuff together but not a lot actually happening) then She is the Darkness is Knife of Dreams (an unwieldy cast is prodded into moving towards a conclusion); there’s good stuff happening but it is slow work getting there… That’s the last of the Wheel of Time comparisons by the way, that was as far as I got with the series.

Before we kick things off, there’s a very slight change to the established rules today—namely that I am going to be even more spoilery than I am normally. Wikipedia let me down, and there is no handy summary to refer back to. Hence, I’ll probably be talking more about things that actually happen as well as what I thought of them. I think we’ve all made it far enough not to mind a few spoilers but thought I’d tell you anyway, just in case.

If we’re all good then let’s go…

She is the Darkness is one hell of a slog to get through, for me anyway, as Cook really captures that long drawn out feeling of a siege that is going nowhere fast. I’ll swear that I could actually feel the minutes ticking by every now and then. Not surprising really given how much work Cook has had Longshadow put into building and fortifying Overlook. I’m a big fan of how Cook presents his battles and sieges; they’re brutal, to the point (a sharp point), and he really gets what it is to be a soldier in these scenarios (captures the boredom as much as the battle). It’s a massive siege though and I found it tough to keep going here but the fact that I ended up really loving this book made it work, just.

She is the Darkness is the book that should be right at the end of the series. It’s the book where everything finally starts to work out and objectives are either achieved or about to be. Everything looks like it’s starting to wrap up and then… BANG! Soulcatcher traps most of the Black Company in a stasis field and the Radisha is trying to mop up what’s left. Suddenly the story isn’t quite over after all. I was lucky enough to read the series all the way through so I knew there were two more books to come. How about you guys? Anyone here read the series as it was published? How did you feel reading that ending? Given Cook’s penchant for “grim and gritty,” did anyone think that he was ending the series right there? That would have been a really brave finale to bow out on.

There’s a lot to see in the meantime though and, thankfully, it’s not all about the siege and its outcome. I mean, it is but Cook fills the narrative with lots of little surprises (and a couple of big ones) that kept me very interested. First up for me, and perhaps the one that stuck most of all, is that Croaker isn’t actually a bad general after all. We all know that his first major engagement led to him severely over-reaching and leaving most of the Old Crew stuck in Dejagore as a result. This is a whole new Croaker we’re dealing with now, a man with years of dealing with Taglian politics and a man fully prepared to wipe out the last of the Shadowlanders in order to have his revenge on Narayan Singh. He’s dark and he’s driven but there’s still a little part of him that wishes things were the way they were before. I couldn’t help but feel for a guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders and still keeping Khatovar firmly in his thoughts.

“I don’t like it Murgen.”

“What don’t you like?”

“Being Captain. I wish I could have stayed Annalist and physician. There’s less pressure.”

Croaker is a man of few words (from Murgen’s perspective) and the fact that he says this much really speaks volumes.

Sorry, went off on a little tangent there. All of a sudden Croaker is a great general who proves more than a match for Mogaba (how long can Mogaba get away with switching sides? I really want him to get his now) and reveals that the whole rivalry with Blade was a front designed to keep the Taglian religious factions concentrating their forces elsewhere (and slowly losing them).

“Nowhere in the annals was there a con to match this con. And this one Croaker had created for himself. He would laugh up his sleeve for a long time, knowing that Mogaba could not have imagined him capable of such an unprecedented move.”

I never saw this coming but wasn’t all that surprised when it did happen. Nice move though by Croaker. I wasn’t so sure about his treatment of the Prahbrindrah Drah though—get the guy on-side (while he’s away from the Radisha), don’t alienate him. Croaker’s “semi-alliance” with Soulcatcher was a bit of an odd one to call as well, him taking advice every now and then. I liked the way that it all tied into a situation where it felt like everyone (on both sides) was working together to bring down Longshadow, even if they were all doing it for their own reasons. Consulting with the Company’s oldest and worst enemy though? Fair play to Croaker for making it work as long as it did but there was only one way it was going to end up, and it did.

The other big surprise is one that I never saw coming at all. One final chance to look away if you don’t like spoilers…Sahra is alive! Yay for a vaguely happy bit amongst all the gloom and backstabbing. Not only does it raise new questions about the Nyueng Bao but it also makes for an interesting sub-plot with Murgen trying to get word to her without anyone else knowing. And there’s a soft old part of me that was happy to see Murgen have a little bit of hope again. Yeah, I know…

And the Daughter of Night… She isn’t really a surprise, at all, but is worth mentioning as this is the first time we really get to see her in any depth.

“The child was barely four but her eyes were windows to the very heart of darkness. It seemed almost as if her monster goddess Kina sat behind those hollow pupils.”

“The thing inside was ages older and darker than the dirty, skinny man who served as her guardian.”

Cook doesn’t say that much about her but he really makes every single word count here (reminds me of a child at one of my daughter’s playgroups…). It also goes to show how devious Soulcatcher can be to make off with the Daughter of Night (and put her over her knee while she’s about it).

A little bit more of the mythology, around Kina and Khatovar, starts to come to the fore but I haven’t quite got my head around that enough to say too much here. What’s clear is that we’re going to get the full picture in Water Sleeps and I can’t wait to get started. It’s been a hell of a build up and we’re left on one hell of a cliffhanger. I can’t remember a thing about Water Sleeps so I’m hoping that the pay-off is worth it.

“She had won. After an age, she had won. She had put her sister down. The world was her toy at last.”

So two more books to go and then the whole picture should become clear. That’s me for this week and I’m already frantically reading Water Sleeps to try and make some sense of the mythology stuff that is going on. I’m out of time, out of space and well aware that there are bits that I’ve either had to gloss over or haven’t mentioned at all. That’s where you guys hopefully come in. Please feel more than free to leave comments in the usual place. Tell me what I’ve missed, tell me what I’ve read wrong, and you can even say “Happy Birthday” because it’s mine today. I’ll see you all in a fortnight for Water Sleeps.


Graeme Flory is a London-based writer and lover of fantasy and science fiction literature. Read his book reviews at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review and at his blog.

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