May 15 2013 11:15am

The Long Road to Khatovar: A Black Company Reread

The Black Company by Glen Cook reread on

The Malazan books are said to owe a great debt to Glen Cook’s Black Company series so it was fitting, in a way, that I first became aware of the books whilst browsing Amazon and trying to decide whether to kick off my Malazan reading with Memories of Ice. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, do not start reading the Malazan books with Memories of Ice; it just doesn’t work and you only end up with a headache.) But back to the books that I actually want to talk about….

The “Black Company” was a name that hooked me right from the start, simple yet very powerful. I had to find out more about this hard-bitten band of mercenaries, signed up for a dirty war where political infighting could see them attacked by their own side just as easily as the enemy. Each book made it clear that these men were no saints themselves. Morals are easy to put down when you’re in the middle of a war and just want to survive another day; some of the Black Company though… Well, they have no morals in the first place and see war as a great way to get paid for doing what they enjoy. There is a chance at redemption though; will any of the Company take that chance and where will it lead them? Ultimately, down a long dusty road into their own past and an origin long forgotten….

It took me a while to read the Black Company books (it’s more of a challenge to hunt books down rather than order them en masse online) but read them I did and it’s an experience that has stayed with me ever since. It’s been a few years now since I last picked them up so I’m way overdue for a reread. Care to join me? Not only are the Black Company books a more than worthwhile read in their own right but it’s also a great opportunity to take a little step back in time and read a series that was doing “grim and dark” long before anyone thought of sticking the two words together. These days, the influence of the Black Company series can be seen every time a soldier in epic fantasy takes a cigarette break and ponders his own mortality, in those interminable moments before the attack and whenever that same soldier attempts to fight his own demons… and loses. Lets go back and see how it all began.

The plan then, starting next Monday, will be to read through one book a week until the series is done. That’s ten books over the next ten weeks then unless I can find any short stories (other than “Tides Elba” which will fit quite nicely in my first post) that need mentioning. They are all fairly short reads so I reckon that a week each should just about do it. If you want to come along for the whole trip then that’s brilliant, it will be great to have you along! It’s not a problem if you don’t though, the nature of the plot arcs mean that you pretty much have a choice of where you want to jump on board. If that’s what you want to do, I’ll meet you at either The Black Company, The Silver Spike, Shadow Games or Bleak Seasons. I’ll try and keep spoilers to a minimum but this is a re-read so some spoilers may well be unavoidable, we’ll see how it goes.

So then, who fancies taking a little trip to Khatovar with me?

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.

The Black Company Reread on index | next ›
Christopher Morgan
1. cmorgan
Yeah, I'm totally fan-boying over this reread, want to make something of it? I found this series while majoring in History in Undergrad, and Croaker was perfect for where I was at the time.

I can not wait to dig into Croaker's first take on the Forvalaka, their first meeting of Soul Taker. Silent, One-Eye, and Goblin! Not to mention his first blush of obsession with The Lady. Gah, so pumped for this.

I can also say that The Silver Spike was the first fantasy book to ever give me EXACTLY what I wanted, and I've never been the same.
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
I'll certainly be along. The Black Company is one of my favorite series. I've been a fan since "Raker" appeared in F&SF in August of 1982.
3. slybrarian
God damn it, Croaker, stop writing fanfic about yourself and the Lady and start talking about all that background stuff you keep skipping over. *shakes fist*
Tricia Irish
4. Tektonica
I'm looking forward to this, as I haven't read them yet...but own them ;-) I'm a huge Steve Ericson fan, and I know the comparisons are rampant. Many say SE owes Glen Cook a debt. I'm looking forward to it!.

One book per week??!!
Steven Halter
5. stevenhalter
slybrarian@3:I talked with Glen at Chicon 7 and he said that “Port of Shadows,” is a real thing and is the next Black Company novel. It will take place in the time between “The Black Company” and “Shadows Linger“.
So, there you go.
TW Grace
6. TWGrace
One a week is cramming a bit in, IMNSHO...

And I had a mad crush on Dorethea when I first read the books 30 years ago...
Robert H. Bedford
7. RobB
I read the first omnibus, still have the 2nd and 3rd omnibii on Mount Toberead, maybe this will push me to catch up with them.

Also, nice job getting this gig Graeme and welcome to the family!
8. @stacybaugher
I picked the first book up a few months back after hunting it down forever. I TRIED to read it, but I think maybe the timing wasn't right. I've felt bad everysince and feel like I didn;t give it the complete chance it deserved.

But, I'm onboard now! Let's read it! *dives into book closet to locate used copy*
David Thomson
10. ZetaStriker
I just noticed the "one book per week" guideline. That's . . . yeah, I guess I wont be catching up to this after all!
11. Jonellin Stonebreaker
About time that this series gets the attention it deserves. To the outfit so tough, so tricky that even the gods fear to mess with them!
Onward to Khatovar and the Year of the Skulls!
Kristoff Bergenholm
12. Magentawolf
You're right; this series always was oddly difficult to track down all of the books and figure out what order they went in; the omnibus' didn't really help in the matter.
Paul Go
13. greyarea
I'm been interested in The Black Company ever since I discovered that it was a major inspiration for Bungie's Myth videogames. I've not been able to hunt them down so this is a godsend. I'm looking forward to this reread.
14. Tarcanus
I am totally on board!

Though I'm a bit upset that you'll be burning through one book per week. There is definitely enough material to ponder in each book that you could at least split each in half so we can extend the Black Company goodness.
Philip Thomann
15. normalphil
Not sure how you can do Soldiers Live in a week, but I'm game to try.
17. Batonga
A friend loaned me his hardcopy of the first three books. It is today, the only hardcopy of a book I will not part with. I have read through this story many times over the years and love this series. I have bought many copies to give away, but will not part with my loaner, I love it too much.
Allana Schneidmuller
18. blutnocheinmal
So excited! I picked up the first omnibus and then had to buy the 2nd. And there weren't any more omnibuses released so I had to hunt down the rest at the library. So worth it.
19. thomrit
while the right way to read the series is to have a tattered, stained and slightly moldy copy(it gets you in the appropriate mindset for the Black Company's world) they appeared to be available for nook and kindle
20. Croaker42
Guess how much I love these books. A friend gave me a copy of "Annal's of the Black Company" back in 1987 and I have been a huge fan ever since. I have always said the similarities to the Ten Who Were Taken and the Foresaken in WOT couldn't have been a coincidence. I keep hoping Cook will release a new one. Can't wait for the re-read!
j p
21. sps49
I read the first five all at once in the mid 80s, and was pleasantly surprised when the series started up again years later.

Those first five pack a lot of action into their pages, but reading them in a week should be feasible. The South books get more verbose....
Terence Tidler
22. libertariansoldier
As with the others, I am thrilled with the re-read, and disappointed you are going to burn through it so quickly. I think each book is dense enough to be worthy of a couple of posts. Looking forward to it.
James Felling
23. Maltheos
Yeah -- a book a week is too fast. I read quickly, and I could match that speeed, but for the slower readers out there a slower pace would be good to allow them to keep up. That plus there is a LOT of meat in those books that covering them with a single weekly posting will simply not do them justice.
24. Razielsenigma
I'll definitely be along for the ride!
25. erxbooks
I reread the entire series every 4-5 years. I discovered The Black Company in 2001 read all of the books straight through. I agree that a book a week may beto fast to be able to truly digest and discuss the books.
26. Dgator
I as well had a bit of a hard time getting started on the 1st book.....but once I got through it, I was/am a huge fan for life and wish that the folks that produce the TV series "Vikings" would make a similar show of The Black Company. I am also sooooo stoked that Glen is going back to his band of cutthroats and is coming out with some more action/adventure.
27. txporter
Glad these are getting the attention they deserve.

My best Xmas present would be hardcover reissues. I fear that the omnibus editions won't hold up, and my PB's from the 90's and earlier are starting to show their age.
28. stormcrow27
Hells, yah! It' about time we had a good series get the full readthrough! No Randland, Richard of the DBZ warrior Mage/seeker summaries, or vacuous summaries of elves and dwarves and hobbits! Good, solid, dark fantasy with debates on morality, wartime decency, shapechanging, demigod Mage battles with clashing armies, and an awesome unreliable 1st person narrator. What Game of Thrones could be with more magic and less focus on teenage sex fantasies.
29. TroubleEntendre
I am AMAZINGLY excited about this. The Black Company is a series I recommend to everyone I know who reads fantasy, simply because Glenn Cook got it right decades before anyone else was even pondering the question. They're brilliant, foundational works to modern fantasy and it is thrilling to see them start to get the recognition they deserve.
30. Blackhand
Just finished the first book for the first time. I'm in for a couple, but don't read as fast as you!
31. Evilclosetmonkey
Completely stoked about the Black Company reread. I love this series! Bummed about the pace though. No way I can read along at a book per week. Not enough free time for that these days.
32. Aaron Singleton
Cook is one of my top three favorite writers, and BC is one of my favorite series, so I will be there. Can't wait for APoS. It takes place between the first and second books in the series. Can it get any better? No, it can't.
Cyrus Freeman
33. Kosciuszko
I have been hoping for this! I'm on the last omnibus now and have to say that Cook is one of the most amazing storytellers out there.
34. Tim Thraeryn
Ha. I started "The Black Company" yesterday after reading this post.

I'll likely finish it today.

The first few books, especially, are like riding a zipline through fantastic and bloody events, stopping every now and then for the moments, the waiting, between; stopping at the places where everyone has more than enough time to think about what they're doing, how they came here, and wondering if tomorrow is worth the events of today.

This is why I've read the series at least six or seven times.
Mark Cowell
35. mago
Read the first twenty or so pages ages ago and thought WTFs going on here I'll have to come back to this when I'm sober ;-)

Count me in!
36. Joe G Kushner

I get that on one hand if you're never heard of the Black Company spending the $2.99 isn't necessarily that bad a deal but then what? You can't buy the other volumes in individual format. You have to buy the big book and unless I'm mistaken, they aren't going to comp you that costs.

A real sale would be putting the Chronicles on sale itself and letting people get a better taste of it that way.
37. Cool Bev
For those who couldn't get started on the first book - I feel you. Cook tends to keep the fat trimmed way back, and if you miss a detail, you might never get back on course. I've wondered if he edits ruthlessly or just hates typing. Then he jumps from thread to thread and I kind of lose track of who we're talking about...

But the story just swept me along, and I just trusted that I'd get there in the end.
38. mago
Well it's Monday in England last time I looked. When are we starting?
Tabby Alleman
39. Tabbyfl55
Add my vote to those who say, "whooooooaaaa there", slow it down! A book a week? What's the rush???

The books may be short, but a lot happens in them...I hate to see them cheated of the detail they deserve.
Darth Agilus
40. darth.agilus
Love the Black Company! Twenty years ago it was the first series I introduced to my older brother after he got me reading Horseclans, LOTR, Thomas Covenant, Amber, Pern, Majipoor, Moorcock, and more. We've been arguing over who owns which books ever since.
Nuno Torzbeezwax
41. TheHardestTruths
This series brings back memories...the ''gritty military endless march'' storyline is used all the time in fantasy now a days, but it certainly owes its origins to Black Company...

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