May 20 2013 9:00am

The Black Company Reread: A Revised Schedule and Primer

The Black Company by Glen Cook reread on

Thanks, all, for joining me on this trip to Khatovar. Those of you who have made this trip before know what’s coming and are probably as excited as I am about travelling to familiar locales and meeting old friends (and enemies...) once again. Those of you who are making the trip for the first time... Well, keep your eyes open and you should be fine. Just be wary of the talking menhirs, they like to play tricks on unwitting travellers.

Here’s the thing though. We’re not going to set off just yet.

I was reading through the comments, from last week’s post, and a lot of people raised a very good point about how quick this re-read was going to be. I’m in a position where I have a bit more time to read, at the moment, but I appreciate that you might not have that time. There is also a lot of meat on these books and it’s worth taking our time and chewing on it slowly. So here’s how it will go….

After today I’ll be posting my thoughts on each book every two weeks, starting with The Black Company on the 3rd of June. That should hopefully give us time to read each book and to discuss stuff in the comment thread afterwards (please feel free to point out anything that I’ve either glossed over or missed entirely—this is your re-read just as much as it is mine). This won’t be the forced march to Khatovar that some of us were dreading; it will be at a much easier pace that will let us look at the scenery as we go past. I hope this works for you all.

So, what do we do in the meantime? I’ve put together a little introductory post that should tell new travellers a little bit about the land they will be travelling through and what they can expect to find on the way....


The World of The Black Company

The world in which the Company earns its keep is basically divided into two massive continents, northern and southern. The first few books concentrate on events in the northern continent (the southern continent doesn’t really make  an appearance until much later on in the series, so I’m skipping that for now), a war-torn landmass where rebels have fought against the rule of the Lady for decades. Plenty of opportunities here, then, for a mercenary company to earn some coin, and that’s basically the set up for the first book; that and everything else that follows). It’s very much a European medieval setting with walled cities, dark forests and village taverns. It’s a very dark setting as well, full of people who are either hardened to a life of poverty in the cities or hardened to a guerilla war of attrition in the surrounding countryside. I found some maps here, but if you know of any more detailed ones, please let me know in the comments thread.


Here be Magic and Monsters….

As if life wasn’t hard enough already.... The monsters of the northern continent are mostly confined to the Plain of Fear (and mostly seem to stay in the sky), but sightings have been known to happen further afield and it would certainly be unwise to consider yourself safe in any of the cities. Just saying....

Magic is very much in use as both a weapon of war and as a means of relieving the boredom of being a soldier with nothing to do (I love those bits). Don’t bother looking for a magic system that underpins it all, though. Magic just happens, whether it’s carpets flying through the air (okay, so it’s not all medieval European, then) or demons appearing in the long grass. Words are muttered and fingers are wiggled—that’s all the magic system anyone should need really.


The Players

This part was a little more difficult to write as I don’t want to give too much away before we have even started. There’s no harm in some brief introductions, though, so here goes:

Croaker: As the Company Annalist, Croaker tells this story, so you are going to be spending a lot of time with him. It’s time well spent though, as Croaker’s thoughtful voice opens up the story in interesting ways. Forgive Croaker if he rambles a bit at times; he’s getting old and starting to wonder if there’s anything else.

The Black Company: The first book introduces individual characters but I think the Company is very much a character in its own right at the same time. Made up of many different parts, the Company still pulls together to earn its pay and follow traditions that they only partly understand. If there’s a chance for the Company to indulge its darker side, then that will happen, too. While you’re following the Company, keep an eye out for the following...

Elmo: Croaker’s best friend; handy with a sword when Croaker needs it the most.

Raven: A new addition to the Company and the main reason why bad things always seem to happen on the road to Charm. Raven will become more pivotal to the plot as the books progress.

Darling: A young refugee whom you really should keep an eye on. That’s all I’m saying for now.

Goblin and One Eye: Two of the three Company Sorcerers and most likely to be found winding each other up when not looking to make some money on the side.

Silent: The third Company Sorcerer; doesn’t say anything but is no less capable for it.

Moving away from the Black Company... The Lady pays the Company’s wages and is fighting a war against the Rebel that is actually a whole different war entirely. More on that another time. The Lady is everything that legend claims, deadly and dangerous, but as the first book progresses you’ll see that there is a really good reason why.

The Lady’s generals are the Ten who were Taken; they answer to just “The Taken.” You will get to meet most of them, in the first book, but the ones we need to concern ourselves with the most are Soulcatcher and The Limper, two Taken who are pivotal to the power play that threatens to engulf the Company in its wake.

I think that’s enough introductions for now—feel free to sound off in the comments, and let me know if I’ve missed anything major. I’ll see you back here on the 3rd of June, when the march will begin in earnest...

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.

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1. vanye111
Soulcatcher. Limper, The Hanged Man...just uttering the names brings back goosebumps and memories. I mean, seriously. The names are some of the best things about the first series. They are names to conjure with. Even later names, like Lifetaker and Widowmaker, are things to spark the imagination...
2. gibsonjd
Here's a map from the Black Company D20 setting from Green Ronin:

I picked the manual up, not because I am a role player, but because of the great info on the BC. Maps, character bios, history, the rules to Tonk...all in great detail.
Christopher Morgan
3. cmorgan
"Words are muttered and fingers are wiggled—that’s all the magic system anyone should need really."

God bless you sir.
4. bmac
"(the southern continent doesn’t really make an appearance until much later on in the series, so I’m skipping that for now)"

As a minor footnote, I believe the first book actually starts in a city on the northern edge of the southern continent - one of the Jewel Cities, independent city-states. I've always pictures them as ringing a mediterranean-like sea (I think there are Jewel Cities on both the north and south sides). As you go further south in the southern continent it becomes africa-like, though the southernmost part in the Books of the South is more like south asia / India.
Tabby Alleman
5. Tabbyfl55
I'm glad you are revising the schedule, but I was hoping that you'd actually dissect the books into smaller pieces. Just waiting 2 weeks between posts still means summarizing an entire book in one post. I'd like to see each book lavished with more lovingly detailed summaries... like a post a week that covers 3-5 chapters or so.
Graeme Flory
6. graemeflory
gibsonjd - That is a gorgeous map and I wish I'd found that instead of using the one I did. You are now the official Company Cartographer :)

bmac - The city of Beryl is right on the tip of the northern edge of the Southern continent. It doesn't feature an awful lot though, compared to where the book is set as a whole, and that's why I glossed over it a bit here. It's shame really as Beryl is one of the more well drawn cities I think. Oh well, that's what the reread is for :)

Tabbyfl55 - I'm really sorry that I'm not able to break the reread down further. It was discussed but wasn't feasible for a few reasons. What I'm hoping is that all of the detail will come out in the discussion thread afterwards which can't be a bad thing :)
Can I just say I can't wait to hear some one elses take on this?

I read Malazan first (as it was recommended by a friend) and then this (as it was recommended by Erickson) and I loved it!

While I also wish we could get it in little pieces, I will take what ever I can get.
Mark Cowell
8. mago
Really looking forward to this.
I too would have liked the books looked at in sections, but let's see how it goes.
Terence Tidler
9. libertariansoldier
As with Mago: I would prefer shorter bites, and, I will take what I can get.
Myriam Wermter
10. Phedre21
I would also have wished for a more detailed re-read. But I'll also take what I can get.

@xolot - I'm very interested in your perspective. I did it the other way around and read Black Company long before Malazan. At times I could definitely see the influence Glen Cook had on Erikson. It made me smile and appreciate both series even more.
11. sal yale barodfosky
thanks for doing this - I'm already on my third re-read.
Cyrus Freeman
12. Kosciuszko
Even a book every two weeks is going to be fast. Even so, this is the most exciting re read that I have seen so far!
13. Rviba
I think that after Book 4 (Silver Spike) the quality declined a bit (not that I don't love Books 5 and 6, but the last ones were all longer, less efficient and more like "conventional" fantasy in dwelling on magic/etc rather than the military tactics/siege that made the first 2/3 of the books so great. But that said, introducing a world magic inspired by Hinduism rather than Christianity was extremely unusual and creative, not just at the time but even now, perhaps even more original than the military/blue collar angle of the first Black Company books (way before Game of Thrones made "gritty" fantasy mainstream). Shadow Games and The Silver Spike are the standout books though. I've also read Cook's earlier stuff and his other fantasy series, but Black Company will always be his trademark work. He's also so awesome in interviews - he's a reserved, out-of-touch, grouchy old badass - the opposite of, say, GRRM who's like a (much) over-grown attention-loving teenager.

PS: Soulcatcher!!
Jeff Howard
14. Dorianin
Can't wait to see the re-read. It wasn't too long ago I finally found a copy of 'Soldiers Live', and it just brought back the sheer bliss that series was for me. Quite possibly the greatest fantasy series I have ever read.
Raphael Canaris
15. SwissArmyCheese
Signed up for this re-read.
I'll probably stop by the time we get to the Glittering Stone books, since as of yet I don't legally own those last four books.

The books feel a bit too fresh in my mind for me to try a re-read, but dang it, I missed out on too many Black Company discussions on other websites and I ain't gonna miss out on this one.
16. NotarySojac
I devoured Glen's Dread Empire books as each came out while I was in college. A friend who was also enamored of them asked - while we were waiting for the series' finale that never came - if I'd seen Cook's Black Company book. I gave it a try and by the end I was hooked. It was no Dread Empire I thought, but it would do until...

So now I'm plowing through The Black Company on my Kindle at a ferocious rate as if I'd never read it before. Our dead-tree copies are up on a shelf in the den, probably behind two other rows of paperbacks, so the convenience of the electronic version is a boon.
There are many bits and pieces that I do not remember from the first time through, and I'm not sure if the questions get answered in the next few books and I've simply forgotten.
So I'm looking forward to going through this series again as if it were all new.
Julian Augustus
17. Alisonwonderland
Like many others above, I have a hard time believing one can do justice to the books by summarizing an entire novel in each post. If any books deserve to be digested slowly and savoured, these are. How can one get a good sense of the unique interplay between, say, One-Eye and Goblin, Croaker and Raven, Soulcatcther and The Limper, etc., etc., by swallowing all of Book 1 in one gulp? I suppose if it is impossible in this re-read to take the series in smaller chunks then it can't be helped. But I would hope that at a later date Tor will find a blogger willing to commit to a chapter by chapter re-read of the series.
Tabby Alleman
18. Tabbyfl55
@17 ooh! ooh!

How do I get Tor to hire me as a blogger?
Steven Halter
19. stevenhalter
We can, of course, write as much detail down durin each two week period as we want. That is fairly fast for a whole chapter by chapter post, but I guess we could feel our way through that.
Graeme Flory
20. graemeflory
Hi AlisonWonderland,

I wish I had the time to commit to that kind of blogging but unfortunately I don't. There were also other reasons why that level of re-read wasn't an option on this occasion. In the meantime, I'm just going to try and do the books as much justice as I can and there's no reason at all why more detailed discussion can't take place in the thread after the post. In fact, I really hope it does :)

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