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.
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.