Mon
Jul 22 2013 9:00am
The Black Company Reread: The Silver Spike

Black Company Silver Spike Glen Cook Before we get started, apologies once again for the gaping hole that I left in last week’s schedule. I really didn’t mean for that to happen and I’m sorry that it did. Fingers crossed that there won’t be any more (the next post will be on August 5th) Anyway…

You’ve all probably had enough of me spouting the “reread rules” by now, I’m getting tired of it, but as The Silver Spike is a (relatively) stand alone read it’s worth going over them again for anyone who’s just popping in for this post in particular.

This is where I would normally point you at Wikipedia for a handy synopsis but it has totally let me down on this score. Instead, here’s a very quick summary of my own:

All that is left of the Dominator is a silver spike embedded in the son of the God Tree. It’s not there for long, though, after a band of treasure hunters make off with the haul of their lives. What can they do with it, though? The city of Oar is in lockdown and the Limper is outside the walls with an army of his own. One thing is for sure, whoever gets their hands on the Silver Spike will be the new Dominator… Can anyone halt the malignant influence of the Silver Spike?

Not so much a synopsis as it is a blurb then but you get the general idea!

 

By the way, I’m still making the assumption that we all know the plot so there will be a danger of spoilers for the uninitiated. If, by some chance, you haven’t yet read The White Rose, then this will be even more the case (and what are you doing reading this post anyway…?)

So, here’s a question for you. When is a Black Company novel not a Black Company novel? When any mention of the remnants of the Company talk about them being just over the horizon, constantly out of reach. Yes, The Silver Spike is the only Black Company novel where Croaker and his men don’t actually feature at all. They have pressing business elsewhere, certainly far too important for them to play any part here.

This leads to some big questions then about just what The Silver Spike is doing in this series. When you look at the books, and their plot arcs, The Silver Spike almost looks like an afterthought when placed against the tight arcs of the other books. It goes without saying that this isn’t the case at all.

The fact is that the climax of The White Rose is so far reaching that it needs another book to tie off all the loose ends left over after Croaker took his seven strong Black Company southwards. And there are some pretty big loose ends to be tied off. Raven’s story needs closure for a start; he is too big a loose cannon to be left hanging around, especially with his talent for causing really big trouble. There’s Darling to consider as well, even though her powers have been nullified she is still a player big enough to warrant and ending to her own tale (especially with two powerful characters vying for her affections).

If that wasn’t enough for you, evil never stays down for long in this world and there is some business still to be taken of in this regard. It turns out that people should have made absolutely certain that the Limper was actually dead and perhaps should have considered what might happen if some treasure hunters were to retrieve the silver spike that holds the Dominator’s soul…?

So not an afterthought at all then. The Silver Spike is a very important book in this series and don’t let anyone else tell you different. It’s like Cook feels that he has to sort things out in the northern continent before he can properly turn his attention to what the Company is doing.

Darling gets a good send off, as does Case, and while the Limper is on the loose again his story isn’t concluded just yet because, well… You’ll see why later on. The Silver Spike is really all about concluding Raven’s story though and I think that’s fair enough. Raven is a larger than life character who has not only influenced the path of the Black Company but also that of Darling herself. Darling is a hard woman now and that’s directly because of her growing up on the run with the emotionally damaged Raven.

Raven has a lot to answer for, then, and Cook really puts him through the wringer before an ending that leaves us in no doubt that Raven is not coming back (one of the more powerful moments of a spectacular climactic battle). Case drags him out of a self-pitying alcoholic stupor and Darling makes it really clear where he stands with her now. The moment when Raven meets his children though… That was the real powerful moment from where I was sitting and I couldn’t help but feel for a man who had made all the wrong choices and clearly didn’t have it in him to accept a way back into his daughter’s life.

I think the girl figured it out about then. She got real carefully interested in Raven. But she didn’t say anything to her brother.

Just before the girl went over the side she turned and told me, “If my father was alive today he wouldn’t have to fear that he would be unwelcome in his daughter’s house.” Then she went.

Cook draws a line under Raven, in this book, and the reader is left reflecting on a character that really struggled with his limitations but generally did the right thing (despite himself sometimes).

Even all of this isn’t enough for Cook though who also uses The Silver Spike to continue exploring themes arising from warfare. The Black Company gave us warfare spanning an entire continent whilst Shadows Linger got all up close and personal with infiltration and intrigue. The White Rose was all about the Last Stand and The Silver Spike gives us the aftermath of war. This is a time when people will do anything to survive in the rubble and human greed will risk sparking everything off again.

This is the tale of Tully and Smeds Stahl, Timmy Locan and Old Man Fish; treasure hunters who end up with a lot more than they bargained for in the silver spike. I think this sub-plot is my favourite in the book. I came to The Silver Spike wanting to know more about my favourite characters and I loved the sheer pointlessness of the Black Company being chased by the Limper, being chased by Toadkiller Dog, being chased by Darling’s people… all for it to come to nothing. Smeds’ story though? This is Cook at his best, telling the tale of a man plumbing the depths of depravity and then finding his way back to some kind of redemption (just like my man Marron Shed).

I know we had this discussion, a few posts ago, but did Smeds’ depravity really have to be illustrated by paedophilia? I get some of the arguments, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t necessary here. Anyway... I loved the sense of paranoia rampant in a group that is on the edge of imploding under the pressure of having the entire city of Oar looking for what they have—a city full of people who are just as paranoid. Whilst cooler heads prevail at times (Old Man Fish in particular, more on him in a bit), things still keep going wrong (isn’t that the way sometimes…) and the pressure grows higher. Cook creates a really tense atmosphere more than apt for a city under threat from inside and out. When this reread reaches its end, I have a feeling that The Silver Spike will rank fairly highly in my “favourite reads” for this very reason.

Having said all of this though, the thing that really sticks in my head about The Silver Spike is Cook basically telling us that life and warfare aren’t fair at all. Things happen because they happen; it doesn’t have to be fair or just. You can be on top of your game and have an answer for every situation and then… (Pretty Big Spoiler Coming Up)

It was not right that Fish should have fallen to cholera after taking the worst that could be thrown by the world’s nastiest villains. But there was no justice in this existence.

And war? War isn’t there to teach us a lesson or be symbolic of something or other; it’s there because some people know that they can take what they want by force of arms and it all goes downhill from there. Don’t look for a lesson because there isn’t one there.

I kept glancing back at the burning windwhale till we got too far into the woods to see it. It seemed to me there had to be some kind of lesson there, some kind of symbolism, but I couldn’t unravel it.

The Silver Spike then, a book that really holds its own (in this series) in terms of being bleak, depressing (in terms of just what evil people will do), and important to the series as a whole. There is enough background to make this a stand alone read but then you would just be missing out on the three excellent reads that come before it.

That’s me for this week, I know I haven’t covered everything here so please feel free to keep the discussion going in the comments. I will do my best to stop by and chip in here and there. See you next time!


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 Graeme’s SFF.

6 comments
Steven Halter
1. stevenhalter
Good review Graeme. I agree that even though it doesn't follow the main Company, it is quite important to the tale.
In addition to the parts you mention, it also resolves the tales of Silent and Toadkiller Dog.
Graeme Flory
2. graemeflory
Thanks Steven and a good point regarding Toadkiller Dog and Silent. This post was written at speed and these two fell through the cracks when they really shouldn't have done.
Steven Halter
3. stevenhalter
As I was refreshing my memory of this on the net, I noticed there used to be a nice wiki for Glen at GlenCook.org. It looks like it doesn't exist in real time anymore, but you can find it at the wayback machine at:
web.archive.org/web/20070427104156/http://www.glencook.org/index.php/Main_Page
Someone put a lot of work into that.
Alicia Dodson
4. LynMars
I really liked this one. I liked Case's voice. I liked knowing what happened at the Temple, that Croaker's chronicles only hint at. What would the Company have thought if they knew they were being pursued by Limper and Toadkiller Dog, and their old friends Darling, Silent, Raven, Bomanz (also left out of the summary; his story wraps up here too), and the Plains' creatures.

I also liked Darling's continued dealings with the Old Tree's minions, and the idea that even without her Null, she's a formidable leader and can take on trouble like imperial wizards and the Limper. The obvious attraction with Case was also handled well, I thought, particularly with Silent and Raven acting like such loons over it all.

I do like Smeds, despite his preference for young girls. Possibly partly the world too; Case mentions that Darling, in her mid-20s, would have been bearing children for 10 years had she lived a typical farmgirl life. Smeds' prefers girls younger than typical marrying age--and it's still disgusting, enough to jar me whenever it came up--but it's also distressingly telling in this setting how very few bat an eye about his predilections. But he does remind me of Shed (even their commonly used names are similar), and his arc and dealings with the other treasure hunters was great. I was happy with his ending, and likewise mourned for Old Man Fish. Tommy's death was sad too. Tully had it coming--and it's interesting that we're made to feel far more sympathy and root on a pedophile than a man who's worst crimes were being a greedy coward. Yeah, stealing the Spike was Tully's idea, but he'd have just been empty talk and gone home without the others.

It felt like, on reading, that this was yet another Company Annal, and I felt vindicated in that when Otto and Hagop bring back news from the empire in a later book, obliquely mentioning these events and what happened to the Brothers who left at the Barrowlands. They seem to bring back Case's journal, or a copy of it, and whatever they learned about Smeds' group.

Because these people are part of the Company, and its history, and they deserve to be given their sort of immortality, so their passings must be recorded as well. You don't ever really leave the Company, after all.
Graeme Flory
5. graemeflory
You're right, I did leave out Bomanz but only as it felt that the story wasn't too bothered in itself. Bomanz felt like he was on the periphery for most of the book and his passing felt like a 'blink and you'll miss it' type affair.

I also get where you're coming from about Smeds and him being a product of his world (and I never got that connection with Shed's name, I like that) but it just jars that little bit too much for me. Maybe it's meant too, I don't know, although it's a really good point that we feel sympathy for him over people whose crimes don't match up.

I never saw this book as an Annal but, the more I think about it, the more I can see you're right. These people were Company and so their passing had to be recorded. I'll be keeping an eye open for Otto and Hagop...
SwissArmyCheese
6. SwissArmyCheese
Speaking of Shed, I probably should of posted this back in the day when we were doing Shadows Linger but I'll just tell myself it is because of spoiler country.
"Raven nodded. “Croaker.”
Shed shivered. The name sounded sinister when Raven translated it. “He some kind of hired killer?”
Raven laughed softly. “No. Actually, he’s a physician. Halfway competent, too."
The way Raven laughs off the idea of Croaker going out of his way to hurt him, just makes the moment when Croaker shoots his leg more powerful.

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