Sep 16 2013 12:00pm

The Black Company Reread: She is the Darkness

Glen Cook Black Company 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.

Drew McCaffrey
1. PallonianFire
This book really built up the ending of this series, for me. After the relative slowness of Bleak Seasons, things really picked up here and the action just pulled me in. I loved all of the little tricks that Croaker and Lady pull out, from the Blade conspiracy to the bamboo 'guns' and sneaking soldiers into Overlook as part of the construction crew.

As far as the ending goes, I did not read this book when it came out, but rather as part of the Return of the Black Company compendium (let me tell you, I searched EVERYWHERE for an original copy when I finished Bleak Seasons, and all for naught), but you make a really good point about how this could have felt like the ending. Without going into spoilers, I positively LOVED the ending to Soldiers Live, but I think this would have actually made a pretty darn good finale, as well. Darker, certainly, though I'm sure it would have had a pretty resounding effect. In some ways, it would have fit perfectly with the way that the Company and Croaker seem to perpetually be screwed over; the narrative would have come full circle from The Black Company, with their employers turning on them and Soulcatcher once again taking control of their destiny.
Steven Halter
2. stevenhalter
I read this when it came out and I recall being somewhat concerned. I think my reaction was something along the lines of "AAAAA!" I see there was a year and a half gap between tis one (September 97) and Water Sleeps (March 99) and I can't recall if I managed to talk with Glen in 1998 or not and in '98 it was still hard to get news of upcoming book schedules.
But, yes that was quite a cliffhanger
3. Vanye
I read it as it came out. I was waiting, and waiting, and waiting...but I knew that this wasn't it. Originally, Glittering Stone was just going to be one book, then three, which is what it was at when SitD was published, so I knew that there was a third one coming. But oh, the waiting...
5. wyoarmadillos
I loved the cliff hanger ending. The other main thing I rememember is my copy has some publishing errors. I got shorted about 10 pages of the campaign to reach Overlook, and got about 10 pages of duplicates. I still haven't gotten around to getting it fixed.
6. Narsham
Read it when it came out, and I had no doubt in my mind there was going to be at least one more book in the series. Lady imprisoned? She got out of a similar situation before. And the Company wizards running around free? The real item for suspense was going to be how much time passed between books... both in the narrative and in real life.
7. SwissArmyCheese
As I don't own the books of Glittering Stone, I am commenting on memory...

Ky Sarha's name... Fits her beautifully. What better name for a siege survivor with a talent for seeing the future, than the phonetic sister to the phrase in romance languages that translates to "What will be will be" (Which also happens to be what Croaker writes upon first seeing Dejagore's walls and what a bitch it would be to get over them)?

The battle of Chandrapresh was a master piece. So many characters had their moments:
Uncle Doj starting the whole thing off by chalenging Mogaba to a duel, all while babbling in a language that none of the Shadowlanders could understand. Then casually walking away right before he was to be sniped by archers.
Doj and Gota storming the Deciever camp, slaughtering fifty of them.
Blade's double cross goes without saying.
Mogaba commandering a flying carpet in an effort to disable the otherwise invulnerable bastilae mounted upon siege towers.
Longshadow throwing a fit, thereby overriding Mogaba's authority and canceling his manuver to disable the siege towers.
Mogaba falling off the flying carpet
Croaker and Mogaba having an after battle chat. Only for it to be interupted when Mogaba's Nar leutenit takes a snipe at Croaker, only for Thai Dei to go "Noooo" and do a jump block with a puny shield (although, without the "Nooo" part). Then for Mogaba to make his exit with his wounded pride (and other injuries things).
8. Marc Rikmenspoel
Some readers and reviewers don't like this book. "Not enough happens," "not enough like the early books..." I really like She is the Darkness, as I mentioned in the Bleak Seasons thread.

It is the story of a campaign, as Graeme well discusses. It is also the story of Murgen overcoming his addiction to going out of his body, in part because Sahra is alive and pregnant with his child.

I also really like the cover, I think that it captures Lady perfectly. Meanwhile, Glen Cook has indicated in interviws that he IS Croaker, so that's Glen next to Lady. Indeed, it looks somewhat like the real Glen. (As an aside, Bragi Ragnarson, as seen on the original cover of All Darkness Met, is even more based on the real Glen).
9. SwissArmyCheese
On Longshadow's withdrawal from the Battle of Charandaprash, with at risk of spoiling Mogaba's character arc across later books.

In light of events of the final battle of the series, I detect an alternate motive for Longshadow's retreat. Longshadow did not flee out cowardice, as he is a mighty sourcerer, nor did he do so because the battle was lost, since he knew that Mogaba could still win it for him. Rather, the Shadowmaster fled for his people's sake.

When Murgen mentions that he didn't do justice in his writing of Chandraprash, feelings matched by Croaker on his writings of Charm, it dawned me. Charm. The battle that wiped out the manhood of an entire continent. This was Murgen's Charm.

Although Mogaba could of still won: What the Great General failed to consider, or perhaps his youthful pride overweighed such considerations, was that any victory achieved could only be a Pyrrhic one.
Following Chandraprash, Mogaba fought a gueriller war against Goblin and Bowalk. Each side pursuing scorched earth tactics in a no-win conflict which was making it hell for the locals.

Of coarse, there is the matter that the fate of the world rested on the wizard being alive and remaining part of the world of the living. This is why Longshadow's running away was his ultimate act of selfless courage.
Joseph Ash
10. TedThePenguin
I agree Longshadow is getting much more Grey than before, still NOT a nice guy, and he caused a lot of harm, but as I remember, not past the moral event horizon, like Soulcatcher, or the Dominator.

And Graeme, if youre feeling down reading this... I must have something loose in my head because I have been reading Malazan, non stop, for a couple months now. I also did read through all of The Black Company back to back, but yeah, I probably took a break after I finished that... Malazan I am thinking about turning around and starting over (I really an sick huh?)
11. SwissArmyCheese
Considering that this character died two books ago, I am not sure if I talked about him now that it would be concidered "off topic", but without further ado: The much promised (by me) Jamarah Jah!.

Lady's feud against Jah can even be traced Shadow Games, where on multiple occassions she puts every effort to put the priest in a vulnerable (and potentially) position. Despite which, Jah displayed some military prowess.
Of the f0ur Main River crossings, Jamarah Jah had responsability for Numa, where the second largest of the Shadowmaster armies, containing 3000 veterans, would attempt to cross. Unlike the defenders of the other crossings, Jah had no heavy-duty sorcerers and nor did he have any Nar centurions to sub-command his rabble of green religious fanatics 2500 strong.
Concidering not only differences in troop quality and numbers but also: that out of all the Taglian armies, Jah's was in the greatest state of exaution due to the fjord of Numa opening itself up to foot-traffic earlier than the other crossings, leading to a lack preparedness; Jah performed exeptionally well, routing the Shadowlanders while accepting ony 1500 casualties on his own army.

The fact that Jah was a priest of Khadi (who is one of Kina's aspects); coupled with how that while all but 100 of Jah's forces were drafted into the Liberator's Legions after the battle of Numa, Jah still managed to kill off 2000 Shadowlanders during Goja's rout; leads me to suspect that this particular priest might have Deciever connections. After all, Naryan did have an unusually high amount of spies in Jah's camp (in contrast to the amount of conections he has available in the cities of Dejagore and Taglios); and Lady killing Jah off kills nothing, for Kina is known to prank on her own followers.

The part about Jah fleeing with his army from the First Sally of Dejagore before the battle could be decided was a fabrication by Lady, forcause that, as gathered from the latter chapters of Shadow Games, the Shadar Priest lacked an army to committ to Dejagore in the first place.

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