After reading The Black Company I think it is clear that a certain Steven Erikson, author of the fantastically good Malazan Book of the Fallen, owes a rather large debt to Glen Cook, author of The Black Company. Several ideas about the Bridgeburners, Cadre Mages, naming conventions, and even the Ascendents seem to stem from ideas that Glen Cook put down on paper in the early and mid 1980's. The Black Company is narrated by Croaker, the surgeon and annalist (keeper of the Chronicles of the Black Company) of the Black Company. Croaker is putting down in the annals the various deeds and history of the Company while he is serving and he tells us the story of the Company being betrayed in the South and so accepts a commission with The Lady. The Lady has been considered a great evil in whichever world the novel happens to be set in, but evil depends on perspective and the Company is a mercenary company. The Company heads north.
Told as a novel on the march, fighting some battles, but more often showing life in the barracks and life on the march, The Black Company shows us the experience of these extremely competent soldiers as the encounter mini-dieties (The Ten, once human and now more than mortal beings serving The Lady) on their route north and they try to fight a war which is slowly being lost by the other commands.
I’m doing a poor job explaining The Black Company. Here’s the deal. The Black Company is a straight forward telling of the Company in a world which may be reminiscent of Erikson's Malazan world. But Glen Cook tells the story straight without branching off in a dozen different directions in the hopes that the reader will follow. This can be viewed as an introduction to Steven Erikson, but it is also an outstanding fantasy novel in its own right. Take your pick. Either way, The Black Company is a dark, bleak novel of soldiers on the move and we get to meet the soldiers just as we would in a traditional military narrative. Despite being in a fantasy setting, The Black Company feels authentic.
Despite my inability to review or even describe the book, I give The Black Company a strong recommendation for fantasy readers everywhere. This is military fantasy at its finest.