Saturday, May 12, 2007

Shadow Games, by Glen Cook

After the events in The White Rose the Black Company was destroyed to a handful of soldiers. Croaker, once only the Annalist and medic of the Company, is now leading the Company south to find the city the Black Company originated from. There is a mandate that when the Company is disbanded they must head south and return the Annals of the Black Company to its home city, a city which none have seen in hundreds of years. Croaker takes the remnants of the Company, which now consists of Goblin, One Eye, Murgen, Otto, and now once their enemy The Lady. Croaker takes this remnant and on their way south they start finding others willing to join the Company and by the time they get to the edge of their map where nobody will tell them what is beyond, their numbers have swollen far beyond what it once was. The Company is an army and it needs to be because they now have battles in front of them which they must fight if they hope to make it to their origins.

Croaker mentions midway through the novel that this trip South is a trip through the history of the Company. The Company, as it currently exists, knows nothing of these lands they are travelling through but these lands know of the Company and many of the memories are not positive. The historian in Croaker is fascinated, but somewhat scared because the Company must have been far more violent and harsh then they even are now. Shadow Games is the Fourth Chronicle of the Black Company and it is the First Book of the South.

Shadow Games is a marked improvement over the White Rose. While the first three Black Company novels were collectively telling the story of the Company fighting in the North and I found them to be a revelation in fantasy and outstanding, by the time Cook hit The White Rose the storytelling lost some of that fresh feeling. The story was still excellent, but it was not going to knock anyone out, even with the twists and turns and gritty soldiers on the ground action. We had seen it all before.

With Shadow Games Glen Cook brings something new to the table. The Company we knew before is gone, the focus of the Company has changed and the former enemy is a powerless ally. The fragment of the Company is traveling South through its history. Shadow Games has that fresh feeling back.

The only complaint I can raise against Shadow Games is that I really want characters who die to stay dead. Cook has done this in the past couple of novels and he does it again here. I will not spoil who is not dead, but I would really love dead characters to remain so. Outside of this, Shadow Games is a fantastic restart to the Black Company. What happens next? Only one way to find out and Black Company is essential reading. Shadow Games no less so.

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