Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Silver Spike, by Glen Cook

The Silver Spike
Glen Cook
Tor: 1989

When the Dominator was destroyed and Croaker left with Lady and the tattered remains of the Black Company and went south to bring the Annals back to Khatovar, some stayed behind. Raven, Case, Darling, and Silent remained in the north. Darling and Silent went East. Raven, after failing Darling one too many times, was no longer welcome around Darling until he pulled his life back together. Raven and Case stayed in the area, then traveled a little to the south.

After The White Rose Glen Cook followed The Black Company with Shadow Games, but around the same time he published Shadow Games he also published The Silver Spike. The Silver Spike is not part of the Black Company series proper, being a bit of an offshoot. It tells the story of those left behind. The Silver Spike lets the reader know that while Croaker and Lady are journeying south the world up north has not stopped and simply killing (again) The Dominator and driving the spike into the tree does not stop the evil.

Cook weaves two storylines together, as usual. First, and most obvious, is that of Raven and Case. Case narrates. Case states early on that Raven wanted him to keep a journal. Clearly, Glen Cook is following the journal / Annalist format of the other Black Company novels and is keeping things consistent. Will Raven follow Darling? Will he ever figure things out? Will Case leave Raven? What is the Dark Evil of this novel? Cook gets to it in his own time and through the other storyline. Smeds and Tully figure out how to make a big score. They'll take the silver spike of the title and sell it to the highest bidder. Simple. Except in the taking of the spike somehow The Limper is freed and everybody is looking for Smeds, Tully, Old Man Fish, and Timmy (they got partners). Eventually the storylines meet up and eventually Raven is reunited with Darling, though it is not the reunion he might have hoped for, and eventually Glen Cook builds to a great big battle against a Great Big Evil.

Somehow this all seems so much less important than the battles Croaker and the Black Company are going through down south. Yes, this is an offshoot novel, a side story, and yes there is a Great Big Evil, a crazed Limper, and the return of Toadkiller Dog. Old Man Fish is a very enigmatic character and Case's story is fine. Glen Cook tells, as usual, a straightforward story. Even though the reader does not quite know everything that is going on there are not big mysteries throughout the novel (other than what happens next). Cook does not engage in narrative trickery or obfuscate the story like Steven Erikson does by hinting at things and never explaining them. Cook tells his story and gets it done with. The issue here is that the story, or perhaps just the storytelling, was not as accomplished as it is in other Black Company novels. While the Black Company reader may wonder what ever happened to Raven, Silent, and Darling while Croaker and the Company are moving towards Khatovar, Cook reveals too much. Perhaps this is a story that did not need to be told and while Cook did the best he could with it, the best work follows the Black Company itself.

What Glen Cook does well is in giving all characters a chance to shine. Case was introduced in The White Rose, but he gets top billing here. Smeds, and Old Man Fish get prominent roles, Darling returns and her storyline plays out. Cook gives previously minor characters more supporting and larger roles. He does this in his other Black Company novels, too, and this keeps things from being stagnant.

While The Silver Spike is still a fast paced action / adventure in the style of The Black Company, it is not nearly as strong as the main Black Company sequence. It just does not stand up with the best of The Black Company. That's fine, but I had hoped for more. A less successful Black Company novel is still a good story. Cook has just told better stories than this one.


Anonymous said...

Don't agree with you. Silver Spike is my favorite Black Company book.

Tagträume des lidlosen Auges. said...

I don't agree with you here. The Silver Spike is amazing and contests even the early Black Company's early adventure. And the ongoings with the spike certainly seem more important than Croaker's fussing around at the same time in Taglios.

But what made this story so much of an enjoyment to read for me was the storyline of the four thieves, and especially Old Man FIsh (damn you Cook for never saying how/if Raven knew him) and Smeds. Smeds in particular reminds me of the amazing storyline of Marron Shed. Those four thieves seemed to me like a group of low fantasy heroes played by pen & paper players, having bitten off FAR more than they could chew.

Silver Spike is my favourite single book so far from Cook.