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The Black Company: The First Novel of 'The Chronicles of The Black Company' [Mass Market Paperback]

Glen Cook
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (113 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 15 1992 Chronicle of the Black Company (Book 1)
Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead.
Until the prophesy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her...
So begins one of the greatest fantasy epics of our age—Glen Cook's Chronicles of the Black Company.

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About the Author

Born in 1944, Glen Cook grew up in northern California, served in the U.S. Navy, attended the University of Missouri, and was one of the earliest graduates of the well-known "Clarion" workshop SF writers. Since 1971 he has published a large number of SF and fantasy novels, including the "Dread Empire" series, the occult-detective "Garrett" novels, and the very popular "Black Company" sequence that began with the publication of The Black Company in 1984. Among his SF novels is A Passage at Arms.

After working many years for General Motors, Cook now writes full-time. He lives near St. Louis, Missouri, with his wife Carol.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One:LEGATE
There were prodigies and portents enough, One-Eye says. We must blame ourselves for misinterpreting them. One-Eye's handicap in no way impairs his marvelous hindsight.
Lightning from a clear sky smote the Necropolitan Hill. One bolt struck the bronze plaque sealing the tomb of the forvalaka, obliterating half the spell of confinement. It rained stones. Statues bled. Priests at several temples reported sacrificial victims without hearts or livers. One victim escaped after its bowels were opened and was not recaptured. At the Fork Barracks, where the Urban Cohorts were billeted, the image of Teux turned completely around. For nine evenings running, ten black vultures circled the Bastion. Then one evicted the eagle which lived atop the Paper Tower.
Astrologers refused readings, fearing for their lives. A mad soothsayer wandered the streets proclaiming the imminent end of the world. At the Bastion, the eagle not only departed, the ivy on the outer ramparts withered and gave way to a creeper which appeared black in all but the most intense sunlight.
But that happens every year. Fools can make an omen of anything in retrospect.
We should have been better prepared. We did have four modestly accomplished wizards to stand sentinel against predatory tomorrows--though never by any means as sophisticated as divining through sheeps' entrails.
Still, the best augurs are those who divine from the portents of the past. They compile phenomenal records.
Beryl totters perpetually, ready to stumble over a precipice into chaos. The Queen of the Jewel Cities was old and decadent and mad, filled with the stench of degeneracy and moral dryrot. Only a fool would be surprised by anything found creeping its night streets.
* * *
I had every shutter thrown wide, praying for a breath off the harbor, rotting fish and all. There wasn't enough breeze to stir a cobweb. I mopped my face and grimaced at my first patient. "Crabs again, Curly?"
He grinned feebly. His face was pale. "It's my stomach, Croaker." His pate looks like a polished ostrich egg. Thus the name. I checked the watch schedule and duty roster. Nothing there he would want to avoid. "It's bad, Croaker. Really."
"Uhm." I assumed my professional demeanor, sure what it was. His skin was clammy, despite the heat. "Eaten outside the commissary lately, Curly?" A fly landed on his head, strutted like a conqueror. He didn't notice.
"Yeah. Three, four times."
"Uhm." I mixed a nasty, milky concoction. "Drink this. All of it."
His whole face puckered at the first taste. "Look, Croaker, I.…"
The smell of the stuff revolted me. "Drink, friend. Two men died before I came up with that. Then Pokey took it and lived." Word was out about that.
He drank.
"You mean it's poison? The damned Blues slipped me something?"
"Take it easy. You'll be okay. Yeah. It looks that way." I'd had to open up Walleye and Wild Bruce to learn the truth. It was a subtle poison. "Get over there on the cot where the breeze will hit you--if the son of a bitch ever comes up. And lie still. Let the stuff work." I settled him down.
"Tell me what you ate outside." I collected a pen and a chart tacked onto a board. I had done the same with Pokey, and with Wild Bruce before he died, and had had Walleye's platoon sergeant backtrack his movements. I was sure the poison had come from one of several nearby dives frequented by the Bastion garrison.
Curly produced one across-the-board match. "Bingo! We've got the bastards now."
"Who?" He was ready to go settle up himself.
"You rest. I'll see the Captain." I patted his shoulder, checked the next room. Curly was it for morning sick call.
I took the long route, along Trejan's Wall, which overlooks Beryl's harbor. Halfway over I paused, stared north, past the mole and lighthouse and Fortress Island, at the Sea of Torments. Particolored sails speckled the dingy grey-brown water as coastal dhows scooted out along the spiderweb of routes linking the Jewel Cities. The upper air was still and heavy and hazy. The horizon could not be discerned. But down on the water the air was in motion. There was always a breeze out around the Island, though it avoided the shore as if fearing leprosy. Closer at hand, the wheeling gulls were as surly and lackadaisical as the day promised to make most men.
Another summer in service to the Syndic of Beryl, sweating and grimy, thanklessly shielding him from political rivals and his undisciplined native troops. Another summer busting our butts for Curly's reward. The pay was good, but not in coin of the soul. Our forebrethren would be embarrassed to see us so diminished.
Beryl is misery curdled, but also ancient and intriguing. Its history is a bottomless well filled with murky water. I amuse myself plumbing its shadowy depths, trying to isolate fact from fiction, legend, and myth. No easy task, for the city's earlier historians wrote with an eye to pleasing the powers of their day.
The most interesting period, for me, is the ancient kingdom, which is the least satisfactorily chronicled. It was then, in the reign of Niam, that the forvalaka came, were overcome after a decade of terror, and were confined in their dark tomb atop the Necropolitan Hill. Echoes of that terror persist in folklore and matronly admonitions to unruly children. No one recalls what the forvalaka were, now.
I resumed walking, despairing of beating the heat. The sentries, in their shaded kiosks, wore towels draped around their necks.
A breeze startled me. I faced the harbor. A ship was rounding the Island, a great lumbering beast that dwarfed the dhows and feluccas. A silver skull bulged in the center of its full-bellied black sail. That skull's red eyes glowed. Fires flickered behind its broken teeth. A glittering silver band encircled the skull.
"What the hell is that?" a sentry asked.
"I don't know, Whitey." The ship's size impressed me more than did its flashy sail. The four minor wizards we had with the Company could match that showmanship. But I'd never seen a galley sporting five banks of oars.
I recalled my mission.
I knocked on the Captain's door. He did not respond. I invited myself inside, found him snoring in his big wooden chair. "Yo!" I hollered. "Fire! Riots in the Groan! Dancing at the Gate of Dawn!" Dancing was an old time general who nearly destroyed Beryl. People still shudder at his name.
The Captain was cool. He didn't crack an eyelid or smile. "You're presumptuous, Croaker. When are you going to learn to go through channels?" Channels meant bug the Lieutenant first. Don't interrupt his nap unless the Blues were storming the Bastion.
I explained about Curly and my chart.
He swung his feet off the desk. "Sounds like work for Mercy." His voice had a hard edge. The Black Company does not suffer malicious attacks upon its men.
* * *
Mercy was our nastiest platoon leader. He thought a dozen men would suffice, but let Silent and me tag along. I could patch the wounded. Silent would be useful if the Blues played rough. Silent held us up half a day while he made a quick trip to the woods.
"What the hell you up to?" I asked when he got back, lugging a ratty-looking sack.
He just grinned. Silent he is and silent he stays.
The place was called Mole Tavern. It was a comfortable hangout. I had passed many an evening there. Mercy assigned three men to the back door, and a pair each to the two windows. He sent another two to the roof. Every building in Beryl has a roof hatch. People sleep up top during the summer.
He led the rest of us through the Mole's front door.
Mercy was a smallish, cocky fellow, fond of the dramatic gesture. His entry should have been preceded by fanfares.
The crowd froze, stared at our shields and bared blades, at snatches of grim faces barely visible through gaps in our face guards. "Verus!" Mercy shouted. "Get your butt out here!"
The grandfather of the managing family appeared. He sidled toward us like a mutt expecting a kick. The customers began buzzing. "Silence!" Mercy thundered. He could get a big roar out of his small body.
"How may we help you, honored sirs?" the old man asked.
"You can get your sons and grandsons out here, Blue."
Chairs squeaked. A soldier slammed his blade into a tabletop.
"Sit still," Mercy said. "You're just having lunch, fine. You'll be loose in an hour."
The old man began shaking. "I don't understand, sir. What have we done?"
Mercy grinned evilly. "He plays the innocent well. It's murder, Verus. Two charges of murder by poisoning. Two of attempted murder by poisoning. The magistrates decreed the punishment of slaves." He was having fun.
Mercy wasn't one of my favorite people. He never stopped being the boy who pulled wings off flies.
The punishment of slaves meant being left up for scavenger birds after public crucifixion. In Beryl only criminals are buried uncremated, or not buried at all.
An uproar rose in the kitchen. Somebody was trying to get out the back door. Our men were objecting.
The public room exploded. A wave of dagger-brandishing humanity hit us.
They forced us back to the door. Those who were not guilty obviously feared they would be condemned with those who were. Beryl's justice is fast, crude, and harsh, and seldom gives a defendant opportunity to clear himself.
A dagger slipped past a shield. One of our men went down. I am not much as a fighter, but I stepped into his place. Mercy said something snide that I did not catch. "That's your chance at heaven wasted," I countered. "You're out of the Annals forever."
"Crap. You don't leave out anything."
A dozen citizens went down. Blood pooled in low places on the floor. Spectators gathered outside. Soon some adventurer would hit us from behind.
A dagger nicked Mercy. He lost patience. "Silent!"
Silent was on the job already, but he was Silent. That meant no sound, and very little flash or fury.
Mole patrons began slapping their faces and pawing the air, forsaking us. They hopped and danced, grabbed their backs and behinds, squealed and howled piteou...

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading the series for the 3rd time now... June 27 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I am a member of the Sci-fi book club, which released the last four volumes of this series in two hardcover books. As a present for my birthday, my father sent me those books because he thought I might like them. I only read two of the four, and then I got distracted. A year later I picked up this book.
Well, at first I kept asking myself "What the...?" when reading about the characters, because the opening is like coming into a story when it's halfway through. That's the point though, the feel for this book is supposed to be 'this is the beginning of the series but not the beginning of The Black Company.' Cook pulls that feeling off really well, and I understood that was his intention about half way through the book when I was reflecting on the beginning.
Also, some people have complained about the multitude of dropped names that have no significance. Here is a chance to explain that a little, the company is large in this book, I forgot the exact number, but a couple of hundred people. In my life, I know the names of a couple of hundred people, and you probably do as well, and you probably know some of the most important things to them in their life. (I.e. the sport they play, the car they drive, the basics of their personality) and that is exactly how Croaker, our guide for this book, describes many of them. An example would be if you were at a party with a friend who knew no one you might say "That's Sarah, she's sweet but a little thick." Cook does something similar but with a character named Kingpin on page 275, "Kingpin is a lazy bastard, but swings a mean blade." and he is mentioned maybe three more times in the book.
Finally, the atrocities of war have bothered people. Not that they are graphic, but that they are understated.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not the best July 28 1999
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
With all the glowing, five star reviews on this site, I have to concede there's a strong possibility that I simply didn't "get" some important aspect of the book. I thought I'd post a dissenting review anyway, though, just to show that it is possible to not like this book, if nothing else. I thought the characters were week and hard to identify with, the plot wasn't even worth caring about, and there was no underlying point or redeeming value whatsoever. This is military fantasy, and that's a very specific field that maybe not everyone would fully appreciate. My advice: be aware of your tastes before you buy this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Oh My Oct. 11 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
These books are amazing. I actually read The Annals of the Black Company which encompases all of the books of the first series. However you have to go about it, find and read these books. I'm slogging my way through that ridiculous Robert Jordan soap opera, and let me tell you I, long for the fleshed out characters and unique and believable plot turns that one finds from this jewel of an author. Cook truly has a sense of what an epic should be. In following the company one feels a touch of machinations greater than the world around you, and the dreadful choice of altering that which is to come. I felt as though I had been physically moved whenever I finished one of these tales. Glen Cook is a true story teller who has that rare talent of writing in the fantasy genre and making it completely believable. You care about the characters because they're real, you are scared of the bad guys because they are truly menacing and imaginatively evil, and you get sucked in to Cook's world because it is vivid, deep, and detailed. Read them and don't stop with the Black Company until he does.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By events3
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The Black Company, the last of the 5 companies which started out from mythical Khatovar, is also the title of the 1st book in this series which ably melds gritty realism and high fantasy.
This book introduces us to Croaker, surgeon, soldier and annalist of the BLACK COMPANY. Being used as bodyguards to defend the hated syndic against his own people and the vorfalaka (were-leopard) terrorizing the city, they are paid a visit by Soultaker the sorceress, legate of a powerful nearby empire. Faced with a no-win situation, the company takes service with the powerful legate in the combat with the rebel forces of the WHITE ROSE.
Questions of moral philosophy abound. The Lady, ruler of the Empire is ruthless and beautiful, yet with sudden impulses of sympathy. Wife of an even darker and more horrible being, the Dominator, the Lady managed to escape while leaving her old husband imprisoned in a living death (of sorts). Soultaker, their patron appears much more patient than many of her fellows among the TEN WHO WERE TAKEN (despite the possibility of becoming the Company's greatest enemy) and treats them much more as equals. The rebel force of the WHITE ROSE, committed to fighting the "evil" Lady, are every bit as ruthless and bloodthirsty as their adversaries. And the evil Lady, taken with Croaker's fantasies about her, becomes protective toward him and is willing to risk life and power to prevent the rise of the twisted Dominator.
Never has the boundary between good and evil been easier to cross or harder to define for the Black Company - or the reader. A dark, yet realistically gritty tale heavily borrowing from eastern mythologies, this is well worth reading by anyone who is willing to accept that rather than everything being black or white, there is a lot of gray in the world.
If you haven't already done so, buy it now!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark bleak novel of fantasy warfare
This is no Tolkien fantasy; there are no majestic eleven maidens, no comedic dwarfs. The world of the Black Company is not a shinning fairytale; it is a bleak land, a land filled... Read more
Published on March 26 2010 by Daniel Andres
1.0 out of 5 stars Inconsistent and Intentionally Silly
A company of rough-cut mercenaries is commissioned by a foreign warrior-wizard to squash a rebellion across the sea. Read more
Published on April 1 2004 by Silas Traitor
4.0 out of 5 stars Great series... different than the normal epic fantasy
This is the first installment of a series of Black Company novels and it also happens to be the best. Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2004 by Christopher Nash
5.0 out of 5 stars just dope
I can't belive it was the year 2002 before I found out about this game which inspired the MYTH; THE FALLEN LORDS SUPER VIDEO GAME BY BUNGIE STUDIOS
I think reading about the... Read more
Published on Dec 18 2003 by microsoft is not monop
5.0 out of 5 stars THE series to end all series
The black company drags you into their world with characters that are both black and white. The entire series is a must read with 1-3 being the best in the whole lot. Read more
Published on Dec 10 2003 by Saul Carrillo
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece...
I've read this book twice now but it's difficult not to judge in the context of the entire series. The first 3 books of the Black Company series is some of the BEST fantasy I've... Read more
Published on Oct. 4 2003 by Aeronomer
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Interesting
When I began reading this book, most of my comments had to do with the fact that I really had no idea what was happening, who these people where, or what in the world they were... Read more
Published on May 30 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars A Black Company in a Dark World
In The Black Company, Glen Cook has created a world of war, soldiers, treachery, and friendship. It is all so believable. Read more
Published on May 17 2003 by hrladyship
5.0 out of 5 stars The tip of the iceberg in the saga of the Company.
My first experience with Cook's writing occurred several years ago, the summer 2000 to be exact, when one of my fantasy-reading friends handed me a book called Chernaya Gvardiya... Read more
Published on April 10 2003 by "whowillmistake"
5.0 out of 5 stars "Epic" Fantasy without epic trees killed to print it...
Re: the header. Cook doesn't write a scene unless it's relevant to the plot. A nice change to those epics where you skim through hundreds of pages wondering if something... Read more
Published on April 6 2003
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