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The Black Company: The First Novel of 'The Chronicles of The Black Company' Mass Market Paperback – Mar 15 1992

4.4 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Fantasy; Reissue edition (March 15 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812521390
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812521399
  • Product Dimensions: 10.9 x 2.2 x 17.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #92,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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 shouldhave 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 smellof 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

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
One of my favorite series as a teenager was Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. What struck me about those books, as I was just relating to Jill the other day, was how they took the conventions of the fantasy genre and switched them around: the character was not someone you would want to emulate (he rapes a woman in the second chapter of the first book), the plot revolved around his refusal to act against evil (i.e., be a hero), and the characters sometimes did things that weren't quite what you expected (the situation referred to above, among others). Yes, I know that Donaldson did not invent the concept of the anti-hero, but it was the first time that I ran across the idea, and I liked it. Looking back, I think that there's more to those books than just the anti-hero device--Donaldson's world-building in that first trilogy was thorough, not quite derivative of Tolkien and Lewis (unlike Terry Brooks' abysmal The Sword of Shannara), yet owing much to them.
Glen Cook's The Black Company reminds me of those books, but also does something unique with the concept. While it has a narrator who figures prominently in the plot, the true "heroes" of The Black Company is the group of warriors after which the book is named. True mercenaries, they battle for hire, sometimes taking the side of "evil" in their long history. I put "evil" in quotes because in Cook's world, like ours, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish good from evil. Croaker, the narrator, is the physician and annalist for the mercenary band, which has seen better days before the time at which the novel opens. Trapped in a city with a client who is obviously on the losing side, the company try to hold the town while looking for a way to survive with their honor intact.
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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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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. 4-7 continued the storyline but did not have the same satifying feel. 7-10 has gone a long way toward recapturing some of the lost luster. Through it all Croaker has played a large and very portent part. He is the black company in many respects. My only complaint about the series is that it is still not over. The wait for the next book has become one of those intolerable aches in the readers soul. I just hope he does not pull a David Gerrold and leave us in limbo for years
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Format: Kindle Edition
I started this book expecting an action romp. What I got was a meditation on what the fantasy classics might look like from the other side of the fence.

Are they heroes? Not really. Mercenaries and cutthroats, more like. But this book refreshed classic fantasy for me in a way that I didn't nnow I needed it refreshed.

I am super happy to have read The Black Company, even if there were a few moments along the way when I wasn't sure I was getting what I signed up for. This one is one for the ages.
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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 with dark sorcery, an undeniably black world.

A story told by there annalist, contributing to the century's of the companies legacy, its victories and defeats, the glory of its lost brothers. The black company fights with honor for the highest bidder, serving a master regardless of there cause or nobility. The company is family; its men become brothers, each running from something finding brotherhood amongst the company.

Recruited by Soulcatcher, one of the taken; a collection of ancient powerful wizards. Resurrected and bent to the will of The Lady; a great evil seeking domination over the lands.

Fighting a seemingly endless war against the rebels, the company fights with honor not found among either the Taken or the rebels standing in there way. There is seemingly no light in the world, save for an ancient prophecy of light returning.

A decidedly unromantic fantasy, wars are waged with malice and disregard for blood. Great sorcerers conger horrors to the battle field, spectacular spells rip entire armies to pieces; men are torn asunder by impressive feats of horrible power.

A great military campaign, the company in the crossfire of an ancient feud, a war filled with tragedy and treachery. This is a dark tale of great fantasy, concluding in a truly spectacular final battle. The Black Company was a spellbinding tale; the world is very distinctive, not feeling like any fantasy I have witnessed. It ends in great style, with one of the most extravagant conflicts I can recall. The hint of a coming light a slight glimmer of something more than endless war and bloodshed. The final pages set up a continuing sage that I can not avoid.
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