Glen Cook was born in New York City in 1944. After spending time in the United States Navy, the ground work was laid for the birth of his legendary Black Company series published by Tor books. The series is described as a gritty fantasy series following an elite mercenary unit through several decades of its history. It has become something of a cult classic, especially among current and former members of the military. When asked about the series’ popularity among soldiers, Cook replied: “The characters act like the guys actually behave. It doesn’t glorify war; it’s just people getting on with the job. The characters are real soldiers dealing with extraordinary problems in an unforgiving world”. Cook drags us into the trenches, night watches, missions, and supernatural events of the Black Company.
Lets lay some groundwork for how the story begins. The Dominator is an extremely powerful wizard who has the ability to turn his most bitter enemies into his loyal servants, even those nearly his equal in magic. The most potent of his victims are called the Ten Who Were Taken, or just Taken for short. With his wife, the Lady, whose magical skill is second only to that of the Dominator, he founded an empire unrivaled for evil. It was overthrown by a rebellion led by the White Rose, but neither she nor the rebel wizards were strong enough to kill the Dominator, the Lady or the Taken. The best they could do was to render them unconscious and imprison them. Their prison was a place called the Barrowland.
After four centuries, the wizard Bomanz awakened the Lady during a spirit walk into the Barrowlands, in an attempt to learn from her. She manipulated him, won her freedom, and subsequently trapped Bomanz in a quasi-undead spirit state between dimensions. She then unleashed the Taken, but betrayed the Dominator, leaving him where he was, and proceeded to resurrect the empire. As with the old, so it was with the new – a rebellion broke out, spearheaded this time by the Circle of Eighteen. The Circle is made up of magicians not individually as strong as the Taken, but usually united in their goals. The Taken, on the other hand, battle each other as much as they do the rebels.
The Black Company is told through tales of the chronicler Croaker, a medic and historian of the annals which have been keeping the official records of the company for hundreds of years. He is joined by his fellow solders: The Captain, the ever quiet Silent, the two wizards of One-Eye and Goblin, Elmo, and of coarse the mysterious Raven. The company eventually becomes employed by the Lady herself and away the story goes on an epic 10 book series with dozens of twists and turns you will not see coming. Glen Cook has inspired dozens of modern authors with his Black Company series such as Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson. In fact Reapers Gale, Book 7 of Malazan series, is dedicated to Glen Cook as I believe he is the grandfather of grim dark fantasy and Cook laid the ground work for those who came after.
What makes Glen Cook such an amazing writer? I would say it is his unique writing style, the situations and trauma he inflicts on his characters, and he doesn’t let up on the fact that this world is a grim place to live and no one is safe. Book 1, The Black Company is written and meant to be read as a series of journal entries of a soldier on a military campaign. It can be very jarring at first as a sentence can be three words, but this choice of narration adds to the plot and tone for the series. You actually feel like you are on a campaign with just a few minutes to jot down your thoughts for the night before lights out.
Also, the best aspect of Glen Cooks writing is the fact that throughout the series, he actually changes his writing style several times. Without getting into spoilers, the later books in the series are told through different characters and Cook changes the way the story is written to better fit the narrator. One such narrator suffers from amnesia and memory loss like a downed soldier on the battlefield. The mystery, suspense, and exhilaration Cook introduces in this new character was a complete 180 from what I had seen before that I binged read the rest of the series. Cook does this switch several times throughout the series and it really shows off his writing skills. Of all the authors I have read over the years, Cook is the only one I have seen to accomplished this task.
The series contains necromancers, wizards, haunted lands, secret cults, ancient demons, and the infamous mercenary company and it will always keep you on your toes. Prophecies are laid, but not all of them will come to pass. Nothing can be predicted and the confusion will continue to build until the final ah ha moment, where the story will fly and your stuck on the final chapter at 4:00 in the morning. Glen Cooks stories are brought down to a human level and it sometimes reads like a Vietnam war documentary. For all you Grimdark, Malazan, and First Law fans, come back to where it all began as one of the greatest fantasy epics of our age and experience the soldier as he was meant to be told.
One journal entry at a time.