Glen Cook's Fantasy Fiction: The Instrumentalities of the Night

I’ve written before about Glen Cook’s fantasy fiction. But with a writer as prolific as Mr. Cook there is always more to say. I’ve not been shy of pointing out that I’m a fan. His – and Steven Brust’s and Roger Zelazny’s – employment of the first-person smart ass school of fiction was influential in the writing of “Reunion.”

I’m currently reading book four of his series “The Instrumentalities of the Night.” It is classic Glen Cook: fast paced, spare in descriptive detail, full of snappy banter between and among characters (often including extensive stretches without identifying the speaker, which can get confusing if you’re reading at speed and not closely tracking the interchange.)

He’s writing yet another sprawling epic, this one set in a sort of analog of Fourteenth Century Europe and the MIddle East. Noting the parallels is much of the fun. You’ve got your Mamalukes, your Ottomans. Janissaries. The Old Man of the Mountain and the Assassins. Templars. The Holy Roman Empire. The Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Catholic Church’s Great Schism. Cathars. Crusades against heresy and against the stand-in Muslims. You’ve even got – among others – the Norse pantheon. Students of history should enjoy playing spot-the-reference. The series is packed cover-to-cover with allusions.

And therein lies a hint to one of my concerns with the series: it is perhaps too complex. The thing boasts a cast of hundreds, all with agendas and expanding personal histories, these histories often linked with that of other characters creating an expanding web of links to keep track of. When the installments of the series are dropped at the lengthy intervals that such long form fiction demands it grows increasingly difficult upon picking up the latest volume to remember who a character is, what he’s done previously, and how he relates to every other character. The big puzzle pieces tend to come back to recollection, but I worry I’m missing some of the smaller bits of the mosaic. And as this thing rolls along, gathering more characters, raising the stakes, and growing ever more complex I worry about the narrative debt Mr. Cook’s incurred. I’m not sure how many more “Instrumentalities” books he intends writing, but the more he writes the less likely it appears that he’ll be able to resolve all the plotlines.

But Glen Cook has seldom disappointed me before. So I’ll continue trusting his story-making instincts.