November 3, 2019
I am about two-thirds of the way through re-reading Glen Cook’s Black Company novels. This time through (the second for the later novels, the third for the earlier) I think I’m better able to appreciate more of the subtleties. Some of that may be due to reading them straight through, without the long gaps that accompany awaiting publication.
The books provide stellar examples of the unreliable narrator. It is possible that some of the inconsistencies are due to Glen Cook simply forgetting some details from previous books. He might even have leaned harder on the concept of the unreliable narrator in order to account for inconsistencies he noticed or had pointed out to him. But having multiple ‘annalists’ reporting events from different viewpoints, many directly contradicting previous accounts, does showcase how individual bias can affect reportage.
I’m not sure I’d understood before how truly unheroic the characters are. As a reader, I am in the POV character’s head, and thus am sympathetic. And yet, some of the actions undertaken by the main characters are, arguably, objectively evil. Not simply gray, crimes of necessity, but evil. But I still root for them. This is easier in a universe in which there appear to be no white hats, no purely good characters. The Black Company presents us with a starkly cynical view of the world and the motivations of, well, everyone.
Reading the books consecutively helps limit the designed confusion Cook presents with his changes of narrators, and deliberately disorienting narrative choices (e.g., time-hopping.) I’m hoping the benefits of this closely spaced re-reading will carry through to Water Sleeps, when the character Sleepy takes over the narration. I recall that book was a struggle to get through. But I’m carrying enough goodwill for the books so far, that I am optimistic. And, perhaps by the time I’m done, I’ll have acquired a copy of Port of Shadows and can enjoy some new-to-me Black Company.