Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Shadows Linger (Black Company Book 2)

Shadows Linger by Glen Cook. Originally published October 1984. Approx. 225 pages (Tor omnibus edition). 

HachiSnax Note: The Great Black Company Read of 2014 continues! Just a heads-up before getting into the review: if you have not read Book 1 of the Black Company, you may want to skip this post. I tried to keep spoilers to a minimum for the first book review, but events from that book will be brought up here. Also, this review might contain more spoilers than usual, as it is the only way to properly recount the events of this book. Just a warning. Enjoy! Cheers, Hach.

It has been six long years since the climactic battle in Charm. That battle that crushed the Rebel, and left both sides decimated. Six years since, and eight in total service to the mysterious Lady. As a result, morale within the Company is at an all-time low.

Croaker and company find themselves ferreting out pockets of Rebels in the small town of Tally. A general feeling of malaise permeates the Company, a residual discomfort of working under the banners of the Lady. And then, a summons to a job. A job that entails them returning to the Barrowland, to participate in fending off an attempt to resurrect the Dominator, the Lady's still-entombed husband. Crossing to the Barrowland means a journey over more than four thousand miles for the weary Company, across the Plain of Fear where whales fly and other horrors occur. While the bulk of the Company undergoes the arduous trudge, Croaker and a select circle are whisked to the area by some of the Taken to do some more digging around, trying to sort what is what. This brings them to the city of Juniper, where an odd death cult holds sway, and a mysterious black castle looms on the horizon, seemingly......growing.

Meanwhile, in the Buskin section (skid row, essentially) of Juniper, Marron Shed, owner of a local dive known as the Iron Lilly, is having trouble with loansharks. Promise of help shows itself in the form of his mysterious boarder, a quietly dangerous man named Raven, who watches over his beautiful charge Darling. Yes, this is the same Raven who fought alongside with the Company, and who had to desert when he realized exactly who Darling is (the fabled White Rose) and how much danger she was in so near to the Lady). Raven brings Shed into the fold on a money-making scheme that he has been exploiting, although neither seems to realize the actual ramifications of their actions....

And this causes a huge problem for Croaker & Co.. As they do their detective work, they realize that Raven is involved, and might still be around. Which means if the Taken catch wind of it, it will be all over for him and Darling. And even if they are gone, the Taken will be able to extract the truth from Croaker and the others that knew Raven and Darling's secret. Which of course would mean death for all of them. So what transpires is more conniving, and misinformation, as the black castle grows, beckoning the Dominator.

All this culminates in another huge, balls to the wall battle, although not of the same grandeur as the war that ended the first book. The honeymoon is over for the Lady; even though the Rebel is crushed, the creatures that populate the black castle are formidable in martial combat and sorcery, plus, the Lady's resources are severely depleted. The Company is the best unit she can bring to bear, and they are just coming off of their brutal half-year trek. She is low on cash for paying her other armies, and she only has four Taken remaining, of which only one, the Limper, is of the original Ten (and isn't the most trustworthy fellow either).

That is about as much as I can divulge without giving away too much. The final act is extremely well done, and finds everyone, and I mean everyone, forced into truly tough decisions. So how does Shadows Linger fare against such a formidable first entry?

There is something that needs to be kept in mind when reading and grading Shadows Linger: it is a very good book, actually a somewhat great book, but it is a very different book from the first one. Firstly is the narrative; we know that Croaker acts as our first person narrator; but we also need information on what is going on with Raven and Shed in Juniper. To satisfy this, Cook splits the narrative, so we have Croaker's first-person POV for one chapter, and then a traditional third person narrative for Raven/Shed, and so on. I embraced the split format, as Cook handled it so well, and yet I can see it being off-putting for some, as you are essentially reading two separate books. This quick back and forth style also adds quite a few chapters; you'll remember that the first book was only seven chapters (part of the reason being the first few being shopped as short stories), and Shadows Linger has well over forty short ones.

The other glaring difference is the supporting cast. In the first book, the dramatis personae was much more robust; you had the original Taken and all their personalities and underhanded subterfuge. You had a much more involved role for the Lady, who is little more than a cameo here. You even had the interesting generals in the Circle of Eighteen. Here, it all hinges on Shed. Now, don't get me wrong, Shed is a well-crafted, realistic character. Maybe Cook made him too real; since it gets kind of hard to like him at times. If you can't stand him, a lot of this book will be lost for you. Trust me though, he adds more than he takes away.

Another thing that stands out about Shadows Linger is the lack of closure; it is reminiscent of Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back. In book one, the feeling was that the Lady won, and it was a job well done for the Company, be it for ultimate good or bad. They earned their pay, but Croaker also made sure that the one that could ultimately defeat the Lady got away safely. But, like in Star Wars, the enemy is struck down in grand fashion, and there was much rejoicing. Except in this case the Empire won, but why quibble? Now in Shadows, like in Empire, it all ends with everyone in a tough spot, scattered, and licking their wounds, with a final conflict still inevitable. So let's just hope the next installment is just as solid.

Cook's prose is as fine as ever in Shadows Linger. Croaker's narration is more weary than sarcastic this time around, which is understandable. The third person chapters are excellently done as well, as mentioned.

Here's what it is:
The sophomore entry in the Black Company series takes a departure in format, but remains a strong, if slightly less stellar, entry.

Final Score:


Cover Score:

Same as the first go-round. I am still reading from the omnibus.
I'll have to admit, on the Berdak one, I am not too crazy about this cover. I actually like the Soulcatcher cover of book one, but this representation of the Lady misses the mark for me. Swanland all the way.
Ah, the heck with it. Just enjoy some more Didier Graffet......

Cover Final Score (Swanland):


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