The White Rose by Glen Cook. Originally published April 1985. Approx. 251 pages (Tor omnibus edition).
HachiSnax Note: Same as when I started the Shadows Linger review, I'll just let you know now that this review will be peppered with some references to the events that transpired at the end of that book. These reviews will probably be getting vaguer and vaguer; which is a testimony to Cook's ability to texture his works with deft twists and turns. So, be warned about Shadows Linger spoilers, and also be warned that this review may be a little scanty on details, so as to avoid a trip to Spoilerville. Cheers, Hach.
One thing that could not be touched upon in the review for Shadows Linger was the fate of the Company after the climactic battle in Juniper. As the Lady fought to keep her husband, the Dominator, from barging into the world via the black castle, the Captain had arranged for Croaker and a group of Company survivors to grab a fast ship out of Dodge. The losses were devastating, only around a hundred made it out. Those survivors that remained in Juniper stayed under the imperial banners of the Lady. The Captain himself perished in the great egress. And the last of the Company had no other hope than to chase the ghosts of Darling and Raven, knowing that the Lady marked them as betrayers and deserters.
But the Lady could not wipe them out so easily; her own forces had been greatly weakened in the wake of the battle at Juniper. Some of the Taken were dispatched to fetch them back, led by one Limper, more than enthusiastic to settle some debts of his own (he was also hoping to recoup the documents, believed to be in Raven's possession, which Soulcatcher had hoped to use against the Lady). Long story short, the last quarter of the book was an extended chase scene, with a great chance at redemption for Shed.
And so, at the very end, the tattered remains of the Black Company pledged themselves to Darling, the White Rose. With almost thirty years until the next coming of the comet, they had a long time to wait, and evade the Lady's all-seeing Eye. A hundred men versus the entire empire. Not very good odds, but never count Croaker & Co. out.
Some years have past. An aging Croaker laments on his declining capacities. Darling, the White Rose, is now a grown, strong woman. A hardened, natural leader. And the Company itself has found some semblance of home on, of all places, the Plain of Fear.They have set up a makeshift base and ironed out an unspoken agreement to stay with the bizarre denizens of said Plain, including walking trees, talking menhirs, the infamous flying windwhales, and Father Tree, a mysterious godlike tree rooted dead center in the Plain. From this 'home', Darling and the Lieutenant make their plans for defeating the Lady, while Croaker is brought messages from various couriers. While busy translating the papers taken form Soulcatcher, he needs to discern the importance of the new letters. What do these letters touch on? Nothing less than an account of Bomanz, the legendary sorcerer whose actions led to the release of the Lady in the first place.
Time is not on the company's side though. The Lady now knows their hiding spot, and has her new Taken harry them often. Also, her forces are hard at work developing advanced tactics with which to circumvent Darling's null and destroy her and the Company physically. Croaker, One-Eye, Goblin, and newcomers Tracker and Toadkiller Dog ( his canine companion that must be referred to by his entire name), set off to find the missing parts of the Bomanz accounts, in hopes of finding anything that would help name that Lady by her true name and defeat her.
In the end, another huge showdown looms, but the focus needs to be realigned. Although the Lady and Darling are locked in mortal combat, both know that the true enemy is still the entombed Dominator. And it bears remembering that entombed does not mean idle. After he got his foot in the door in the last book, the Dominator knows that his best chance is at hand, and he has some real doozies up his sleeve.
Again, that's about all I can divulge without ruining anything. This is it, the final entry in the Books of the North saga, and for better or worse, the end of the cycle involving the Lady, the Dominator, Darling, and world domination. Now let's look at how Cook handled this third installment.
Like in Shadows Linger, we have a narrative split between first person POV (for Croaker), and two third person story arcs. Those two arcs take place in different time periods. As mentioned, one centers on the actions and preparations of the wizard Bomanz. The other focuses on another new character, a veteran of the Forsberg campaigns (under the Limper) named Corbie. Corbie's tale takes place in the very recent past. Before commenting on these portions, I will mention that those tales terminate a little after the halfway point of the book, meaning the final 40% or so is all first person Croaker.
I will just say it plain and simple; I really enjoyed the Bomanz chapters of the book. I don't know how other readers had imagined what Bomanz looked like, but I had always pictured him looking like Kelek, from the old D&D action figure line....
Yeah, I was pretty much dead wrong. Turns out Bomanz is a pudgy, aging wizard working as an antiques dealer specializing in Domination-era artifacts. Or perhaps that is just a glamour he wears to disguise the thirty-seven years he has been working on contacting the Lady. Turns out, there are many Resurrectionists; those who are enamored with the lore of those cruel times and seek to release those trapped miscreants from the Barrowlands. Bomanz is different; his focus is solely on the Lady, he is enamored by the notion of her (much like a certain Annalist/physician we all know), and he believes that he possesses a tool which would grant him leverage in dealing with her. Bomanz's tale is, again, extremely well done. I'll admit; this tale struck a personal chord for me. Being a child in the 80's, when these books came out, antiquing was big business, and my parents were all in on it. Reading these chapters of Bomanz and his wife with their nonstop bickering and insulting was such a throwback for me; I felt like a pudgy little kid in a weekend cabin outside of Lancaster, PA all over again.
Corbie's tale is done very well too. Corbie comes limping into the Barrowland, an unassuming, taciturn veteran, taking odd jobs and keeping to himself. However, he soon takes up residence in Bomanz's old house, and embarks on some serious research into Bomanz's ways and works. Is he looking for info? Or looking to finish what Bomanz started? Cook keeps you guessing to the end on this angle as well. We are also introduced to a young soldier named Case, who befriends the sullen Corbie. He is a very interesting new character as well.
So there you have it. I give The White Rose a slight edge over Shadows Linger for a few reasons. For one, the Black Company supporting cast is more in the fore again. I really missed One-Eye and Goblin's constant bickering in Shadows (there was some, but more here). Also, we see more of the Lady in The White Rose. Love her or hate her, she is always compelling. Shadows Linger had some better fight scenes, and a likable character in Shed, though. No matter what, Cook ends this first arc in grand fashion.
Here's what it is:
The final installment in the Books of the North is resolved in grand fashion. One might assume it is simply the Lady vs. Darling, but Cook weaves so many twists and turns your head is left spinning. All make huge sacrifices, and they are only rewarded with the most bittersweet of endings.
I'll be honest, this is where Berdak's skills shine through. His renditions of people come off as somewhat clumsy and awkward, but this vision of Father Tree really captures the wild distortions of the Plain of Fear. But, like the other two books, I am grading on Swanland's work.
Cover Final Score (Swanland):