Water Sleeps by Glen Cook. Originally published by Tor Fantasy, March 1999. Approx. 348 pages (Tor omnibus edition).
Where we left off:
After a few books where little progress was made on the road to Khatovar, She is the Darkness saw some major pushes by the Company on the way to the Plain of Glittering Stone. First was a win in the battle of Charandaprash Pass, which was highlighted by the revelation that the enmity between Croaker and Blade was simply a ruse, leading to a large number of Longshadow's forces being taken out of the game before it was even played.
Past the Pass, the Company began its siege of Overlook. For a good while this went on, and it was revealed the Croaker was working along with Soulcatcher to expedite Longshadow's downfall. Meanwhile, the Howler and Narayan Singh worked to protect their own posteriors.
On and on it went, with more double-crosses and almost had 'ems.
The end result:
Longshadow was taken down and brought to Company custody, as was the Howler and Singh.
Soulcatcher screwed everyone over and started helping the Radisha Shah renege on her obligations to the Company. The Prabrindrah tried to double-cross the Company as well, and was taken into their "care".
Soulcatchaer, under the guise of Sleepy (who is revealed to be, in actuality, very much a young woman), infiltrates the Company camp and assassinates Smoke, taking away one of the Company's methods of near omniscient spying.
In other big reveals, something that was hinted at in Bleak Seasons turned out to be true: Murgen's Nyueng Bao wife, Ky Sahra (Sarie) is still alove, tucked away as a widow in a temple, and pregnant with their child.
She is the Darkness ends with a contingent of the Company, mostly old crew members and prisoners (including Soulcatcher), finally crossing the Shadowgate and entering the Plain of Glittering Stone. A few days into their journey, they happen upon a fortress in disrepair. Within, secured to a wooden throne by a series of silver daggers, is a colossal golem, who the Company figures is Shivetya, a guardian charged with preventing Kina's resurrection.
As the Company tries to make heads or tails of what is going on, it is revealed that even though she has been bound up pretty tightly, Soulcatcher has been able to place everyone in a sort of trance. She traps the Company in a sort of stasis (the caverns of frozen spiderwebs and old men that Murgen often saw in his dreams) in the lower chambers of the fortress and makes off with the traitor Willow Swan, seemingly victorious. Which brings us to now....
Where we are now:
Fifteen years. It has been fifteen years since the group that entered the Plain became trapped in their stasis. The Captured, they are called now.
After they disappeared, the remaining Company was routed by both traitors within and Mogaba from without.
Now, the Radisha rules in Taglios, along with an insane dictator known to the people as the Protector. The Protector is known to the reader as Soulcatcher.
But what of the remnants of the Company?
What remains of the Company, some two hundred-odd members, are scattered throughout Taglios. Leading them is none other than former Company mascot, and Annalist in training Sleepy. Sleepy, like Murgen during the siege of Dejagore, is acting as Captain, as well as maintaining the Annals. She is joined by the last two remaining old crew members not trapped under the Plain, the ancient sorcerers Goblin and One-Eye (although fifteen years later, even One-Eye is too ancient to continue his usual antic feuds with Goblin). Another addition to the Company (though not an actual brother) is none other than Ky Sahra (it is never explained how and when she joined up with them). Sahra and Murgen's son, Tobo, is now a petulant teenager, although one with a proficient inclination towards the magic arts. It is generally agreed upon that he is the "future" of the Company, especially with the resident magicians on obviously limited time.
This reduced shell of the Company has two primary missions; first being to topple the traitorous Taglian establishment, and the second, of course, to free their Captured comrades. And so, the two halves of Water Sleeps are dedicated to the execution of those directives.
The "shadow war" against the ruling class is some of the best stuff Cook has put to paper; he has always had the knack for writing these sneaky battles. Sleepy makes an adept leader for orchestrating moves that sow dissent and fear in the populace and the government. Pyrotechnic charges strategically planted throughout the city flash in crowds, displaying the Company sigil and those prophetic words "Water Sleeps".
In the meantime, Sleepy and Sahra (serving as a spiritual pillar for all), do their fair share of hands-on spy work. Donning various disguises, they infiltrate the Palace, gathering intel, and recovering pages from the lost Annals which were left in the wizard Smoke's old room. All this is done right under the noses of the Radisha and the Protector, which lead to some truly tense moments.
In the latter part of the novel, we have the journey southward which culminates with our intrepid band treading the same path as their lost predecessors.
I really can't give away too many of the secrets revealed in this final arc of Water Sleeps; suffice to say they come at you fast and furiously. Many of the answers that have eluded and confused Black Company readers since the Books of the South started are clarified here; and of course, many more are posited. But as to where the Company originated, where is Khatovar (and is it still accessible), what in fact the Glittering Plain is (hint: it's a huge transit hub of sorts), and who are the spectral walkers who tread the Plain at night, we get some closure. There is even a pretty scary face to face encounter with a god, which is handled excellently.
The real question is, as always, how is the narration in Water Sleeps? Here we have yet another Annalist. Personally, I really like Sleepy. She might be Cook's most fleshed-out Annalist (since I am assuming that there is a whole lot of Cook in Croaker). Sleepy is a strong, tough, sharp, and shrewd. You also have to remember that when she was younger, she suffered terrible, prolonged sexual abuse at the hands of family members. You can sense the mental scars even though she mentions nothing directly. She has a high amount of respect (culturally) for her elders, and reveres them accordingly. This leads to some of the most heartfelt moments in this entire series. Another interesting quirk of Sleepy is that she is the most outwardly religious Annalist that we have had. Throughout the novel, she says quick prayers as a mental reassurance, and these become more frequent towards the climax of the book.
The pacing of Water Sleeps is fair enough. Sleepy spends a lot of time chronicling her and Sahra's infiltrations, always recording their names as the false faces they don. It is very easy for Sleepy to become absorbed in the characters she creates, undoubtedly this is a coping mechanism that helped her through her terrible past. For the bulk of the novel Cook retains the first person point of view, with the scenes featuring Soulcatcher and Mogaba being accounts as seen by Murgen's still-detached spirit (he was out of body when Soulcatcher trapped the Company in stasis and his spirit still continues spying). But towards the end of the novel, we get a few random third person chapters showing what is going on in Taglios, not courtesy of Murgen. Also, Sleepy's narration in these last chapters deteriorates into overly expository theological info dumps. Her account up to this point had a very "spoken" versus "written" quality, and so this felt a little off to me. Perhaps the implication is that they were written at a later time incorporating information granted her by Shivetya.
Bear in mind that this novel is very much the "in between" novel for She is the Darkness and Soldiers Live. For any meandering you may have thought the past few books do, these last three are keeping things moving at a brisk clip. There are no grand battles in Water Sleeps, but also no endless verbal tangents. There is confusion and closure; for as this is one of the most original series going, there is really no way to predict how things will turn out.
Water Sleeps is a solid Black Company novel, but not a distinct one. Just remember it is here to move the action closer to a conclusion. Too bad we couldn't have had another book with Sleepy narrating.
Here's what it is:
We are almost at the end of the journey. A new Captain and Annalist tries to hold the last threads of the Company together as they stay focused on their ultimate destiny.
I have mixed emotions on this Swanland cover. To put it plainly, I love the foreground and hate the background. I am assuming that is Murgen holding the Lance of Passion in the front, with an awakening Kina in the back. Now, I had no solid picture of how Murgen looked, and this character looks more as how I imagined former Company member Elmo, but it is still well done. As for the Kina rendition, that looks like an alien. This cover would have worked better for the last omnibus, to be honest.
As for the original cover done by Nicholas Jainschigg, all I can say is that I am not crazy about his covers that feature people/figures. An odd take on the Shivetya character is crucified upside down. good placement, if not accurate, and a nice color scheme though.
Cover Final Score (Swanland):