Thursday, February 19, 2015

Shaggy Dog Bridge

Shaggy Dog Bridge by Glen Cook. A Black Company short story, originally appearing in the Fearsome Journeys anthology, published . Approx. 31 pages.

Just when I thought I had presented a complete synopsis of the legendary Black Company series in 2014, I find out that I let one short story slip through the cracks. Shaggy Dog Bridge, first appearing in the Fearsome Journeys anthology (edited by Jonathan Strahan of Swords & Dark Magic renown), is the third of the (so-far) quartet of short tales that will segue readers into the long awaited, much anticipated Port of Shadows.

In Shaggy Dog Bridge, we find our favorite Annalist, Croaker, attached to a recon patrol scouting ahead while the angry Taken, Whisper, pursues with a clutch of angry Imperials. Along the way, they find a massive glamour (illusion), one of a perfectly mundane chunk of forest. The thing about illusions of normalcy is that they are usually there to mask things markedly out of the normal. Being a recon group, it falls on them to see what exactly that is. What they find are parts of the puzzle which Cook has in store for us in Port of Shadows.

Out of the four Black Company shorts released over the past few years, Shaggy Dog Bridge is definitely my favorite. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, once again, Cook shows us (again) that not only can he still write for "earlier books" Croaker, but he can still capture specific moods and attitudes. In this story, Croaker is pissed off, ornery, and in a generally foul mood, due to being attached to this tedious task (which he himself had volunteered for). The writing is cranky, full of expletives and vitriol.

Another high point of the story is the addition of a few more "grunts". Other stories in this arc have introduced wizards and concepts for "bad guys", but here we can meet a few more personalities of the rank and file. These additions, namely Rusty, Robin, and Whittle, have a lot of potential.

Finally, and most importantly, we get a real whiff of the type of evil that will be faced in the upcoming book. For example, the most intriguing bit of geography mentioned is not the titular Bridge, but a scar on the earth known as the "Rip", a cleft in the landscape possibly caused during a battle between formidable nasties. We also find out about the "Master", who will serve as the Dominator type in Port of Shadows. And, lastly, we get to meet Blind Emon, a "Taken" of sorts in thrall to the Master (the fact that she is a concentrated ball of agony is a great touch).

As in most other Black Company titles, the joy is not in the violence, but in the characters, the dialogue, and the authenticity of the battlefield tactics and situations. There is no clanging of swords, but more of what makes the Company who they are; planning, resourcefulness, sabotage, and a lot of luck.

So, as I've said before, I shall say once more; I am overjoyed that Cook is getting closer towards a new Black Company book, and, while I am happy that he can still write for the crew circa Books 1-3 as well as before, I'd rather see other Company stories. Perhaps A Pitiless Rain, if it ever sees the light of day, will focus on Suvrin, Tobo, and those that survived Soldiers Live. But how about some coverage of the original Company? Those of renown that first marched from Khatovar and put so much fear into the Taglians? Ah well, it's still a business, and I am sure the majority want to see more Croaker. And, as the quality of these four shorts testifies, it'll be a great read.

Here's hoping I'll get a chance this year to review the other titles in this anthology. It looks like a solid one.

Final Score:


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