The Appeal of Croaker of the Black Company

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The Black Company cover image taken from Goodreads.

 

Here’s another throwback to an older post from right here at the Thoughts. Enjoy!

Thoughts on Croaker of the Black Company

 

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The Appeal of Geralt of Rivia

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Image of the cover of The Last Wish taken from Goodreads.

 

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to hunt and kill monsters. Such a desire led me through many interests over the years, as well as the inevitable realization that the only real monsters in the world were all human beings–something that Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, also realizes in his own adventures. My first experience with Geralt came in the second Witcher video game. After that, I read The Last Wish (a collection of early short stories about the character), played the original Witcher video game, began working my way through Andrzej Sapkowsi’s other Witcher books, and then lost several months of my life to The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. I have no regrets.

The appeal of Geralt as a character is manifold. He is different; he is other. The mutations that allow him to hunt and fight monsters also make him a pariah, and Witchers are often seen as half-monsters themselves. His outsider status within his own story coupled with his deep, heartfelt distrust of authority have always been positives for me, and his near-inability to be impressed with anyone else effectively makes Geralt my spirit animal. He has little time for the artificial institutions of self-important humans, and is usually far more comfortable on the road or knocking a few back with a band of dwarves than within a city’s walls. I must say that I agree in total.

I eagerly await Henry Cavill’s performance in the upcoming Netflix Witcher series.

 

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Image taken from Pixabay @ https://pixabay.com/photos/death-darkness-dark-hood-hooded-164761/

The Black Company – A Complete Reading Chronology *Updated*

Note: Update(s) at bottom. 

Good day, everyone! With all the new content from our contributors, I thought it was time I released a little something myself while I continued to work on my other column ideas for the Thoughts. For today, I thought another short post about the Black Company books by Glen Cook was in order. I’m not going to stop until I make readers out of some of my followers and friends.

Moving forward from what I started with my post on Croaker awhile back, I wanted to present all of you with an accessible reading chronology for the series, being as I found it difficult to keep straight what order some books should be read in. There doesn’t seem to be that much out there about the series these days, what with it wrapping up over a decade ago.

1. The Black Company (1984) – The first book in the series is a classic unto itself and is a great introduction to Glen Cook’s world.
2. Shadows Linger (1984)
3. The White Rose (1985)

Cover image from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/91/The_White_Rose.jpg
Cover image from Wikimedia.

The first trilogy of books, often called the Books of the North, have also been collected in The Chronicles of the Black Company.

4. The Silver Spike (1989) – This one is a bit of a misfit. It chronicles the adventures of a side group of characters after the company parted ways at the end of the third book. Various lists place it as either first or last in the second trilogy. I actually read it in between the following two books.
5. Shadow Games (1989)
6. Dreams of Steel (1990)

The second trilogy of books, often called the Books of the South, have also been collected in The Books of the South: Tales of the Black Company. These stories, generally speaking and avoiding spoilers, explore the adventures of the Black Company as it seeks to return to the lost city of Khatovar far to the south from which its original incarnation emerged centuries earlier.

7. Bleak Seasons (1996)
8. She is the Darkness (1997)

Image courtesy of Wikimedia and comes from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/83/She_Is_The_Darkness.jpg
Cover image from Wikimedia.

These books, the first two of the four-part Glittering Stone, have also been collected in The Return of the Black Company.

9. Water Sleeps (1999)
10. Soldiers Live (2001) – Here’s to hoping the last book is as hopeful as its title suggests.

The last two books of Glittering Stone have also been collected in The Many Deaths of the Black Company.

Cover image from http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9780765324016.jpg
Cover image from MacMillan.

There are also a few short stories set in the same world. I’ll admit, though, I’m not familiar with them but plan on adding them on after I complete the novels.

1. “Raker” (1982) – Apparently, this is an early version of an early chapter from the first book.
2. “Tides Elba” (2010) – Appeared in Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery.
3. “Smelling Danger” (2011) – Appeared in Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2.

Glen Cook has also talked about two more possible novels in the series if he can get around to writing them.

A Pitiless Rain – Forthcoming with little known.

Port of Shadows – Forthcoming with little known.

I hope this list will be helpful to any of you looking to get into this classic fantasy series. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

UPDATE (5-24-19): 

I was curious to see an uptick in traffic to this old post, so I wanted to go ahead and make some additions to it on releases since I first wrote this list:

“Shaggy Dog Bridge” was released in 2013 in Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy, and is set between Shadows Linger (Book Two) and The White Rose (Book Three).

“Bone Candy” was released in 2014 in Shattered Shields. It takes place after “Tides Elba,” which takes place after The Black Company (Book One), but before Port of Shadows (Book One-and-a-Half).

“Bone Eaters” was released in 2015 in Operation Arcana, edited by John Joseph Adams of Lightspeed Magazine. It is set right after “Shaggy Dog Bridge” before The White Rose.

Port of Shadows was released on September 11th, 2018. It is set between The Black Company (Book One) and Shadows Linger (Book Two), so feel free to read it whenever!

At this point, we’re still waiting on A Pitiless Rain and any other short stories that may come about. I know this addendum isn’t the most convenient way to absorb this information, so I will be remaking this post in the near future. Either way, I hope this helps out new readers!

 

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Thoughts on Croaker of the Black Company

“Every ounce of my cynicism is supported by historical precedent.” — Croaker, Shadow Games

Image courtesy of Wikimedia and comes from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/83/She_Is_The_Darkness.jpg
Image courtesy of Wikimedia and taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/83/She_Is_The_Darkness.jpg — Croaker above, left. 

I’m over halfway through the Black Company books by Glen Cook now and I wanted to state a few general thoughts on the primary narrator of the early books and my favorite character, Croaker. It may be a bit of a cop out to attach oneself as a reader to the narrator, especially when there is such a large and varied cast of misfits to pick from, but Croaker strikes me as being relatively unique among fantasy protagonists–at least insofar as I have seen.

Very little about Croaker’s early life is ever revealed, save that he came from the slums of a faraway city, and his true name has not been revealed as far as I have read. I doubt it ever will be. When we first meet Croaker way back in The Black Company, he is the outfit’s physician and annalist. It is through his eyes and his voice that we witness the events unfolding in Cook’s epic. Needless to say, Croaker is a common soldier and no knight.

Croaker isn’t really that bad of a guy for coming from a world where nearly all power is evil and common people basically have to constantly choose the smallest evil to side with. He is kind but not foolish about it, and he cares a great deal about his fellow brothers in the Company. He has also helped the less fortunate at many points in his career, which causes him to stand out quite a bit.

Another trait that makes Croaker unique is his mind; in a setting where few commoners can write their own names, Croaker is fully literate and conversational in several languages and (as I mentioned earlier) a capable medical doctor. In point of fact, he possesses some medical knowledge and a few beliefs that are anachronistically modern in comparison to the humours and leeches of many of his contemporaries. Perhaps battlefield necessity has made him more competent than most.

All of this is not to say Croaker isn’t competent as a soldier as well; his oaths and position require that of him. While he favors a bow in most encounters, Croaker is shown to be experienced in all manner of tactics and proficient with several weapons. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), though, he possesses no skill at magic, which makes him an even more attractive character for me.

I enjoy fantasy that downplays its magic, like Cook and George R. R. Martin’s works. Having a protagonist in The Black Company who is unskilled with, and suspicious of, magic is a breath of fresh air compared with the number of fantasy series that figuratively force their magical systems down your throat from page 1. And this is not to say that magic is absent from Croaker’s tale–far from it. Magic is power and power is evil, of one sort or another.

I hope that these words reach fantasy fans that think the way I do and share my tastes. I also hope that those of you unfamiliar with Glen Cook’s work and Croaker’s adventures may now be a bit more curious about all of it and give it a look. Trust me; you will not be disappointed. I wish there were more characters like Croaker out there in all the manifold fantasy worlds being published.

Hmm… I may have given myself an idea. Let me know your thoughts below.