The Black Company [Book Review]

Frederic Chopin – Nocturne Op 55 No. 1.

I once heard that, in the words of the author, this book series is “like Vietnam [related stories] with magic.” Low-magic. Seems pretty accurate to me. Like Warhammer 40k, The Black Company lacks popularity due to the macabre subject matter portrayed. Such material, like one scene inwhich a young girl is gang-raped, is thankfully not detailed – but certainly enough to unsettle.

The series follows Black Company, a historically notorious group of mercenaries, composed primarily of ex-cons who’ve collected through chance. They are not warhounds, they are simply men with no where else to go. The Company is their life and family.

They’re warhard, but mostly pursue it as an afterthought. It’s just a job, even if one they do well. There’s no glory, just getting it over with so they can go back to relaxing. There’s no love for them from the masses, only fear and hate. Their employers, no matter how honorably served, are rarely appreciative. They kill for money, not peace.

Given all that, what could be the appeal of the series? In the absence of hedonism, under the constant threat of death, sane people are more often forged and drawn together. Or at least, the weaker die off. While not holding each others hands and talking pretty, while killing is their trade, Black Company inexplicably possesses the capacity for genuine comradery, and the sense of honor, which most people lack.

Also of interest is the manner inwhich the author defines engagements. He primarily ignores details and the actions of individuals. He instead focuses on the major strategic components of an engagement, and the mood of the participants, which dictate the overall outcome – far more than one shiny idiot dancing around with a sword. He still paints an intricate and visceral picture, despite his method. He also portrays a variety of strategically interesting situations, like one I have a personal fetish for: sieges.

Plus, the author actually understands strategy, which is a huge seller for me. Not merely for improving his description of combat situations, but in how he molds Black Company’s tactics. Trickery and information control is their primary weapon, actual combat is a last-resort; as it should be. And I don’t mean to say that from the moral stance of defending lives, but from a pursuit of efficiency and effectivity.

Sadly, some of the later books in the series drop in quality, due to seemingly lazy writing.


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~ by Louis Naughtic on June 6, 2017.

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