Welcome to the Black Company Wiki!
I'm both a proud fan and a vocal critic of the Black Company series. Always happy to discuss these books with fellow fans.
My user page here contains a brief description of my introduction to series back in the late 1990s. The rest is a random collection of observations about the novels.
|“||There were prodigies and portents enough...||”|
In 1998 or 1999, my big brother introduced me to the computer game Myth II: Soulblighter. The game play was feverishly addictive, but the lore was also deeply fascinating. It wasn't long before I joined a forum where I learned about The Black Company... a clear inspiration for many of the names, themes, and overall atmosphere of the Myth backstory. Thus I was introduced to Glen Cook's novels, and I spent countless hours during one of my high school years devouring them.
Ancient villains trapped for centuries
The Black Company series revolves around immortal villains who have been buried underground or similarly trapped for centuries. In order of appearance:
- The forvalaka, buried beneath Necropolitan Hill in Beryl
- The Dominator, buried beneath the Barrowland in the Great Forest
- The Tree's prisoner, buried beneath Father Tree in the Plain of Fear
- The shadows, trapped behind the Shadowgates upon the glittering plain
- The ancients, buried in the cave of the ancients beneath the fortress with no name
- "Kina and the Captured aren't the only things sleeping up here. There're also a lot of truths that would shake the foundations of our world. Truths I have no trouble imagining wholesale slaughters and holy wars arising to suppress. Truths I have no trouble seeing getting my family and the Company obliterated, they're so threatening".
- Kina, buried beneath the fortress with no name on the glittering plain
- The Master, who is described as forgotten and presumably imprisoned, and being awakened by Blind Emon before the Domination.
- The gaggle of ancient, unnamed sorcerers buried in the Ghost Country in Port of Shadows
Ironically, the Black Company itself contributed to burying a powerful entity when they should have destroyed it outright: the snake imp.
A tiny handful of the important characters featured in these novels are spared a violent death, and survive to old age. Here are the few I can find:
- Darling and Case: in a much-needed happy ending to the events in the north, these two become lovers and survive to become grandparents in the countryside.
- Asa: this poor bum survived some harrowing stuff and skirted the destruction of his own home city mostly by chance. He fell off the pages of Shadows Linger without a farewell.
- Smeds Stahl: this thug, one of the main characters of The Silver Spike, becomes a tavern-keeper Roses and lives out the rest of his life quietly there.
- Whisper: this character is very important in the first two novels, but disappointingly, she essentially falls off the pages partway through the third novel. We learn years later (Bleak Seasons) in a very casual bit of exposition that she actually survived the Battle of the Barrowland, where she had been presumed killed. She was the most successful and ingenious of the Circle of Eighteen, the only new Taken of consequence, and a horrible nemesis for both the Black Company as a whole and Croaker personally. But she lived on, possibly in peace since she was no longer a threat. I look at this as a reflection of how in real life, all too often, disgusting people go unpunished for awful crimes. At least in Whisper's case, though, she was permanently deprived of all her sorcery.
- Otto and Hagop: these two old pals die of natural causes during the Company’s peaceful downtime in Hsien. Objectively, violent sellswords who helped execute unarmed POWs did not really deserve a happy ending. But subjectively... well, they were fan favorites after all.
- Ky Gota: the old crone died happy – "drunker than three owls drowned in a wine cask" – at her home in the Abode of Ravens in Hsien at the beginning of Soldiers Live. A peaceful end although her "last few years had been hell" given her physical pain. And, she went before the assassination of her boyfriend One-Eye.
- Surendranath Santaraksita: this old ephebophile sets up shop with the monks of Khang Phi, happy as a clam
- Baladitya spends his last years holed up with Shivetya, blissfully recording the golem's memoirs, and dies in his sleep
- Croaker and Lady: the main character is literally apotheosized at the very end of the series, but Glen Cook pulls it off without being childish. It's a master stroke. And Lady effectively regains her power. A happy ending indeed!
Who's on the cover?
A list of who is showcased on the cover of each of the USA first-edition novels.
|Title||Featured on cover|
|1) The Black Company||Soulcatcher|
|2) Shadows Linger||Croaker; the Lady|
|3) The White Rose||Father Tree|
|4) Shadow Games||Croaker (as Widowmaker); Shapeshifter; Lisa Daele Bowalk|
|5) The Silver Spike||Toadkiller Dog; Sapling with silver spike|
|6) Dreams of Steel||Soulcatcher & her Demon at Overlook|
|7) Bleak Seasons||white crow (Soulcatcher's)|
|8) She Is the Darkness||Croaker; Lady|
|9) Water Sleeps||Shivetya|
|10) Soldiers Live||crow, presumably Soulcatcher's|
|11) Port of Shadows||Croaker; Lady (as "Tides Elba")|
- Soulcatcher represented on 3, possibly 4
- Croaker represented on 4
- Lady represented on 3
- 1 each for: Father Tree, Shapeshifter, Lisa Bowalk, Toadkiller Dog, Sapling, unnamed demon, Shivetya
Our unsympathetic main character
The main character of the series Croaker is an incredibly flawed person. At certain points in the novels, he is downright unsympathetic. As much as I love this book series, I do not hold back criticism. These are some of Croaker's decisions and actions which I still find disturbing:
- Attitudes towards rape: Croaker's insouciant response to that scene where Whitey is carrying off the defeated woman from Whisper's "amazon regiment" is gruesome and unforgivable. Yeah, I know, I know... I get it. This is the dark world the characters live in. But I'm not much for cultural relativism. Rape is bad.
- Betraying Shapeshifter: Shifter had been an excellent ally for the Black Company. But instead of dispatching him while he was defenseless, Croaker could have simply asked Lady to disarm him with his true name (the same way Silent disarmed her) and let him live what remained of his mortal life out in peace. Or, just let him be, and trusted him: recall this very overlooked line from Shadow Games: "and I thought I heard him damning someone for helping her, heard him threatening to get someone next." This is of course Shifter promising himself aloud to kill Soulcatcher, whose crows cackled insanely nearby. In other words, Shifter would have gone on serving Lady and would have helped overcome Soulcatcher, and presumably the other 3 remaining Shadowmasters. Lisa Bowalk would never have been motivated to murder the venerable One-Eye, and there probably would never have been a Protectorate.
- Flushing a human avalanche of ~60,000 lives down the toilet: during the Battle of Charandaprash, Croaker allowed camp followers to accumulate to 60,000. He then forced them into a tortured existence, building and repairing war materiel endlessly. They did all this brute work and then were forced at swordpoint to rush into Mogaba's well-trained legions, where they were cut down in their thousands. As Murgen would record: "I was stunned. I was awed. The Captain had his hard moments but I never figured him for hard enough to let camp followers accumulate and tag along so he could use them as a human avalanche... That was turning into a horror show of proportions sure to be recalled for generations." And Longshadow: "The dead fell in windrows. They lie there in veritable hills. Count them in their thousands. These crows will feast for an age to come." It's tough to keep reading when the main character of the series uses tens of thousands of civilians as a target just to wear down professional soldiers.
- Setting up the destruction of the Khatovar shadowgate: this underhanded act was meant to punish the Voroshk family, but instead it caused an entire world to be virtually wiped out. Literally, almost an entire world: humans and livestock alike were horrendously killed by shadows. When he casually chronicled the mass death caused by his choice, I remember putting the book down (back in about 2002 during my first read) and having a hard time coming back to finish it. And worse, other characters like Lady buy into his interpretation that the Voroshk – not him – caused that Armageddon. No one has the right to endanger even one innocent life... much less hundreds of thousands of such lives... just to retaliate against bad people. Really, it's that simple. Where in other places, Glen Cook expertly treads through moral grey areas, Croaker's shadowgate trick is nothing like that.
Observations on the Taken
The Taken: Dead or alive?
In the dead/survived subheadings below, I combine the New Taken with the original Ten, something I am typically loath to do because they just aren't comparable in my opinion. But nevertheless I do it for the sake of completion so the grand total of 18 are listed.
Numbered chronologically by order of death:
|Death order) Name||Sex||Clothing||Killer|
|1) Hanged Man||male||(unspecified)||Harden (the Circle)|
|3,4,or 5) Nightcrawler||male*||(unspecified)||(the Circle)|
|3,4,or 5) Moonbiter||female*||(unspecified)||Faceless Man|
|3,4,or 5) Faceless Man||male*||(unspecified)||Moonbiter|
|6) Feather||female||all black||castle creatures|
|7) Scorn||(unspecified)||all black||Father Tree / the Lady|
|8) Benefice||male||all black||Silent|
|9) Limper||male||all brown||Silent / windwhale / Imperials|
|10) Shapeshifter||male||time-bleached scarlet||One-Eye / Black Company|
|11) Stormbringer||female||(unspecified)||One-Eye / Black Company|
|12) Howler||male||indigo gauze||shadows|
- Scorn seemingly died of injuries sustained by Father Tree on the Plain of Fear after the Lady stripped him of his magic powers. Presumably he would have been able to heal if the Lady had not done this.
- Benefice seems to be one of the New Taken who plummeted from the sky when Silent erased the Lady's powers, which simultaneously triggered the "dead man's switch" that erased Benefice's powers too. Although it is not explicitly stated, he died of precipitation after losing his magic.
|Whisper||female||(unspecified, but dissimilar to other Taken)|
|Soulcatcher||female||all black leather|
The Taken: Seen by Croaker?
Order if seen clearly by Croaker:
- Soulcatcher (in Beryl)
- Shapeshifter (in Oar)
- Limper (in Oar)
- Whisper (in the Forest of Cloud, grove of huge evergreens)
- Hanged Man (at the Stair of Tear)
- Stormbringer (small meadow near sandstone pillars at the Stair of Tear)
- The Howler (pasture 10 miles due north of the Tower)
- Bonegnasher (outside the Tower)
No, or uncertain
Possibly only seen from a distance. Still need to verify the final 5 New Taken.
- The Faceless Man
- The 5 final New Taken: Benefice, Blister, Scorn, the Creeper, and Learned