So there we were, Jim and I, striding along a desolate highway on the tiny Greek Island of Anafi, intent on reaching our destination: a remote, mountaintop monastery on whose roof we hoped to sleep should we reach it by nightfall (we didn’t). Like anybody who has been walking for hours our conversation had ranged from the quality of our lunch (stupendous) to the lasting appeal of Wolverine and anti-heroes. Jim, the most debonair and cultured of all my traveling buddies to date, began to expound on the brilliance of The Black Company. As the sun hammered down upon us, as the Aegean glittered to our right, he stopped and stared me in the eyes and said something like:
“Good golly Miss Molly*, Phil you have to catch a plane to the closest B&N and buy a copy of this book NOW. Don’t talk. Start running. The port is three hours that way.”
I was suitably impressed. I made some false runs toward the port to satisfy him, and then we kept on trekking, and luckily the near death experience of climbing that mountain in the dark distracted him from insisting that I get my hands on a copy of The Black Company as quickly as possible.
A few years go by. I don’t read it. Then, at B&N searching for a novel for my brother’s birthday, I see it. Grim and heavy and with awesome cover art. Almost I bought it for myself, but instead generosity won out, and I got it for Nick. Six months later he hadn’t read it, but allowed me to borrow it on our 10 day hiking trip through Glacier National Park, where I lugged it about 10 miles a day up and down mountains and rued the day I had decided to ring dead weight since I was too exhausted throughout to even open it once.
But the upshot was I brought it home with me, battered and bruised and banged up and broken by spending a hellish week in the bottom of my pack (the book, not me). So, finally, after all these years, I took Jim’s advice and cracked the damned thing open and began to read.
And good golly Miss Molly, is it a hell of a book.
Why is it so good? Well, first of all the writing is great. Fast paced, brutal, interspersed with moments of lyricism and philosophical reflection a la David Gemmel at his earliest best. The Black Company tracks the campaigns of an elite battalion of mercenaries as they help the wrong side to win. Right there it wins my heart, because nobody outside of Villains by Necessity has done bad guys so well. But what’s more the pacing never flags, the intricacies of the world building are stupendous without being overwhelming, and how can you not grow immensely fond of Croaker, One Eye, Silent, Elmo, Goblin, the Captain, Raven and the rest? Throw in The Taken (who are the bad asses the Nazgul should have been) and you have one hell of a book.
It’s first rate military campaigning a la first half of Elizbeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksennarion, with the best of David Gemmel existential musings and all of Darth Vader’s appeal. If any of that sounds remotely interesting you, then as Jim said, get off this Greek island and get yourself a copy of this book, stat!
* May not be his exact words, but who’s counting?