Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Mar 29 10:51:13 EST 1990

Raymond's Reviews #27

%T Dreams of Steel
%A Glen Cook
%I TOR Fantasy
%D April 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 346
%G 0-812-50210-8

This #5 of the Chronicles of the Black Company demonstrates the besetting problem with series; it's neither as original nor quite as carefully written as the first four. On the other hand, Glen Cook is a captivating writer with a uniquely dark, Chandleresque slant on the fantasy epic. If he can keep shut of the assembly-line crank-'em-out-for-the-bucks mentality that threatens this series he may yet become an SF/fantasy writer of the first rank.

At the disaster of Dejagore (see the end of Shadow Games) Croaker is shot through the chest beside the Company's standard, but does not die; he is removed from the battlefield by the same black-cowled Presence that has dogged the Black Company through their march south from the Sea of Torments. Lady, believing him dead, swears vengeance on the Shadowmasters and begins to re-form the Company around the few survivors; she becomes both Annalist and Captain.

The Presence, it develops, is none other than the Taken called Soulcatcher, Lady's sister and bitter enemy. She has saved Croaker to be the tool of her vengeance. And as Lady threads her way though the intrigues of Taglios, she finds that her new allies may be as dangerous as her enemies -- for they are the Stranglers, the murder-cult of the Dark Mother. They believe Lady is the long-prophesied Daughter of Night, the bloody messiah they have awaited for a thousand years. All her plans will unravel if they discover they have the wrong woman -- and more terrifying yet is the possibility that they do not.

Meanwhile, far to the south, there are things stirring on the Plain of Glittering Stone, the accursed place that may long ago have been the Company's home city of Khatovar. If the Black Company fulfills its contract with the Taglians, the Shadowmasters' last resort may be to loose those evils on the world...

This is fun stuff, and nowhere near as predictable as the purple-prose synopsis above above might suggest. Cook is very good at writing against the expectations of the fantasy form; his dialogue and prose style have a cynical, gritty, naturalistic edge much more like the best film noir than Tolkien or contemporary fantasists. It's a technique that helps make the fantastic elements in the plot more believable, and more vivid by contrast. And it's well suited to depicting a milieu in which the choices are usually not between good or evil, but between evil and greater evil.

We do find out a bit more about the mission of the original Black Company toward the end of the book -- enough to know that it was a response to the same events that gave birth to the Strangler cult. The next and last book, Glittering Stone, should draw the final veils aside. I'm looking forward to it.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Thu Mar 29 10:51:13 EST 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>