In my review of Glen Cook’s first book in the Instrumentalities of the Night series, I bemoaned the lack of a map. Somehow, my opinion managed to go unheard and/or unheeded and so I’ll start again by asking if it would be too much to include a map in a book that jumps among a slew of kingdoms, countries, islands, and petty territories.
As a long-time fan of “epic” fantasy, I consider myself pretty well-versed in how to handle sweeping geography, but there were so many names of so many places playing a major role either in the active plot or in the backgrounds/motivations of characters that I became annoyingly bewildered by who was where and who was allying with whom.
The same is true of the names that get flashed by quite often, especially in the first third or so of the book, sometimes at a whirlwind pace where you might get 8-10 names of new places and new people in a single paragraph then two paragraphs later get another 8-10. Some of this is just background to the world-creation, pointing out that a larger world exists beyond the canvas of the novel’s plot, but many of the places and people are important based on geopolitics — which queen is supporting which king who has sent which knight to lead which county lord against which king fighting in support of which prelate, and so on. Not to mention of course that some of these characters have multiple names due to their being undercover agents or having a separate nickname used by some characters but not others or, like many aristocrats, they have both names and title which gets used or not. And then there are the sects and sects within sects who often act as characters in their own right, as in “the Brotherhood was making things difficult.” As I mentioned, it all gets a bit bewildering as characters drop into info-dump mode to explain why things are moving as they are and to be brutally honest, for much of the first third I had no idea of why things were happening at all. I knew what was going on — who was fighting whom and who was winning — but why they were fighting this particular enemy? … No clue.
Eventually, those packed expositive paragraphs dwindle, the storyline narrows, and it all becomes easier to follow. As in The Tyranny of the Night, the focus is on Piper Hecht, now Captain-General of the Patriarch’s army (though of course Hecht is actually Else Tage, a Praman warrior sent by his king — partially because Tage is so good and partially because the worried king thinks he’s too good — into the West to undermine their ability to crusade against the Eastern (Praman) lands). In Lord of the Silent Kingdom, Hecht leads the Patriarch’s army into the End of the Connect to pacify a religious heresy, learns more about his sponsor — a member of the high council (think Cardinals) and magic user, picks up a lost girl who seems to be someone important politically, evades many, many assassination attempts, learns he has a guardian angel of sorts, is caught up in the political and religious machinations as people battle for the power of the Patriarchy, and does battle with the instrumentalities — the minor and major gods. And that’s not all.
Meanwhile, we get another point of view from Helspeth, Princess Apparent of the Grail Empire whose father has recently died, leaving the throne to her ill brother, who is to be followed by her older sister of questionable capability.
Rounding out the three-stranded POV is Brother Candle, a Perfect Master (pacifistic minister of sorts) who observes the battle in the Connecht but from the other side of Piper Hecht.
It’s a hugely complex plot in terms of its politics, religion, character motivations, geography, etc. And as mentioned, it’s all a bit hard to follow for the first third or so. The POV switches aren’t always successful, the writing often feels disjointed, and the POVs are also a bit unbalanced in effect, with Piper’s much more engaging, followed by Helspeth’s (though she gets the least amount of time), and then by Candle, whose character’s passivity makes for relatively uninteresting reading, especially as much of what happens is told rather than shown.
Piper’s story, however, is engaging even when one isn’t sure why he’s doing what he’s doing. It has Cook’s trademark realism and dark humor, strong character and dialogue. As events clear up, it becomes even more enjoyable.
The battles with the instrumentalities seem a bit anti-climactic, though it does seem we’re building up to something larger. The grander themes are all fascinating — an encroaching ice, a worsening of the Instrumentalities, the major shifting of geopolitics, the problems with refugees fleeing the ice age effects, Hecht’s gradually morphing from Else Tage, Praman warrior, to Piper, Patriarchal General. It’s an ambitious work that doesn’t quite succeed for a big chunk but then finds its voice and pacing for most of the rest of the book.
Glen Cook is working on a large canvas here and sometimes probably short-changes himself by cramming it all in to a relatively small space, thus leading to problems of clarity of exposition-stuffed prose, but by the end the reader is pulled in thoroughly and looking forward to volume three. Recommended with caveats. And with yet another plea for that damn map.
Glen Cook’s next installment in The Instrumentalities of the Night is a welcome update to an interesting story. We return to a world that is undergoing dramatic changes and great war is brewing. It was interesting and tense.
The main character, Else Tage/Piper Hecht, is a solid no-nonsense leader who is caught up in a whirlwind of political and ethical challenges. The reader is drawn along as he confronts these problems and is shaped by various influences. The evolution of the man makes sense as he goes through some of these shocks and as his pragmatic personality makes him adapt.
Magic, the Church, political motivations, religious persecution, corrupt politicians, and dithering nobles make up the cast of characters. Cook doesn’t spend much time developing characters who won’t stick around very long, but he does give them enough depth to make sense.
My favorite part of the story is the way that Cook allows his pragmatic hero to react to, adapt to, and overcome the obstacles to his different missions. It’s refreshing to hear someone think along logical lines as they figure out how to accomplish a military mission. Many of the details of the operation are hidden from us, but that’s not a bad thing since it keeps the minutiae from crowding out the story.
On the whole I strongly recommend Lord of the Silent Kingdom as a worthy addition to the series. Cook keeps the story moving forward and develops essential characters without bogging us down with more information and superfluous personalities. Good stuff.
Lord of the Silent Kingdom by Glen Cook
Before I get started, just a warning: there will be SPOILERS AHEAD! Due to the complexity of The Instrumentalities of the Night series, I will be summarizing the first book, The Tyranny of the Night, in conjunction with my review of book two, Lord of the Silent Kingdom.
So, let’s recap. Set in a world that is loosely based on 12th–15th century Europe, The Tyranny of the Night follows three main storylines. First, you have Captain Else Tage, a Sha-lug (special services warrior) of the Pramans who control the Wells Of Ihrain (a source of power for the Instrumentalities) amidst the Holy Lands. Else Tage does the impossible: a human using science/technology to kill a creature of the Night, in essence a minor god. From there, Else Tage is sent on a new mission to the West, to prevent the Patriarchy from starting another crusade into the Holy Lands. Along the way, Else Tage assumes a new identity in Piper Hecht, and becomes embroiled in a variety of increasingly improbable adventures involving politics (Patriarch, anti-Patriarch, Principates, King Peter), religion (Chaldarean, Deves, Pramans), soldiering, romance (Anna Mozilla), pirates, the Brotherhood Of War (dedicated to the destruction of the Night), witches, spies, soultaken assassins, sorcerers, Imperials (Grail Empire), and much more. Meanwhile, a second narrative focuses on two Andoran warriors in Shagot and Svavar, who are resurrected hundreds of years out of the past as soultaken by the Old Ones (ancient gods) to hunt down and kill the Godslayer (Else Tage). And lastly, you have Brother Candle, a Perfect Master of the Maysalean heresy who appears in the End of Connec in an attempt to prevent the Patriarch Sublime V from launching a crusade to rid the country of its heretics.
Just based on the above synopsis, which is really only a taste of what the book has to offer, it’s obvious that there’s a lot going on with The Tyranny of the Night. So, there’s no surprise that there’ve been some complaints about the book’s intricacy. After all, there’s a lot of information to process, not just the huge cast of characters involved, but also all of the political, religious, geographical and historical data that is thrown at you. And considering the many variant viewpoints and an obvious lack of a map or glossary, The Tyranny of the Night can be a hard book to follow. Still, if you were one of those readers that persevered through to the end, then you were treated to a very enjoyable convergence of events that satisfactorily concluded the first chapter in the Instrumentalities series.
With Lord of the Silent Kingdom, the story picks up not long after the end of The Tyranny of the Night, once again following the narratives of Piper Hecht (Else Tage), now the Captain-General of the Patriarchal army, and Brother Candle who continues his vigil in Connec. Providing the third viewpoint this time around is Helspeth Ege, Princess Apparent of the Grail Empire. First, to allay any fears, Lord of the Silent Kingdom is a much less confusing read than its predecessor. After all, the foundation was already established in the first book, and aside from a few new faces and locales, the story focuses mainly on those players and locations we already know. Plus, the viewpoints strictly adhere to Piper, Brother Candle and Princess Helspeth with only the occasional deviating narrative or long-winded exposition.
Now, of the three main storylines I found those of Piper Hecht to be the most engaging, as was the case with The Tyranny of the Night, and, appropriately, Hecht gets the most face time. For avid readers of Glen Cook — particularly his Black Company novels, which helped establish the author’s trademark for writing gritty, militaristic fantasy grounded in cynical realism and punctuated by acerbic humor — Piper Hecht’s adventures are the most closely related. While the escapades this time around aren’t as ironical or off-the-wall as they were in The Tyranny of the Night, you can still expect plenty of assassination attempts, war campaigns, backstabbing, the Ninth Unknown Cloven Februaren, family secrets, politics, Instrumentalities and engaging interactions with the likes of Pinkus Ghort, etc., to occupy Piper throughout Lord Of The Silent Kingdom. Brother Candle’s narrative remains dry in tone, reinforcing his role as mainly an observer of the events that befall Connec. Meanwhile, Princess Helspeth gets the least face time, and I felt that her narrative was more of an introduction, not just to her, but also to the court that she inhabits, which I believe is going to play a much bigger role in future volumes.
Compared to its predecessor, Lord of the Silent Kingdom is an improvement in some areas and a fall-off in others. On the plus side, the book itself is much easier to follow, part of it due to the format and writing, but mostly because the reader should already be familiar with the world that Mr. Cook has created. Speaking of which, the characterization of the world and the variety of peoples who populate it continues to be deftly realized and is definitely one of the high points of the book. What I felt was a weakness, was that while a lot happens in Lord of the Silent Kingdom, the reader is not always involved in the thick of the action, and the book lacks the epic, supernatural action of The Tyranny of the Night. In fact, the novel feels more like a setup piece between The Tyranny of the Night and the forthcoming volumes in the Instrumentalities series as a lot of threads are left unresolved. So, from a personal standpoint, I did not enjoy Lord of the Silent Kingdom as an individual book as much as I did The Tyranny of the Night, even with all of the latter’s faults. That said, I feel that The Instrumentalities of the Night is one of the more ambitious and dynamic fantasy epics out there today. What’s more, Mr. Cook is still establishing his legacy as one of fantasy’s best writers by continuing to take risks and redefining the genre that he’s been influencing since he first began writing. So, whether you’re a die-hard fan of The Black Company, Dread Empire or Garrett, P.I., or whether you’re new to Glen Cook, take the plunge, read The Instrumentalities of the Night series and be rewarded.
Instrumentalities of the Night — (2005-2014) Publisher: Welcome to the world of the Instrumentalities of the Night, where imps, demons, and dark gods rule in the spaces surrounding upstart humanity. At the edges of the world stand walls of ice which push slowly forward to reclaim the land for the night. And at the world’s center, in the Holy Land where two great religions were born, are the Wells of Ihrain, the source of the greatest magics. Over the last century the Patriarchs of the West have demanded crusades to claim the Wells from the Pramans, the followers of the Written. Now an uneasy truce extends between the Pramans and the West, waiting for a spark to start the conflict anew. Then, on a mission in the Holy Land, the young Praman warrior Else is attacked by a creature of the Dark — in effect, a minor god. Too ignorant to know that he can never prevail over such a thing, he fights it and wins, and in so doing, sets the terrors of the night against him. As a reward for his success, Else is sent as a spy to the heart of the Patriarchy to direct their attention away from further ventures into the Holy Lands. Dogged by hidden enemies and faithless allies, Else witnesses senseless butchery and surprising acts of faith as he penetrates to the very heart of the Patriarchy and rides alongside their armies in a new crusade against his own people. But the Night rides with him, too, sending two of its once-human agents from the far north to assassinate him. Submerged in his role, he begins to doubt his faith, his country, even his family. As his mission careens out of control, he faces unanswerable questions about his future. It is said that God will know his own, but can one who has slain gods ever know forgiveness?