fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsShadow Games by Glen Cook epic military fantasy book reviewsShadow Games by Glen Cook

It’s been so long since the Black Company left Khatovar that the annals of that time are lost. Now, the campaigns in the North against the Dominator and the Taken — powerful sorcerers that vied against one another for world domination — destroyed everything but a handful of the Company’s soldiers. It’s time to regroup.

Croaker, a former physician and Company annalist, is now the Company’s Captain. The Company retains its history and its merciless tactics. Its two wizards, Goblin and One-Eye, are still alive, and they still hate each other. And then there’s Lady. Lady had been one of the Taken, but she has now lost her power. There might be something between Lady and Croaker, but they have to take care of their responsibilities before they can figure out whether their shared attraction can turn into a relationship. Looking at his exhausted troops, Croaker decides to return to the distant South in order to recover the Company’s oldest annals and the story of its origins.

Along the way, the remaining members of the Company will have to outsmart brigands, outfight river pirates, and figure a way out of the distant wars that it is blindly marching into.

The strength of Glen Cook’s BLACK COMPANY novels is almost certainly Croaker’s voice. Croaker’s status in the Company has changed, so he is getting used to wielding authority and scheming, but our narrator still maintains a curiously merciless romantic melancholy. Reflecting on his past campaigns in the North, Croaker does not find much comfort in his accomplishments: “a world was saved there, and so much else lost. We will live out our lives wondering about the cost.” Croaker is an interesting mix of negotiations and paradoxes. He feels mostly disdain for the farmer, but he does not particularly enjoy marching in the rain, either. He cannot convince himself that he’s doing good because good and evil don’t enter into the Company’s decision tree, but he still feels uncomfortable when he watches One-Eye exacting revenge on his many enemies. Croaker is conflicted enough to remain sympathetic even when he refuses to help people in need, explaining that “if I try to right every wrong I run into, I’ll never get to Khatovar.” Cook’s hero wouldn’t be happy to hear that he is more Sherriff of Nottingham than Robin Hood, but he wouldn’t disagree.

Shadow Games, meanwhile, is less military campaign than it is a political intrigue surrounding a mercenary outfit in search of its past. The Black Company hopes to fight through to Khatovar, but they first have to endure other powers that seek to use the Company’s reputation for their own purposes. Is Lady a member of the Company or does she still lust after power? There are Shadowmasters in the South that seek to use the Company against one another. Crows follow Croaker wherever he goes, but no one else can see them. These shadow games should fascinate, but they feel naïve compared to the elaborate webs of George R.R. Martin’s Tywin Lannister.

In fact, while I enjoyed the opening and closing chapters of Shadow Games, I otherwise found it mostly dull. At first glance, the plot is too slow for a dark fantasy about a grizzled mercenary outfit in a foreign land. Actually, there’s a lot of action to keep readers turning pages. At least the characters are interesting, I thought. But really, while each of the characters seems interesting, I didn’t invest much in their ambitions. Lady, for example, is fascinating because she’s a former empress/ sorceress trying to make it as a mercenary, but I ultimately didn’t doubt she could succeed. And I certainly didn’t care whether she and Croaker hooked up.

For the most part, I appreciated that Cook was trying to reboot the BLACK COMPANY series more than I enjoyed Shadow Games. For better or worse, I, like Croaker and the Black Company, will continue the journey to Khatover.

The Chronicles of The Black Company — (1984-2000) In January 2005, Glen Cook said “I have two more, A Pitiless Rain and Port of Shadows, planned for the future, but I have a bunch of other stuff I have to do first that’s under contract. It will be several years before a new Black Company novel comes out.” Publisher: Some feel the Lady, newly risen from centuries in thrall, stands between humankind and evil. Some feel she is evil itself. The hard-bitten men of the Black Company take their pay and do what they must, burying their doubts with their dead. Until the prophecy: The White Rose has been reborn, somewhere, to embody good once more. There must be a way for the Black Company to find her…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsbook review Glen Cook The Black Company Shadows Linger, The White Rose, The Silver Spikebook review Glen Cook The Black Company Shadows Linger, The White Rose, The Silver SpikeGlen Cook Shadow Games, Dreams of SteelGlen Cook Shadow Games, Dreams of Steelbook review Glen Cook The Black Company Shadows Linger, The White Rose, The Silver SpikeBleak Seasons, She is the Darkness, Water Sleeps, Soldiers LiveBleak Seasons, She is the Darkness, Water Sleeps, Soldiers LiveBleak Seasons, She is the Darkness, Water Sleeps, Soldiers LiveBleak Seasons, She is the Darkness, Water Sleeps, Soldiers LivePort of Shadows: A Novel of the Black Company (Chronicles of The Black Company) Kindle Edition by Glen Cook (Author)

Click here for more BLACK COMPANY stories.


  • Ryan Skardal

    RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.