The final entry in a trilogy requires something special. In fantasy, that usually means finding godly machinery and amassing armies that will face each other on some distant, volcanic plain while a small band of covert heroes pull off a daring, one-in-a-million scheme.
However, up to this point, Glen Cook’s Black Company series has stood out for its noir atmosphere more than its epic company of mercenaries. Surprisingly, in The White Rose, Cook sacrifices his hard-boiled narrative for an epic fantasy storyline. It’s a daring, one-in-a-million scheme.
But it pays off.
Certainly Cook wastes no time trading in the noir for the epic: The White Rose opens in the Plain of Fear with Darling, now the White Rose and a general of her own unusual armies, pitted against the armies of the Taken, a group of elite sorcerers who serve the Lady. They are ruthless, centuries old, and their magic is immensely powerful. Thankfully, the White Rose has the power to nullify magic. The monsters in the Plain of Fear are supernatural and unpredictable, but they are also powerful and they form an alliance with the White Rose against the Dominator and his Lady, who each seek to restore an ancient empire of evil.
Cook’s final entry of The Black Company: The BOoks of the North consistently feels like a classic, archetypal high fantasy. Archetypal stories can invite authors to focus on broad details, but Cook is clever enough to pay attention to the little things. There are many fine details to applaud in The White Rose, but perhaps my favorite part of this novel (and the series) is the characters’ names. When a grizzled man and his dog, Tracker and Toadkiller Dog, show up, readers will hopefully be invested enough in the series to enjoy these names for all they’re worth.
Names are very important in the Black Company’s world. If someone can discover the Lady’s name and speak it, she will lose all of her magical power. Consequently, all sorcerers go to great lengths to keep their childhood secret. All of them are hiding their true identity, which is why much of The White Rose consists of trying to find out the true name of the Lady.
Unfortunately, Raven, Cook’s lone wolf, has messed up his search. So it falls on the other members of the company to figure things out. It’s a one-in-a-million chance that they’ll work out the puzzle of the Lady’s name in time to save The White Rose’s daring band of heroes — not to mention the world — but it does make for an enjoyable fantasy novel and a satisfying conclusion to the first trilogy in what is now recognized as a classic fantasy series.
Audible recently did this series in audio, so I’m looking forward to reading it.
I read The Black Company: Book of the North, in an omnibus put out by the Science Fiction Book Club decade+ ago.
(SFBC was actually a pretty decent book club if you’re looking for cheap books)
I don’t remember a whole lot about those books except that I had mixed feelings. I too loved the characters -and their names- that made up the Black Company. I always thought I’d like to re-visit them one day.
@Kat. I will be interested to see how the readers represent the atmosphere of The Black Company. It would be tough not to try to sound too grizzled.
@Greg. There’s definitely an aspect to The Black Company that could turn off some readers, but I would have expected you to be a really big fan. Lots of action, and very little romance.
I really enjoyed these first three Black Company books, but starting with the 4th volume the series began a marked slide. It’s almost as if once Cook took it to epic, he couldn’t figure out how to take it back down again.
@Ryan- You’re right I did love the action and even better, the war-hardened veterans. In fact, I wasn’t too long out of the Army when I had read these. I even commented on how realistic the soldier-mentality was (BTW Glen Cook is a Vietnam veteran).
I think the only real issue I had -if I recall correctly-, was my own silly pet-peeve, which is visual description. It’s just hard for me to really get-into a story when I don’t really know what a lot of things or characters look like. But otherwise I did like these books very much. I’m getting a little more tolerant of this though, so it may not even be an issue if I read it now.
I just finished The White Rose and I really liked these first three books in the series. Cook’s writing was bothersome at times because he makes it hard to follow what’s happening and who it’s happening to. It’s almost a minimalist writing style. Still, I liked the characters and the plots of all three books. The end of The White Rose is excellent!