Bleak Seasons is the sixth novel in Cook’s acclaimed Black Company series. A brutal, straight in your face account of an ugly, unredeeming war was a welcome refresh after the streak of bad and mediocre books I had recently hit.
Bleak Seasons take place at the same time as the Dreams of Steel, recounted from the Lady’s point of view, but this story is told from the perspective of Murgen, the new Standardbearer of the Black Company. Murgen, along with the majority of the Black Company under the command of Mogaba, has been trapped in the siege of Dejagore. You remember that monstrous city ruled by Shadow masters in the middle of southern nowhere, past the Hindu-like Taglios on the Black Company’s way toward Khatovar? Dejagore is a living hell. Fear and hate, utter lack of hope clashing with the animal need to survive, tight confines of the stone city bereft of food but full of hungry, hostile mouths, and a looming catastrophe of an urban fight change the place into a nightmarish landscape of grisly death. Reading Bleak Seasons I had one name in mind – Hue. Although, considering the recent wars, at least a couple of others should join it – from Fallujah to Mosul.
Quite recently I dedicated an unusually long post to a heated critique of some minor points of one of my favourite fantasy series ever. Apart from my conviction that one of the characters is overpowered and unnecessary, I concluded: arguably some obscure details of how war develops are slightly distorted, giving the series 9,5/10.
That was before reading Seal of the Worm and now I have to admit – the final instalment made me sad. So – the whole series keeps the “well done” tag, “medium” applies to the Seal of the Worm.
Spoilers ahead, even more than in the previous post.
Spoiler alert! Unless you’ve read till the end of book 8, don’t go further 😉
Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of our favourite modern genre authors. There are several proper reviews and many favourable mentions here. I’ve just finished volume 8 in his 10 book long Shadows of the Apt series, I’ve read Spiderlands, and a few doorstopers patiently wait on my shelves for the right time. I trust this author, and I don’t feel the need to read everything at once. I know I won’t be disappointed, so I can wait. Although, if he keeps publishing two books a year, I might speed it up a bit, there seems to be quite a few stories left in him.
Shadows of the Apt are becoming one of my all-time favourite series, and two final instalments would have to be really terrible to change that. I essentially agree with everything Ola wrote in her review, but I would like to share a few thoughts about one topic, something important for genre literature in general, and here presented with art and vision, in my opinion, unparalleled. Czajkowski makes the clash of magic and technology one of the central issues here.
Spoils of War is a Shadows of the Apt companion book consisting of 12 short stories set in the world of the Apt and Inapt around the time of the Twelve Year War. Some of the stories, such as Ironclads, Spoils of War or The Dreams of Avaris have been previously made available to readers on Czajkowski’s blog, others, like The Shadows of Their Lamps or Brass Mantis, are entirely new. Most of the tales take place in Commonweal at the time of the Wasp invasion, but there are also entries from Myna, Helleron and Collegium, before or after that time. And though the stories are very diverse, touching on topics from ingenious technical inventions through mystical hidden treasures, confidence ploys to love and sacrifice, the theme spanning them all is war.
I won’t wax over Shadows of the Apt now, having said enough already here. Let me just one more time emphasize the sheer scope and originality of Czajkowski’s series. I am a devoted fan of the incredible world he created and the complex, living, breathing, and most of all real protagonists populating it. Finishing Seal of the Worm had been a curious experience for me; one of a deep reading satisfaction mixed with more than a tinge of regret. The enormous, extraordinary tale Czajkowski spun through ten hefty books was coming to an end. A very well written, thoroughly considered, well planned and deeply moving end, granted, but still. And so I won’t surprise anyone saying that Spoils of War is a very welcome – if somewhat short – trip back to the world of Apt. I have missed the crazy reality of Insect-kinden, where steampunk clashes with high fantasy in an alternate WWII setting ;).
The final book of trilogy I really enjoyed. It’s sad the story is concluded, but better to be left craving for more than finish a veery long series out of sheer tenacity, plagued by boredom and embarrassment. Fantasy should probably be written in trilogies or series of trilogies 😉
Spoiler alert! This book is very good 🙂
Four years since the publication of Bloodsounder’s Arc’s first instalment, Scourge of the Betrayer in 2012 we got a 509-page final story.
(I like the matte dust jacket a lot, and it’s easier to photograph than glossy jackets of volumes one and two…)
The final installment in Books of the South, not exactly a part of trilogy (although the chronological order is more or less maintained), but rather a spin-off from the Black Company series. Instead of Croaker and co. we get White Rose and Silent and Raven. And, of course, a certain silver spike, containing the soul of Dominator, conquered in the Barrowlands in the grand finale of The White Rose. There’s also a very peculiar severed head craving for a body, and a really nasty dog who doesn’t like toads :). But it all comes together thanks to a quartet of greedy and not very bright no-names from Oar, who get the brilliant idea of stealing the spike and selling it to the highest bidder. What could go wrong with such a crafty plan?
Today is the Men’s Day in Poland. I decided to celebrate it with a review of Dreams of Steel, the second installment in the second almost-trilogy in The Black Company series, Books of the South. Why? Besides the obvious and false stereotype that military fantasy is a distinctly male sub-genre? 😉 Here it comes: while the first installment, Shadow Games, was written from Croaker’s perspective, the second – for reasons obvious to anyone who’s read the first book and not readily revealable to everyone else 😉 – undergoes a forced change of the narrator. The role of the Black Company Annalist falls to the Lady.
What a wondrous turn of events! 🙂 The infamous Lady, the long-standing infatuation and love of Croaker, the mover and shaker of the whole Black Company universe, has been an immobile center of the whirlwind of events from the book one. Now we have a rare opportunity to see everything that happens through her own eyes. To see… actually, I won’t tell you what we really see, at least not yet. One fact remains clear, however: her perspective is similar enough for the hard-core fans not to feel too betrayed, and unique enough to lend the series a new, distinct flavor. A tip of the hat, or better a deep bow, to Glen Cook; it is a feat that’s difficult to pull off even in normal circumstances, and what happened in the Black Company universe is far from normal.