After all but shunning fantasy genre novels for nearly a decade, I’ve been tentatively dipping my toes back in here and there. In my teenage years, fantasy novels were almost exclusively all I read. I remember bringing some five hundred page behemoth to English class and a fellow student chiding me for not reading the assigned reading yet diving into much longer series at a ravenous pace. However, as I aged I felt that fantasy novels didn’t–they all seemed to focus excessively on heroes and villains, black and white worlds that are simple and digestible to my teenaged self but lacking a depth or sincerity that I craved as a college freshman.
I’ll admit I turned away too hastily from the fantasy genre: GRRM’s works alone are evidence of that, and when I went back and reread ASoIaF a few years ago to catch up to A Dance with Dragons I was captivated once again by a medieval fantasy universe. I came across The Black Company on some list of series-a-likes to read while waiting for the next Ice and Fire book and… man, I can’t really disagree more. Maybe the parts of Ice and Fire that appealed to that listicle-writer were totally different than what appealed to me, but The Black Company is not a grand, character-driven masterpiece of plotting.
The book does get away from the heroes-and-villains tropes, but it seems to pat itself on the back too much for doing so. The first person point of view character-slash-narrator Croaker acknowledges that his is not a heroic story and the worst of the violence isn’t being recorded, but none of it feels weighty because none of the characters really feel like they matter. I’m not expecting the characters to be likable, but I do expect them to be interesting and for the most part none of them are. They’re a mix between strong, silent types (literally a character is named Silent) and meaty, capable warriors, with a few mischievous wizards mixed in. In a genre where the villains are often more interesting than the heroes, The Black Company manages to be a book about a bunch of boring villains.
One caveat: while I wouldn’t recommend The Black Company, I’ll note that I did read the whole thing. I’m not someone who always has to see a story through–I’ll drop a book if it bores me. And The Black Company did bore me at times. But I finished it. I think because I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the interesting stuff to start happening. It never did, but I did finish it, and that’s a point in the ‘pros’ column for this one. Regardless, my verdict is: not good, not recommended.