Mild Dermatographia

Review: The Black Company


Note: this review is spoiler-free.

I read Malazan: Book of the Fallen for the first time about 3 years ago and fell in love. The massive scope, the cast, the humour, the action; everything about it was what I wanted in a book, pondourous sections included. I used to have a review for it on this site and can’t for the life of me remember why I removed it. In any case, Malazan has cemented itself as one of my favorite book series of all time, and I’ve reread the whole series once and the first 5 books perhaps a half dozen more times.

I’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to past-times the past few months, spending much more time than I’d like browsing the internet, so I figured I’d find an easy sell of a read to get me out of it. The Black Company was a perfect fit, a source of inspiration for Malazan, and much shorter to boot!

Long story short, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The tone was quite similar to Malazan, if not slightly lighter. While both contains lots and lots of violence, The Black Company seems to take a much less active approach in retelling these events. The narrator, Croaker, the annalist and physician of the company, has had his fill of gore and horror, and keeps specifics vague; while Malazan will describe an axe smashing through a skull and pulling loose with a wet sob, gore splattering the wielder, Croaker tends to restrict descriptions of violence to there being injuries inflicted or someone dying (there are exceptions, of course). The Black Company commits some horrific acts such as torture and rape, but again Croaker turns a blind-ish eye, letting us know what’s happening, without indulging in it (not that Malazan does either, if I recall correctly).

There’s a sense of humour which is very remniscent of Malazan; the Taken prank each other much like the soldiers of the Malazan empire do, and the jokes definitely have a similar feel.

The Company itself is a clear inspiration for the soldiers of the Malazan empire as well. Soldiers in the Black Company and play games in camp with obscure rules and suspicous victors to pass time, and have names associated with common objects or verbs much like the Malaz. They’re equally resourceful, scrappy, and cynical.

The scope of the world is definitely smaller; there’s no parallel threads running and inevitably tangling at the climax of the book; you’re following a single narrator for the book’s entirety. There’s also no layered history and actors. There’s the people the mercenaries of the Black Company work for, the people they’re against, and that’s about it. This isn’t a criticism though; not every books needs a universe-ending threat and world-spanning scale, and I appreciated how straight-forward the story told here was.

Overall, The Black Company feels like someone took some pretty beefy shears to Malazan; they trimmed the insanely detailed worldbuilding, the stakes, the scope of the story, and a whole lot of in-between major events, and what’s left is a fat-free dark fantasy book that I can absolutely recommend.