The Chronicles of the Black Company. This was a book that was pitched to me as kind of like Lord of the Rings but told from the bad guys' side, which I thought would be pretty interesting. If you remember my review, or have just checked that helpful link, you may also recall that while I liked the characters and the setting I had some issues with Cook's writing and a huge problem with Cook telling instead of showing. So while there were parts I enjoyed, it's a little understandable that I was hesitant to come back to the series.
Returning to the series some two and a half or three years later does come with downsides, such as forgetting certain specific details in the narrative. I remembered the broader, important details, but I was unfortunately a little hazy on some other things. So I did have to spend some time reorienting myself, but once I had my feet under me I was happy to be tagging along with Croaker, Lady, Goblin, One-eye and the rest of the gang.
This is actually an anthology of three books, although I think the anthology title is a misnomer because the last book, The Silver Spike, takes place entirely in the north and exists almost independent of the other books so it's a little weird. The first two books follow the Black Company as it heads south, on Croaker's mission to return to the city of Khatovar. Along the way the handful of survivors start rebuilding the Black Company and discovering details about the Company's history. Much to Croaker's frustration, details about Khatovar and the very early days of the Company are frustratingly scarce.
As they head south, the Black Company discovers their way is blocked by mysterious figures known as the Shadowmasters, who seem to have an existing grudge against the Black Company. If they wish to get to Khatovar, the Black Company will have to help the inhabitants of Taglios drive off the Shadowmasters once and for all.
The Silver Spike by contrast deals with characters such as Raven, Silent, and Darling, who were associated with the Company but went their own ways. This book takes place mostly in the north where the Lady's old empire is still running along, despite her absence. The book focuses on the silver spike in which much of the Dominator's power was sealed and then placed within a tree to hopefully keep it sealed for all eternity. Unfortunately some people get the bright idea to steal the spike and a race among every two-bit wizard in the northlands who wants to get their hands on the spike, along with people who want to keep the Dominator's power from being unleashed, turns into a major war. After the plot of the Company in the south gets left at a cliff-hanger, it's entertaining but a little weird to jump back north and see what's going on elsewhere.
What I will say about this book is Cook's writing has definitely improved. I felt like the narrative flowed a lot better and it was easier for me to get invested in the story than it was for me in the first anthology. I was actually really curious about what the big mystery surrounding Khatovar was and started putting the clues together to come to the same conclusion Lady did, maybe only a little ahead of her. There were some plot twists that were a little odd and some things I didn't fully understand, but I think overall these books were an improvement.
Other than that? There's not a lot I can say. These books were good, and I liked them. Cook does a really good job of making his universe realistic while also incorporating fantasy elements and lots of high magic. I can definitely see, especially with Taglios, where he's borrowing from real-life to create cultures for his world, but plenty of authors do that so I'm hardly critiquing him for that.
Cook has definitely left me curious about what will happen to the Black Company and if they'll ever reach Khatovar and discover their past. Hopefully it'll be less than three years before I pick up the next anthology in the series. If you like fantasy, adventure, and something a little different then this is definitely worth checking out.