Author: Glen Cook
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sword and Sorcery, Military Fantasy
Series: The Black Company Books of the North Book Two
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(Spoilers for The Black Company are below).
Taking place nearly a decade after the concluding events in The Black Company, Shadows Linger continues the story of the Black Company and its service to the viciously cunning Lady. With some new memorable characters, and the return of familiar faces, Glen Cook takes the story in a smaller and more intimate direction. However, that’s not to say the consequences haven’t lessened any.
Shadows Linger is nearly every bit as good as its predecessor. I will say I enjoyed The Black Company more than I enjoyed the sequel, but the difference between how good these two books are can only be measured by a slim margin. Needless to say this is one of those rarer moments where a fantasy trilogy doesn’t fall into a sophomore slump.
In the town of Juniper a bar owner and self-described coward named Maron Shed is in debt to a local mafioso. With limited options he turns to a mysterious stranger named Raven and a deaf mute that works at his bar named Darling for help.
Having traveled the North from coast to coast the Black Company continues to hunt the rebels and enforce the Lady’s will. Croaker avoids meeting with the Lady personally, fearing that she will discover that Darling is the White Rose through him.
When a mysterious black castle sprouts up from a seed in the ground, it may bring about the return of the Dominator. Before long the Company finds itself heading towards one of these castles, which happens to be located next to Juniper.
The Black Company featured a lot of location jumping and quickly moving around from battle site to battle site. In Shadows Linger most of the story takes place in Juniper, a small mostly isolated town in the far north. Cook takes advantage of a more narrow scope to get readers more intimate with a few characters important to the story – specifically Raven, Croaker, and Shed.
Shed is a well developed new character, one that really grows on you, and brings new thematic ideas into the picture. Facing your fears and not being coward is what drives Shed’s development as a character. Can he step up and be the man he wants to be? Typically this is a question that gets asked of a lot heroes in fiction, and it leads to a lot of stereotypical plots. Fortunately, Glen Cook manages to make sure Shed remains a flawed multidimensional character through the book’s conclusion. This is something that seems to be rarely done right by writers, and here Glen Cook has created someone that’s not your stereotypical hero, but rather someone that feels incredibly human. Up to this point Shed is the most humanly relatable character in the series.
Croaker seems to struggle with a lot of internal conflict. Why should he and the Black Company continue to serve under the Lady when everyone now knows that she’s evil? It’s interesting to note here, that Glen Cook never resorts to the obvious answer to that question … she’s the lesser evil. Other than some vague references, there hasn’t been too many details about the atrocities committed by the Dominator. All references agree that he’s worse than the Lady, and since the Lady established herself as calculated psychopath of epic proportions in the last book, readers can only imagine what horrors the Dominator can inflict upon the living should he be resurrected.
Shadows Linger has a number of more prominent character deaths. Some of which occur randomly and seem like a way for the author to conveniently stop having to write more about that character. At the same time, it supports the underlying military philosophy Glen Cook has established about war: anything can happen at anytime. The Lady doesn’t appear towards the end and I found myself wishing she’d been worked into the story more. When you have a villain that makes such a strong impression, that’s what you wish for. With the time she’s given she makes the most of it … some of her conversations are the most memorable moments in the story.
By the end, Shadows Linger leaves readers with a sequel that promises to be daunting, challenging, but exciting as well. That is … if prophecy can be trusted.