Thursday, December 3, 2015

The White Rose Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Glen Cook
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sword and Sorcery, Military Fantasy
Series: The Black Company Books of the North Book Three
Pages: 317

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(Spoilers for The Black Company and Shadows Linger are below).

I loved the concept behind the plot of The Black Company. A group of mercenaries fighting for a known villain makes for an interesting story about moral compromise.  This continues in the sequel, but at the end of Shadows Linger the surviving members of the Black Company leave the service of the Lady (the primary antagonist) in order to join forces with Darling aka the White Rose (the primary protagonist).

I liked Shadows Linger, but the ending had me worrying that this trilogy was going to become a stereotypical good vs. evil fantasy trilogy.

I’ve never been so happy to be so wrong in my life.

In the Plains of Fear, Darling and the now defected members of the Black Company begin their fight against the Lady. Vastly outnumbered they hope to hold out for a few decades whilst the await the return of the comet that will signal the Lady’s destruction at the hands of the White Rose.

Croaker begins receiving anonymous letters detailing the sorcerer Bomanz’s release of the Lady and the Taken. However, when the final and most important letter is never received he’s sent to retrieve it with Goblin, One Eye, Tracker, and Toad Killer Dog.
As the Lady and White Rose prepare to do battle the Dominator begins his rise from the grave.

Cook is fond of introducing new characters to the Black Company and having them take up real prominent subplots. Raven was the hard edge warrior looking for redemption in The Black Company; Shed struggles against cowardice in Shadows Linger, and in The White Rose readers finally get to learn the truth about Bomanz and why he released the Lady. Of these three major subplots, Bomanz’s is my favorite.  It stands strongly on its own as an independent story, but it also ties together some loose ends.

From a moral standpoint you think it would be easy to root for Darling and the Black Company, but the fact is this group of rebels isn’t a whole lot better than the Lady and her Empire. Darling is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to discover the true name of the Lady; a discovery that will allow her to bind the Lady to her will.

Cook also does an excellent job of showing the effects of time on his characters.  Darling is no longer an innocent little girl. The Black Company has aged. In the first book they out-muscled a lot of their enemies, now as older men, they must rely on their cunning and guile.  It’s details like this that make you really appreciate how much thought Cook has put into flushing out his characters and his plot.
Cook never allows you to believe a character is fully good or evil, and by doing this it makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the plot. I had some predictions for how this book was going to end, but I was wrong.  What impressed me more about the ending is Cook does use cliches.

However, these cliches are reached in such unusual ways that the negative feelings usually associated with cliches are completely forgotten.

My favorite character has always been the Lady.  Her first appearance in The Black Company when she orders a pack of demons to gang-rape a respected general she’s just captured makes for a horrifying first impression.  While the Lady only makes sporadic appearances in Shadows Linger, in this final installment Cook, gives her some lengthy development time. As more light is shed on the Lady and her past Cook allows her to become less enigmatic and more sympathetic. I would even go as far as to say that the Lady’s arc in this final installment is touching.

With the conclusion of The White Rose, Cook has effectively ended the first section of the Black Company series – this group of books being called the Books of the North. The surviving characters continue their story in the Books of the South. Cook does no wrong with this book which is why it’s getting a perfect score. He’s added a great deal more sentimentality to the story, and it really shows during the climax. I cannot emphasize enough how surprised I was by how well this book turned out.  This is truly a masterpiece of the genre.

Score: 10

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