"Shadows Linger," Glen Cook (Black Company 2)

Pros: More of the Black Company; gritty realism
Cons: Rather rough writing; story not that gripping
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 7/16/2002

“Shadows Linger” is the second book in the “Black Company” series by Glen Cook. This is a gritty fantasy series centered upon a mercenary company of soldiers; the tales are told by Croaker, the doctor and current Annalist of the ages-old company. The first book was fascinating enough that it was easy to ignore the flaws in the writing; unfortunately, there is not so much to distract from the flaws here, and so the book left a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

Plot

In “Shadows Linger” we once again find ourselves riding with the Black Company, mercenary company of legend, still in service to the mysterious Lady (who is well on her way to taking over the known world). They end up in an odd town called Juniper, sent to deal with a strange black castle that grows over time without any obvious help. They hook up with some reasonably interesting characters, such as cowardly Shed Marron, weasely Asa, and the fanatic Bullock. They even discover that Raven and Darling are in town – two characters who disappeared at the end of The Black Company – and that spells trouble for everyone.

What’s the secret of the black castle, and why does the Lady so desperately need it destroyed? Are the Taken wizards plotting against the Company? What is Raven up to? And whose side will the Company ultimately end up on?

The Trouble With Series…

Could you read this book without having read its predecessor? Well… maybe. But I wouldn’t count on it.

Cook vacillates between two extremes, particularly in the early parts of this book. Some portions have little to no explanation of what is going on, which would probably confuse the heck out of someone who hasn’t read the first book. Other portions simply dump back-story in ungainly expositional lumps sure to bore readers who have read the first book. Take my word for it – read this series in order.

Where’d the Good Stuff Go?

In the first book many of the writing flaws were the same, but the plot and characters were so interesting that it was easy to overlook those flaws. If a story draws you in enough, you just won’t notice the rough edges. Unfortunately this story, while interesting, just isn’t enough to hide the flaws.

The plot is good, but not great. It meanders a bit, losing focus here and there. Certainly there isn’t the great dramatic build-up and drive to the end that we experienced in “The Black Company.” A few more interesting details were revealed about the world here and there, but nothing like the constant stunning revelations of the first book. It felt like we were biding time and filling in the details between the first dramatic book and what is to come in the next book.

The characters had less depth and fewer likable characteristics. They were also less believable – they’re supposed to be grizzled veteran soldiers, but they continually came across as much younger characters. I found it very difficult to believe their age, and sometimes found it difficult to believe that they were experienced soldiers too.

Those Exposed Flaws

I can’t really claim that most of the flaws are new ones – they’re just more obvious now that the story isn’t as good, as well as much more extreme and exaggerated. In addition to the above problems, there were a few others. I often felt as though I had no idea what characters really looked like, for one. Somehow that was easier to forgive in “The Black Company,” when I was too swept up in the story to notice or care all that much.

Worse, however, were the confusing descriptions. I often had a great deal of difficulty figuring out exactly what was going on. I found myself flipping back and forth quite a bit trying to piece together descriptions into something coherent and sensible. This happened so often that it seriously ate into my enjoyment of the book.

If I hadn’t grown so attached to the characters and their stories in “The Black Company,” I’m not convinced that I would have enjoyed much of “Shadows Linger.” It lacked the ability to pull me into the characters’ stories and make me care about them. It failed to pull me past the flaws in the writing. If the plot and characters had been of “Black Company” caliber, or if the writing had been more polished, it would have been a very good book. As it was, it was simply average.

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