"The White Rose," Glen Cook (Black Company 3)

Pros: Characterization, mystery, excitement, tension, plot
Cons: None
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 7/21/2002

It’s been so long since I last read a trilogy that I’d forgotten how interesting it could be – to chart the rise and fall. Which books are more gripping. Which have fatal flaws. The ups and downs of it all.

The Chronicle of the Black Company

The Black Company was the first book in the series – slightly rough in the writing, but so amazing in content that it’s hard to care. It told the gritty fantasy story of the Black Company, a group of mercenary soldiers, in the voice of its physician and annalist, Croaker. The Company came into the employ of the Lady, who seemed Hell-bent on world domination with the aid of the Taken, powerful wizards. In that volume we learned much of the secrets of the Lady (who took an odd interest in Croaker), her empire, the Taken, and the Lady’s husband, the Dominator, who yet sleeps interred in the earth (imprisoned by magic). The characterization was wonderful, and I think few people could put down the book without wanting to know more about the further adventures of the Black Company.

Shadows Linger was the series’ down-point, pretty much in its entirety. It was slow and ponderous, replete with confusing descriptions (when things were really described at all), and lacking in the revelation of interesting mysteries that had so gripped the reader during the first book. Characterization was spotty; many characters didn’t seem believable as grizzled old soldiers. It wasn’t terrible, but it was mostly an exercise in getting the book over with so as to move on to the third volume. In this second volume Croaker and the Black Company find themselves fighting a mysterious black castle in a town named Juniper. Dead people are hauled into the castle by its unknown allies, and the castle grows with each passing night.

“The White Rose” is the pinnacle of this trilogy.

The Plot

It should be obvious that reading about the plot of the third book in a trilogy could give away broad strokes of detail from previous books. I’ll try to keep things vague, however.

The White Rose, prophesied enemy of the Lady and her husband, is finally all grown up and come into her own as a military strategist. She’s currently in hiding with the Black Company; they live in caves on the terrible Plains of Fear, having made an uneasy truce with the windwhales, walking trees, and talking stones. The Lady’s empire went quiet for a while after most of her old wizards died, but now she’s Taking more and moving on the White Rose. The Dominator himself has very different plans, however. Up in his barrow he’s no longer asleep, and despite the spells that bind him he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Someone’s sending Croaker mysterious letters detailing the researches of a long-dead wizard. The Lady herself has contacted him again. The Company has visitors, and the Plains of Fear have a few secrets yet to be revealed…

The Wonderful Story That Is “The White Rose”

I said earlier that “The White Rose” is the pinnacle of this trilogy. Since I grumped rather a bit about the flaws in “Shadows Linger” when I reviewed that book, I should explain why this one is so much better.

Characterization: Gone are the unbelievable characterizations of that book. Grizzled veteran soldiers pretty much remember to act like grizzled veteran soldiers (not in terms of being stereotypical, but in terms of actually being what they are). There’s depth and honesty to the characters in this book, and it’s wonderful to watch their stories as they unfold.

Readability: Unlike that last book, you might actually be able to get away with reading this one even if you haven’t read the other two (although of course, reading the other two would be a very good idea). Gone are the ungainly expositional lumps and voids of background, replaced with simple and direct explanations.

Description: Also unlike that last book, the descriptions almost uniformly make sense. There were no scenes that left me flipping back and forth, scratching my head and saying, “huh? What just happened here?” But better than that – the descriptions are often lovely, arresting, gripping, particularly early on, when we first view the Plains of Fear. In this respect “The White Rose” surpasses “The Black Company,” in which Glen Cook did sometimes neglect description.

Plotting: The plot is interesting; once again we get to uncover layers of secrets, mysteries, and pivotal history, which is fascinating (not to mention a lot of fun!). There’s plenty of misdirection and building up of tension, all very fun to read through.

And yes, finally, the writing had polish and skill to it – everything it lacked in “Shadows Linger.” The Glen Cook of “The Black Company” had lots of talent and a good deal of skill, but lacked polish. The Glen Cook of “Shadows Linger” seemed to be lacking in skill as well as polish. But the Glen Cook of “The White Rose” definitely knows what he’s doing!

This book has it all – tension, mystery, excitement, humor, tragedy, victory, and – in unexpected ways – love. Not only is it worth reading, but it’s worth reading the entire trilogy just to have read the first and third books.

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