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Chronicles of The Black Company

By Glen Cook
Book review by Mahir

Every once in a while we come across one of those brilliant books which completely redefines the genre it's supposed to depict. The black company series, considered as Glen Cook's masterpiece is one of those, which without a doubt will change your view of fantasy novels and will introduce readers to a tainted and besmirched world where darkness itself fights against the minions of shadow for survival and the basic human instincts like fear and self preservation triumphs over honour and duty.

Chronicles of the Black Company is the first volume of the series consisting of the first three books. "The Black Company" first published in 1984 deals with the introduction of the black company, an elite band of mercenaries and the last of the free companies of Khatovar. Cook wastes no time in giving away backgrounds for his characters and took readers directly into the middle of a civil war where the black company is hired by the local ruler as his body guard. However, the members of the company realises that their mission is hopeless as they begin losing members everyday and are saved by the arrival of a mystic who promises to assassinate their current employer and free them of their present obligation and serve a new employer. However, the company soon realises that they just jumped into the fire when they figure out that their new employer is none other than "The Soulcatcher," an infamous sorceress under the service of "The Lady" who plans to rule the world by means of her dark sorcery.

The book, written from the point of view of Croaker, the company's physician and annalist, makes it pretty straightforward. Readers are allowed to know only the information Croaker could get his hands on and in many cases, important events like the result of a prominent battle which occurred in a simultaneous timeline are not known until Croaker is informed about them, making the plot extremely thrilling. Although, one might doubt how much a fantasy novel based exclusively on battles can be viewed from a first person point of view but you'll be surprised at the amount of action Croaker gets to be a part of.

The second book "Shadows Linger" released in the same year puts up a rather battle worn black company with their numbers dwindling and yet constantly called out to different regions to exterminate rebellion against the Lady's empire. However, an old evil, the Dominator is stirring in his eternal prison and even the powerful Lady is helpless against his might. She orders her favourite band to travel further north to investigate and extinguish any chance of his reawakening before he gathers his full strength.

Besides Croaker, readers will find a new p.o.v from another character that Cook has created with great detail. Shed, one of the most interesting characters of the book gets almost half the book to himself and acts as a much needed distraction from the constant battles fought by the company.

In "The White Rose " (1985), we find the black company in a perilous situation as they constantly strive for their survival and also support the white rose, who is supposedly the only person who can defeat both the lady and the dominator once and for all.

As mentioned earlier, the plot is one of a kind. Glenn Cook, a veteran of the Vietnam War executes his knowledge of warfare to every detail possible even though the timeline and technology is dramatically different. The story is compassionate in every possible way as the soldiers of the black company constantly question their involvement in such massacres but do their duty to the letter. Even though the writer completed his books without describing too much about the characters, the ones he did prioritise on had finesse and depth. The book constantly jumps from one battle to another and if you're familiar with Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, you'll feel right at home with this series.

Overall, the series does not portray the age old cliché of good against evil, rather Glenn Cook shows his genius by proving that there is no glorious war. Blood is shed on both sides as the number of casualties increase and even the characters you like most can die like a foot soldier on the frontier. The book is a good investment not only as a good read but as a collectible as well. Although it may be a bit rare to find, you can try Nilkhet or just search for free torrents. If you have an international credit card, Amazon might be a good option too. The books are hard to get but worth every penny.


Cthulhu and The Lightbulb

By Ibrahim : Illustration
By Shaer Reaz

As Zoheb went to bed that night, he decided to not turn the light bulb on. Some nights he would sleep, the rest he would listen. Oh, and what tales they told him, under the sun-kissed April sky! Cheerless smiles and vacant gazes would welcome him to the fidgety playgrounds, where life pranced around on purple see-saws, just out of reach. And the barren men would spin their tales again, whispering to him to snuff out the elusive colours. Yes, most nights he would listen, lying awake. But he dreamt, too, whenever the light bulb was on. That was when the ocean would come to wipe everything out.

Morning came and brought with it two deep mugs of coffee. The sun was a steady constant; a protrusion on the skyline that he felt was a part of him. Occasionally, a bird would fly into it and the entwined entities would burn off the hopeful wings and shoot their dreams right down to the ground. Yes, the constant crushed everything and bent everyone into a uniform rod. But Zoheb felt an attachment for it rooted deeply inside himself. It was probably because he was used to it. He got up and rented a box to go to work.

As Zoheb entered the office building, he began to panic. A sense of foreboding was creeping into him and, coupled with the fatigue, it was giving him a throbbing headache. He finally realized what was wrong as he saw his own reflection in on the cold elevator doors. He was wearing the wrong face! The smiling abomination that stared back at him was not one for public display. He quickly turned away as his boss got onto the lift. He tried his best to draw in the cheeks and add the gloom into his eyes.

She caught him, however, as she surveyed him coolly through her purple-tinged, mascara-ridden eyes. “You're wearing the wrong face today. We've talked about this,” her voice cut across the small elevator. Zoheb thought it best to not reply.

“You look like crap, too. Like you haven't slept in ages.” Here, he gave her an ironic smile.

“Anyway, just ride it out and tomorrow will be another day,” she said. They both walked out and into their respective bubbles.

So he rode it out. He listened as the ants scurried around him, making mountains out of molehills while the barren men kept whispering and pushing against his neck. The ants carried on unhindered, delivering files and gossiping over bad office coffee. By the end, though, he could tell that the ants were avoiding him. The pain in his neck had gotten worse and there were small protrusions all around it. Eight of them, he counted. And his visceral face wasn't helping much, either. Mercifully, work was finally over and he trudged off, determined to turn the light bulb on tonight.

Inside the elevator, he was again alone with the boss. She was purpler now than ever. They exchanged awkward pleasantries and she advised him to get some rest.

Suddenly, the world turned black.

“Don't worry, they'll switch it on soon enough,” the boss's words echoed. Silence. “Zoheb, are you okay?”

Whispers were swirling around him and wanting to break out. The drums sounded as the barren men called for blood by the spoonfuls and electrocuted him with lascivious thoughts. Thoughts that made him happy and disgusted at the same time. “I don't like the dark much”, he mumbled.

As soon as he said it, the protrusions on his neck elongated, until they became tentacles which wrapped themselves around him and the girl. They both screamed in unison as the grip tightened, choking out the colours. Lively purple. The screaming stopped. The color was gone.

Zoheb staggered out and ran back home, as best he could, with the tentacles still squirming around his neck. They were getting bigger and he could barely take their weight when he finally reached home. He ran to his bedroom and seized the light bulb. Years of touching had made its surface oily and damp. Zoheb breathed a long sigh as he finally switched it on, after so long. It glowed brightly and the tentacles began to shrink and lose their vigour. Just as he started to relax, the light bulb shattered with an almighty crash.

Darkness forever.

The tentacles seized their chance and started to grow again. He paled in significance to their size and the barren men kept on chanting for their master to return and he duly obliged. And he could only watch as the tentacles of desire and 'sin' writhed around him in ecstasy. There was no more whispering. Only the tortured chants of repression finally breaking out in a cacophonic haze.


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