As a card carrying member of the pulp revolution, I tend to favor heroic fiction that fun and free-wheeling, but Glen Cook got me through a lot of years of pink slime. It’s exactly the sort of grim and gritty setting featuring the moral ambiguity and anti-heroes that constitute the only sort of story media wants to tell these days, but it’s done so well that I love it anyway. Part of the reason I’ve never much cared for George R. R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series it that it is but a pale echo of Cook’s far superior offerings.
It’s a little surprising that it took this long to get The Black Company off the ground. It’s tailor made for a relatively low-budget production. The big set-piece battles are few and far between. Most of the on-screen action takes place in the lulls between battles or on the periphery of the big fight scenes. We hear about massive street fights in the city of Beryl, but as the palace guard, the Black Company and its commanders spend their time running around trying to save the Syndic. They get up so all sorts of foolishness during the campaign in the north, but the ending of the massive siege of the city of Roses gets brushed aside by Cook by way of Croaker, who describes it with one sentence: “So we took Roses.”Sure, you have your Stair of Tear and all the strangeness of the Plain of Fear. It will be interesting to see how they deal with those and the flooding of Dejagore. But even with those massive projects, the bulk the narrative takes place in the small scale, quiet moments of the world shaking events.
One of the two biggest questions in my mind revolve around the casting. Eliza Dushku makes sense, the Lady is of the North. But the Black Company as a whole? If you’ve read the series, you know their source is anything but faux-European, and one of the big surprises in the book is that most of the early Company men were likely swarthy faux-Persian or even faux-Asiatics. How they deal with this issue should prove amusing as the alt-white sneers at obvious white washing, and then how the Narrativists grumble that the explicitly faux-African types in the early part of the story (the wizards One-Eye and Tom Tom) are fairly comical in nature. Then, as the Black Company replaces its numbers in the North, the cast will get whiter and whiter, causing even more aggravation among those for whom these things are Very Important Aspects of Media.
Then you have the question of casting Soulcatcher. Soulcatcher is a masked wizard, one of the most powerful, but exactly who she is and what she looks like – whether she really is a she at all! – is left as a mystery until well into the series. Whoever takes that role will be stuck behind a mask for a good long while to preserve the suspense. Let’s hope whoever wins that important role takes a page from Karl Urban’s portrayal of the The Law in Dredd.The series is wonderfully intricate. As mentioned above, it’s what George R. R. Martin wanted to achieve and fell short of with his own epic fantasy, after all. But a lot of that intricacy is subtle. Things planted in book one are not paid off until book ten. I remain skeptical that the producers understand the full depth of the property they hold, and doubt their ability to deliver on Glen Cook’s promise. Nevertheless, this is one series that I’ll keep an open mind on and give a fair shot.
It’s the least I can do for one of my favorite fantasy series.