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Port of Shadows (The Chronicles of the Black Company #1.5)

Write on: Mon, 15 Oct 2018 by  in Guests Reviews Read 2568

To steal some of my favourite Glen Cook words from the first Black Company novel: Port of Shadows is misery curdled, but also new and interesting. The series of events in-between these covers are like a bottomless well filled with murky water. For a week now, I’ve amused myself plumbing this latest Glen Cook novel’s shadowy depths, trying to isolate fact from fiction, legend, and myth. No easy task, for the book’s damn author deals with the history of his fictional characters as a mad jester would, fully intent on confusing and providing no answers whatsoever on the one mystery I care about, above all others: just what is the deal with the Senjak sisters?

If you’ve read the original Black Company trilogy, Senjak will doubtlessly be familiar to you – it is the last name not only of the taken known as Soulcatcher but also of the Lady herself. The dynamics in the Senjak family have fascinated me for the whole duration of my two-year long romance with The Black Company series.  Port of Shadows mercilessly strings the reader along in building a series of assumptions that will often go against the assumptions built in previous titles of the series.  Alas, Glen Cook has never been one to say things outright, and I fear many of the questions we seekers of truth have, will remain unanswered.

But that’s enough bitching and moaning from me, at least on the topic of the Senjaks. Let’s talk about Port of Shadows in a wider context!


The first thing I should mention is, it’s been nearly a month since I flipped this novel closed, and I’m still unsure of what to make of it. There’s a really solid beginning there, which recaptures in full the magic of the first Black Company novel, courtesy of those familiar cast dynamics. Everyone’s back – the Captain, in his customary bad spirits, Croaker’s oldest pal Elmo, and everyone’s favourite trio of mildly competent wizards, One-Eye, Goblin and Silent. I can hardly believe how well Glen Cook has managed to recapture the voices of the Company core personnel, thirty-four years after the release of the original. That’s an achievement no one can take from Cook, and proof of his skill.

Some continuity sloppiness is to be expected with a book whose plot happens between the first and the second chronicles of the Black Company. That’s not too much of an issue for me – I’m familiar with the writer’s desire to add something that didn’t account in said writer’s original plans of the multi-faceted story they wanted told. If Cook had written this as the second instalment of his series all these years ago, I could see a lot of what happened in Port of Shadows being referenced to and feeling somewhat more meaningful than it does by the time I finished with it, knowing the events won’t ever be referenced again… unless the

A new Taken takes (no pun intended) the central stage here, and her name is Mischievous Rain. Or is it? Perhaps it’s Tides Elba, a young woman whose face is much too reminiscent to that of the Company’s employer, the Lady. If you’ve read previous Company novels, you’ll have guessed by now that Company Annalist Croaker will have some issues keeping it in his pants around this particular lady.

The prose? Tight and familiar, and very much what I’ve come to appreciate from Cook. The air was still and nearly chill now that the rain had gone away. A hint of corrupting flesh tainted the air of imperial Dusk.”

What I have issue with is the ending. In its defence, it has to balance not completely decimating the continuity of the series while giving something akin to a resolution. I didn’t like the resolution too much, I’ll be honest. The other issue I have has to touch upon several sections of the book which are misogynistic beyond what even a squad of cut-throat mercenaries would tolerate – sections, which make even me, a guy who rarely shies away from violence and grim subject matters, cringe and look away, embarrassed. Yes, with the plot what it is, I can see what Cook was trying to accomplish but I cannot get on board with it, not on some of the creepiest aspects of the Port of Shadows. I won’t even get into the details, since it’s going to take a while; but hey, if you really want an in-depth investigation into this weird, uncomfortable subject matter which might involve the discussion of mass rape of magical clones, let me know in the comments below, and I might end up writing an academic paper on just how weird it is.

I enjoyed a lot of this book, but I can’t overlook the fact it made me uncomfortable at several different points, and it left me scratching my head at the end of the book, and not in exactly the same way as previous books in the series. Glen Cook experimented with a lot of interesting ideas, and while I enjoyed the inception of many of them, the eventual payback wasn’t all there. I feel genuinely uncertain on how to score this. Do I give it three stars (out of five)? Four? Screw it, I’ll give a score of 3.5/5. Port of Shadows…It’s good, it’s not, and it’s really bloody confusing! 

Oh, and I really loved Croaker's demon kids. They're a big part of the reason I still had a lark during the latter third of this book!

Last modified on Monday, 15 October 2018 14:18
Filip Magnus

Filip picked up his first fantasy novel when he was seven and hasn’t stopped reading since. A critical reader who judges novels on their technical use of language and plot alike, he has a soft spot for literary fiction and tragic, heroic tales.

In his free time, Filip writes fiction, makes gaming reviews on YouTube, and maintains a personal blog. All that when he’s not too busy going through piles of books in as short a time as possible.