So, I recently finished the first book in Glen Cook’s relatively newest series: The Instrumentalities of the Night. So far there have been three books released, and I’ll be following this up with book two: Lord of the Silent Kingdom.
My overall rating: 7/10
This book is a strange one. I’ll start off with that. The book is very much a setup for a major epic on the scale of “The Annals of the Black Company”, or at least it certainly seems that way.
The first 100 pages serve as both an introduction to the small set of point-of-view characters that make up the three eventually converging story-lines, and as an information dump.
When I say information dump, I mean an information dump.
Like a trash-truck spewed its load of garbage all over you.
This makes the books pretty hard to keep track of early on if you don’t know anything about European and Islamic Medieval history. So I’ll include a bit more information than I normally would when giving the general synopsis to the opening plot for you guys.
Just to point this out: Glen Cook never gives official maps, so I’m used to working with a detailed mental map in his books. However, for this one a map of Europe, the Levant, and North Africa will do just fine.
Story-line One (the main one, as far as I can tell): Else Tage is a member of an elite group of men called the Sha-Lug (Ottoman Janissaries) from the country of Dreanger (Ottoman Empire). He’s devout Praman (Muslim), who are currently in control of an area known as the Wells of Irhian in the Holy Lands (the Holy Lands of the Middle Ages), the purported source of power for The Night, a collection of demonic, shadowy forces of darkness. The Night’s more powerful denizens are worshiped by humans as gods and goddesses. Else, after successfully killing a powerful creature of the Night, a bogon, using a silver-loaded cannon, a feat never before accomplished by a non-sorcerer, is sent west in order to disrupt the working of the Chaldarean Patriarch Sublime IV (the Pope) and to further the goals and position of al-Prama (Islam). His story follows his journey working undercover for his Kaif (Caliph), Gordimer the Lion, and the sorcerer Er-Rashal al-Dulquarnen, traveling much of the area around the Mother Sea (the Mediterranean) and his involvement in the ever-growing conflicts between the Patriarch in Brothe (Rome) and the rest of the world, who come to know him by his false name of Piper Hecht.
Story-line Two: Brother Candle is a Perfect Brother in what is now called the Maysalean Heresy (Cathars/Albigensian Heresy) who goes to the area called the End of Connec (the Languedoc in Southern France) on a peaceful mission of preaching and an attempt to temper the Chaldareans against violent action against minority religions in the area. The Patriarch sees the Connec and the Maysaleans and Deves (Jews) there as a threat, seeing as they support the current Patriarch of Viscesment (the Antipope in France), Immaculate II. Immaculate II holds little power, but he has the backing of the Grail Empire (Holy Roman Empire) and its leader, Johannes Blackboots (Emperor Frederick Barbarossa). The End of Connec is run by a Duke Tormond (Raymond of Toulouse), who is largely seen as incompetent and a non-threat. However, his sympathies to Immaculate II make him an unacceptable leader in Sublime’s eyes. Eventually, the Patriarch of Brothe sends for a crusade against Connec, and Arnhand (France) sends soldiers south to stamp out the Maysaleans. The Arnhanders end up massacred, and Candle’s story follows the Connec’s dealings with Brothe, as well as showing the lack of power even the Patriarch of Brothe possesses compared to what he think he does.
Story-line Three: Follows two brothers, Asgrimmur Grimmson and Grimm Grimmson, called Svavar and Shagot respectively. Taken possession of by the Instrumentalities of the Night that rule their land of Andoray (Norway/Sweden), they become Soultaken: undead warriors in service to their old gods (the Norse Pantheon). They are essentially transported forwards over three hundred years to the time of the story, where the gods set them out to destroy the Godslayer, as they call him. A man they feel is a threat to the power of the Night (you don’t find this out until about 2/3 of the way through, but telling you now doesn’t spoil anything . . . like, at all). Shagot becomes the channel of the gods into the real world, wielding their power at a terrible cost. We see these events through Shagot’s eyes, and this story follows his growing concern for his brother, as well as their search for the Godslayer to kill him.
The weak points of the novel is that the story requires so much background and so much setup that the story-lines don’t begin to connect at all until about 2/3 of the way through the book, and the ending is left somewhat open-ended because of this. The novel is very, very clearly an introduction novel to a much greater whole, and so I can forgive a lot of the confusing prose and seemingly useless name-dropping.
Unfortunately, Brother Candle’s story is completely predictable to me because I already knew a great deal about the Albigensian Crusade and the events leading up to it, including the massacre of a French expeditionary force by a Languedoc militia force. Essentially, I think I know how its going to end for Brother Candle.
If you read up on European history beforehand if you’re otherwise unfamiliar, the information is pretty simple to digest. If you’re clueless on European history, I would really not recommend this book unless you’re willing to be in it for the long haul.
As a whole, I enjoyed it as a whole, and I look forward to seeing where the story takes me next.
A few more notes on historical parallels for those of you who might pick this book up:
The now collapsed Brothen Empire is the Roman Empire, with the Eastern Empire seemingly the Byzantine Empire. The Principates of the Collegium of Brothe are the Papal Legates, and the Patriarchy is the Roman Catholic Church. I think the Dainshauken are Orthodox Christians, seeing as they’re from the Eastern Empire and Rhum, which is Russia as far as I can tell. Friesland is Denmark and southern Sweden, Calzir is Moorish North Africa, Firaldia is Italy, with Sonsa and Plamenza being Venice and Florence/Milan respectively. Creveldia I think is Greece, and Santerin seems to be England/Scotland. Navaya is one of the Pre-Reconquest Spanish kingdoms. The Brotherhood of War is very obviously the Templars and Hospitallers, and the Grail Empire Braunsknechts are the the Holy Roman Landsknechts.
Seems like a lot, but if you can keep it all in place in your head its quite the lovely read.