The things I liked best about the Black Company books were a)the narrator Croaker, a cantankerous medic and chronicler, b)Croaker's strange relationship with the Lady, mistress of an evil empire, and c)the Black Company themselves, in some indefinable way.
The Silver Spike is an offshoot of the Black Company books, taking place in the same world and involving some of the same characters. But it lacks all three of the above. Instead it focuses on characters that didn't join in the journey southward in Shadow Games--Raven, Darling, and Silent being the most important among them. It introduces a new first-person narrator, Philodendron Case. In what has become standard since the second Black Company book, a substantial part of the book is also given over to a third-person narrator, with a few minor chapters done by others in third-person as well.
Neither of the main characters is really as likeable as Croaker, but both are interesting in their own right. The third-person narrator, Smeds Stahl, is perhaps the most interesting, especially the slow evolution of character that takes place during the book, although it isn't quite satisfactorily resolved at the end, IMHO. Case also undergoes change as a character, but in a more subtle way.
Of the previously-known characters, Raven and Silent are seldom viewed as much more than arrogant poseurs by Case, which limits our ability to sympathize with them much. Darling is better-portrayed, but the fact that she is a deaf-mute limits her interaction slightly.
I lied. There's another character or two that shows up, on the side of the bad guys. Toadkiller Dog, who got short shrift in the last couple of Black Company books, gets more credit in this book. And The Limper, in a final encore performance as a complete homicidal maniac, does as well as can be expected.
From the title, you might guess(if you've read the previous books)that the story concerns itself with the object in which the Dominator's soul was placed at the end of The White Rose. And you'd be right. It spends more time at the beginning with Toadkiller Dog's freeing of the Limper, and the scheme hatched by Smeds' cousin Tully to steal the spike and hold it for ransom, but soon everything converges. Once the theft of the spike is discovered, the city of Oar, where the spike has been traced to, is sealed and all the main players eventually arrive there. As is usual in Cook's novels, the two plotlines become tangent but don't really intersect totally. In fact, they have quite separate conclusions.
It's harder to get into, because Croaker isn't there, but I was drawn along by the plight and growth of Smeds Stahl more than anything else. Maybe he should have been made the first-person narrator.
Oh, and from what I can tell, it's best to read it after Shadow Games but before Dreams of Steel. At least, reading the former was sufficient to understand the goings-on without needing the latter.
%A Cook, Glen
%T The Silver Spike
%C New York
%D September 1989
%G ISBN 0-812-50220-5
%P 313 pp.
%S Black Company
%O Paperback, US$3.95, Can$4.95
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