Wednesday, 26 February 2014

‘The Nights of Dreadful Silence’ – Glen Cook

I think I have all the Nightshade Books ‘Dread Empire’ series now (although I’ve been thinking that for a while now and new ones keep popping up…); I just need to work out the order that they go in. I’ll get back to you on that one…
While I steel myself for what looks like an absolutely massive series (seriously, have a look at these books on the shelf) I like to dip in and out of ‘An Empire Unacquainted With Defeat’; a collection of ‘Dread Empire’ tales that give you a pretty good idea of what the setting is all about. I’m growing to love short stories more and more by the way; a great way to get my reading ‘fix’ when my head isn’t up to something longer.

‘Nights of Dreadful Silence’ was the first ‘Dread Empire’ story published (way back in 1973, in the September issue of ‘Fantastic Science Fiction & Fantasy Stories’; you can read it Here if you like) and naturally seemed like the best place to start reading in this setting. The fact that it’s only eight pages long was also appealing. Like I said, my head isn’t quite up to longer books.

When Glen Cook writes fantasy he doesn’t mess around, preferring to just tell it how it is, and that’s ‘Nights of Dreadful Silence’ in a nutshell. A wizard is cheated out of his dues and enlists the help of an adventurer to get what is owed. That’s it and Cook clearly sees no need to embroider his tale at all, hence the brevity. It ends pretty much the way you would expect as well although there are hints that Bragi and Arisitithorn are not done yet. I’ll have to read more to find out as they bounced off each pretty well and I reckon they could easily do the same again.

What I found though is that this straightforward approach brings out a lot of humour that I don’t think you would notice otherwise. It’s not like Cook is cracking jokes either; it’s more the offhand remarks that a man on the battlefield might make to someone else. There is more than one kind of battlefield and Cook uses this to good effect with laconic observations that both Bragi and Arisitithorn come out with.
Not only that though, Cook’s observations of how people deal with the silence, cast on the city, are cause for a few wry chuckles at the very least.

‘From there, he watched amazedly as refugees dismally came out Itaskia’s gates and marched toward the boundaries of silence. He saw many a stout wife dragging her man toward where she could catch up on her backlog of nagging. Compulsive talkers shouted with glee when they were free of the curse and could once more bore their neighbors with tales of themselves.’

‘The Nights of Dreadful Silence’ is a little too short, and to the point, to be really engrossing but those little chuckles you find yourself having while reading make up for that to an extent. I for one wouldn’t mind more of that in Cook’s longer work…

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