Hugh Cook


The Wordsmiths & The Warguild

(Chronicles in an Age of Darkness: Vol 2)


Smug, pompous, overly pleased with himself for using ‘flatulence’ instead of ‘fart’ type language. Poor start. Somewhat farcical fantasy, broad, frequently undergraduate humour (think Black Adder for the coarseness and vocabulary, but without the wit). Almost no attempt to make different races, tribes, lands cohere - protagonist just wanders about bumping into barely two dimensional characters and settings.


But ... nice, relatively original broad approach, in two ways.


1) The hero just gets buffeted about, little or no control, and definitely little help from the author to propel him onto steadily greater conquests; indeed, he often has no idea what’s going on;


2) I didn’t actually realise I’d read the first book in the series (The Wizards and the Warlords) until more than half way in. The only way this book integrates is that instead of it being from the view of people making wars and changing events, it’s from the view of someone just bowled along beside and in them, generally with no idea what’s going on. Eventually you realise the events are the ones you read about in book one, but you, like the central character, also have no idea and are just getting through trying to survive. One chapter foregrounds this, the narrator saying that, were the protagonist more articulate, in addressing the role of the individual in history he’d state:

“History is what we understand. The rest is a waking nightmare. History is the explanation of who holds the knife. Without that explanation, all we understand is the pain.”


I remember being annoyed at the beginning of the first book at the way Cook blithely has a 3000 year old wizard die because he does some stupid things - that anyone who’d survived for a fraction of that time would have the nous not to do. But he’s all about demystifying heroes, saying they do do stupid things at times.


He gets better once he gets into a book. His strengths are escaping the formula success story plots, and rare things like the last quote have some profundity, particularly in the context. In A Game of Thrones George R.R. Martin was likewise willing to let his heroes unexpectedly suffer or even die, but he also built a grand, unified mythology/realm with some cohesive history (as opposed to random ideas), and created some decent characters.


December 2001