Chronicles of the Black Company v Love it or Hate it

Beer: Love it or Hate it
Brewery: Camden Town collab. with Marmite
Style: Marmite Ale
Strength: 4.8%

I like Marmite. On toast, to thicken gravy, as stock for stews & sauces, as a glaze for roasties. Did I anticipate it in my beer? No. But why not? Marmite is after all made from concentrates yeast extract which is a by-product of the brewing process. Beer is essential to the production of Marmite so why not come full circle?

I know I won’t convince a lot of you, I wasn’t expecting much myself to be honest, but it’s actually a rather decent beer. The marmite flavour is subtle in the sip and only really noticeable as marmite if you take a gulp & taste it at the back of your throat. Other than that the main flavour is pilsner-like.

Book: Chronicles of the Black Company
Author: Glen Cook
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 2010 (this omnibus)

Before there was Grimdark there was The Black Company (1984). The series follows a mercenary company from the perspective of its surgeon & official annalist (chronicler). Unlike other 1st person perspectives, however, Croaker doesn’t mince words.

When I read this book a decade or so ago it was still firmly in its hipster phase. I can’t account for the US but over in the UK this particular omnibus edition has to take credit for a Cook renaissance. Nowadays I see it talked about a lot more which is a good thing because its effects on the genre are pronounced. If you read it today you’d be forgiven for thinking Cook was a big fan of Malazan or The First Law without realising his first Black Company book predates them by a few decades. It really has that many shades of grey morality that eventually came to be defined as grimdark.

The author’s experiences in Vietnam really shine through the books, in particular in the personalities of the eponymous Black Company’s soldiers. For the most part, they are cynical get-on-with-it types, forged in battle & willing to do whatever they’re told as long as they get paid for it. But they are also fun & nuanced, nowhere more pronounced than in the frenemies Goblin & One-Eye. The company’s wizards sole purpose for living seems to be to one-up each other to hilarious effect.

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