Surrender to the Will of the Night is the third volume in Glen Cook’s The Instrumentalities of the Night, and everything I said about the first two volumes holds true here. It’s just become refined, distilled, and that much more engaging.
Piper Hecht has almost forgotten that he is Else Tage, Sha-Lug warrior slave and spy, sent by Gordimer the Lion, the Marshall (and effective ruler) of Dreanger, to scope out the Brothen Empire and sow whatever mischief he may. He’s been eminently successful, but the question is, who is the mischief directed at? Piper Hecht is now Captain-General of the Partriarchal forces, the first effective fighting force the Patriarchs have been able to field for centuries. He has also cobbled together a family in Brothe — Anna Mozilla, whose late husband was a Praman agent, and three children rescued from the slums and brothels of Brothe. And then, while on an embassy to Empress Katrin Ege of the Grail Empire, he’s offered a job: newly reconciled with the Patriarchs, the Empress has decided on a crusade against the Pramans. Returning home, Hecht finds himself out of work due to the vicissitudes of politics and his own competence: the new Patriarch, Serenity, wants to resume the crusade against the Connec, but doesn’t want to deal with Hecht. Hecht opts for the Empress.
In the meantime, one of the old, old gods has gained a new lease on life, due to the weakening of the power flowing into the world from the Wells. And he is bad news. Hecht’s other relatives — his grandfather’s grandfather, Cloven Februaren, the Ninth Unknown, and his sister, Heris — get involved in nipping that in the bud.
And Indala al-Sul Halaladin is on the verge of deciding to unite the Praman states under his own leadership. A key element in his plan is one Nassim Alizarin, who commands an outpost facing the Crusaders at Tel Moussa. Nassim, the Mountain, is not really happy with Gordimer or the sorcerer, el-Rashal: el-Rashal had the Mountain’s son murdered, and Gordimer wasn’t all that innocent of the deed.
I can hear you now: What did he say? Who are all these people? I know that’s a lot of set-up with not enough information, but Surrender, like the previous volumes, is complex and kaleidoscopic. If you want the details, go read the first two books. All I’m going to say on that score is that Cook has given us a mix of politics, warfare, religion, superstition, private agendas, some surprising identities that until now have been hidden, and whatever else he could find to keep in interesting. It works: it’s rich and strange and thoroughly engaging.
A word about what makes Cook’s stories so seductive: his characters are real people, and he possesses a finely honed sense of irony, both cosmic and intimate. And his characters actually have senses of humor, which is not always the case in heroic fantasy: Piper Hecht and his cronies don’t take themselves seriously enough to be bores. Add in that we’re never quite sure what is going to happen next, or how any venture is actually going to turn out — Cook also has a finely developed sense of the randomness of the universe, and as for the human participants, there always seems to be one more layer of deception.
It’s a pleasure to read. Cook’s style brings a level of immediacy to the narrative, and realism to the characters, that’s hard to beat, and in spite of first appearances, it flows smoothly.
One word of warning: it ends in the middle of something. Another cliff-hanger.
Which makes me that much more eager to get my hands on the next volume.
An aside: Whoever chose Raymond Swanland to do the covers for Cook’s books, both new volumes and reissues, is a genius. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve seen such a close fit between cover and contents.
(Tor Books, 2010)