K.J. Parker takes a very interesting subject, post-combat veterans, and builds a medieval story upon it. The Company is not a fantasy novel, and it’s not historical fiction, but lives somewhere in between. After a major war a group of veterans from the same geographical area join forces once again, this time to settle an island.
The Company depicts the complex interactions of men who have spent a long period of time at war together. The commitment that they have to each other and the trust they place in their leader dramatically shapes how they approach things. Making the decision to uproot their lives and follow Teuche Kunnesin, the now retired General, is a prime example. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but out of loyalty and perhaps habit, they decide to do it.
Kunnesin is a planner, a visionary and a crook. Some of the best writing in The Company is Parker’s depiction of Kunnesin’s careful and thorough manipulation of the bureaucratic disaster that is the military administration. It would be funnier if it didn’t feel so real.
Aidi, Muri, Kudei, Nuctos and Fly are all good soldiers — heroes, to tell the truth — but each has his secrets and problems. Those hidden secrets and long standing disagreements combine to create a carefully balanced structure that works while in combat, but may not survive the demands of peace. The men who saved each others’ lives over and over now have to see if they can work together, using their different skills, to live in a future and place that they never planned for.
The Company was interesting, but kind of dry. There were times when I felt like I was waiting for the story to get going. It felt like a L.E. Modesitt novel where the main character is a master craftsman in training and you have to wait for a great deal of development before the story really kicks in. Parker is a solid world builder, though, and paints a believable picture of the challenges that the former soldiers face. Between the logistics of packing to settle an island and the challenges of managing a group of people all thrown together in very rough circumstances, there is plenty of grit and detail to make the story feel real.
In the end, The Company became less of an adventure and more of a study of human motivations and frailties. The characters, even the minor ones, all have issues, problems and ulterior motives that create a toxic brew. For me, it was a difficult story to get into because there wasn’t a special character that I could really identify with. That left me unsympathetic and finally almost uncaring about how the story ended. For world building and detail, I give Parker high marks; but for a story that I would recommend to others, The Company is pretty low on my list.