Literature: Black Company aka: The Chronicles Of The Black Company
You who come after me, scribbling these Annals, by now realise that I shy off portraying the whole truth about our band of blackguards. You know they are vicious, violent, and ignorant. They are complete barbarians, living out their cruelest fantasies, their behaviour tempered only by the presence of a few decent men. I do not often show that side because these men are my brethren, my family, and I was taught young not to speak ill of kin.
— Croaker, The Black Company
The Black Company is a series of Dark Fantasy books by Glen Cook. Released between 1984 and 2000, the series chronicles an ancient mercenary company — the titular Black Company, last of the Free Companies of Khatovar — as it plies its trade across the world and tries to find its lost roots. The series is notable for its unusual choice of protagonists in a fantasy setting: being a group of mercenaries, the Black Company does not turn down potential employers, and it prides itself on its sense of professional honour.The series begins as the Company reluctantly accepts the commission of a northern sorcerous tyrant known as "The Lady". A prophecy concerned with her downfall is about to be fulfilled, and the people are rising up in anticipation of the event. The Company has often been betrayed in the past by its employers, and The Lady is one of the least trustworthy ones it's had, but she pays well, and the Black Company goes where it is desired, so it commits to the contract.As time goes by, the Company struggles to survive and recover its past as it goes from employer to employer, drifts from conflict to conflict, and sees its fortunes wax and wane. It is favoured one moment, and is betrayed the next; it is one minute a legion, and the next is nearly annihilated — yet this is not unusual, because while the people may come on and go, there will always be a Black Company.Glen Cook served as a soldier, and in writing the books desired to tell a story from the perspective of the grunts of a fantasy setting. The verisimilitude is held to be very high, with the mercenaries being very frankly portrayed, rarely heroic and occasionally unsympathetic. The Black Company is just one group, stuck on one side or the other of those conflicts where no side can be said to be completely in the right, and out of its depth when there can.The series has had a profound influence on subsequent fantasy authors, with Jim Butcher, Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie and many others citing it as direct influence on their own writing.The completed series currently consists of ten books, divided into three smaller collections:
The Black Company
The Books of the North:
The Black Company
The White Rose
The Books of the South:
Dreams of Steel
The Silver Spike (side story that takes place roughly at the same time as Shadow Games)
The Books of the Glittering Stone:
She Is The Darkness
Black Company contains examples of:
Absent Aliens: No elves, dwarves, goblins, orcs, or other fantasy species. There are some very weird nonhuman creatures in the Plain of Fear, but they've got a very minor role in the plot. Some of those creatures show up in a short story set in his SF Starfishers universe, but it's unknown if there's a connection between the two or if he just re-used an idea. Later in the series, a character mentions dwarves that like to go underground and work as miners, but explicitly identified them as "mythical creatures;" making it seem like a Shout-Out at best. Even the gods of the story are uncertain in their existence and the lone exception, Kina, is revealed to actually have been a Sorcerer of immense power from a time so long ago that her history has turned to myth.
A Day in the Limelight: The Silver Spike follows the travels of Case, a minor character from The White Rose, and the adventures of the Black Company deserters.
Adult Fear: Bleak Seasons deals with much deeper, more personal tragedy than most other books in the series. Where the previous books were about combating various Evil Sorcerers through strength and guile, Bleak Seasons deals with a handful of Company mainstays struggling against famine, disease, and treachery from their traitorous commander.
Alien Invasion: The original mission of the free Companies of Khatovar was to infiltrate the Lady's world and set in motion the events that would resurrect Kina. Most of them return to their home worlds in defeat, one lost sight of its mission, and another decided to stay permanently.
Alien Sky: The Land of Unknown Shadows has two moons.
The sky above the Plain of Glittering Stone has different stars than in the normal world. There is a constellation called "the Noose" that is only visible there.
And I Must Scream: Murgen's spirit is able to leave his body while dreaming. This talent continues during the fifteen years that he and rest of the Command Roster are imprisoned beneath the Plain of Glittering Stone, implying that everyone involved is conscious, but paralyzed. The experience is harrowing enough that Croaker and Lady abdicate their positions in the Company leadership, with Croaker falling back on his role as physician and Annalist. Now remember that there have been men suffering that same fate for so long that no one even remembers the civilization that put them there.
"Bleak seasons" is used incidentally to refer to the Annalist's personal tragedies.
"She is the darkness" is used by the comatose Smoke to describe certain women.
"Water sleeps" is a shortened adage from Murgen's homeland, and relates to vengeance. The full adage is "Water sleeps, but Enemy never rests".
"Soldiers live" is short for "Soldiers live, and wonder why". It is mentioned by the Annalist whenever someone in the Company dies, as an expression of weariness.
"It is immortality of a sort" is used in certain third-person segues throughout most of Glittering Stone. It eventually becomes clear that it refers to people's names — specifically those of the Free Companies of Khatovar's members who die — being recorded for posterity, in this case by being magically engraved in enormous pillars.
The Artifact: Used in-story. A monologue during She Is the Darkness recounts how the Company is still using Soulcatcher's sigil on their standard and badges, despite their contract with Soulcatcher having ended nearly twenty years previously and Soulcatcher being their second-biggest current enemy, superseded only by Longshadow.
This becomes an even stronger Artifact in Water Sleeps, when it becomes the symbol of the Company directly rebelling against Soulcatcher herself.
Artifact of Doom: The Silver Spike. The Books of the Dead. The Lance of Passion, One-Eye's spear, the golden Deceiver artifact, or any of the keys—old and new—to the Shadowgates could also qualify.
Ascended Extra: A few of the Taken who turn up in the South have their appearances and personalities created more or less out of whole cloth, due to being little more than names in the Books of the North.
The Reveal that Stormshadow is actually Stormbringer has to be articulated by one of the Company Brothers calling out her name, as her physical description was never provided earlier.
The Howler was briefly described in the Books of the North, but his personality is extrapolated from the few traits revealed about him there.
Asexuality: As a result of being raped be her uncles in her youth, Sleepy has no interest in sex. There are rumors that she may have slept with close friend Willow Swan, but she adamantly denies them (though Croaker things that it may have happened only once or twice, judging by her reaction to news of Swan's death).
Awesome, but Impractical: The flying poles when weaponized. A heavy-duty Flying Broomstick capable of transporting two people plus equipment, programmable and usable by non-wizards thanks to an internal power source... which just happens to be the strongest explosive known in the setting.
Babies Ever After: Happens with Darling and Case. The narrator mentions their grandkids don't believe a word of their stories, but think they tell the best lies ever.
Badass Bookworm: Most of the Taken. They receive the "honor" of being claimed by the Dominator or his wife as a result of their magical talent. That said, the setting averts Squishy Wizard, hard. The Taken are noted multiple times as being nearly impossible to kill (one of them was clearly hanged at one point and is barely the worse for wear). At one point, the Limper has a building collapsed on him without sustaining any permanent damage. Later, he treats the severing of his right arm as little more than an annoyance..
To a less extreme extent, Croaker. He is introduced as a doctor and historian who is fluent (both spoken and written) in several languages (Murgen asserts that Croaker is fluent in twenty languages, though this assertion is made about fifteen years later) in an age where literacy in even one language is not the norm. He demonstrates the ability to hold his own in combat multiple times thereafter, and is even considered worthy enough for a two-man assassination mission alongside stone-cold badass Raven.
Badass Grandpa: Many, as the Company gets older. Outside the Company, The Silver Spike gives us the mild-mannered but frighteningly badass Old Man Fish. Uncle Doj, a sort of warrior priest, also counts.
Bait-and-Switch Boss: In She is the Darkness, Longshadow is built up as the Big Bad only to have Soulcatcher show up in his inner sanctum and take him down.
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Played straight and averted. Lady winds up quite the worse for wear by the end of Dreams of Steel, and has begun an ungraceful aging process by Soldiers Live. Soulcatcher and The Daughter of Night, on the other hand, sustain various injuries without any particular marring of their features (even if Soulcatcher walks with a limp by the end of the series.).
Beige Prose: Descriptions and dialogue are kept to a minimum. The Annalists often skip over large swaths of the narrative, and usually ignore parts they are uneasy with unless it's relevant to the cohesion of the Annals. For example, the description of the storming of one fortress during a military campaign is recorded by Croaker in a total of two sentences. He doesn't seem to think the episode is significant:
So we went and did it. We captured the fortress at Deal, in the dead of night, within howling distance of Oar.
Benevolent Boss: Soulcatcher, of all people, in the first book treats the Black Company well for a Taken, generally being helpful and even building up a (limited) level of camaderie with Croaker. She even spares Croaker and Raven after they witness part of her plot against the Lady. Of course, none of this stops her from repeatedly trying to off the Company once they get in her way...
Beta Couple: Depends on the Annalist, mostly due to their personal point of view. If Croaker is narrating, it's either Murgen/Sahra or Tobo/Shukrat. If Murgen or Sleepy are narrating, it's Croaker and Lady.
Big Bad: Played with and often subverted - the protagonists are often seen to be serving the Big Bad, and the Black Company is seen as a Big Bad itself once they reach Taglios. The story discusses this at length - Croaker in particular finds ways to rationalize this normally amoral behavior.
Both The Dominator and in later books Kina play this completely straight, though.
The thing underneath Old Father Tree was one in an age so long past that the Lady barely remembers it.
Bigger Bad: The Dominator is this in the first book, before becoming the Big Bad of the next two.
This trope is revisited in Dreams of Steel and She Is the Darkness, this time by Kina. Like the Dominator, she becomes the Big Bad later in the series, after the Shadowmasters are dealt with.
Bittersweet Ending: Most of the major arcs end like this, as do most individual books. The series as a whole also ends on one.
Black and Grey Morality: At the BEST of times. But only if you ignore the description of the trope and go a whole lot more subtle.
Black Comedy: All the time. It seems that as in most military works, that's the best way a soldier can cope with the horrors of war.
Book Ends: The Black Company and Soldiers Live are both narrated by Croaker in his capacity as Annalist and Company physician and nothing more, as he abdicated the Captaincy between Water Sleeps and Soldiers Live.
Likewise, both books have an early plot arc of the Company setting out to kill a forvalaka out of revenge for killing one of the Company's wizards, who were brothers.
Subverted with Murgen when he wakes up and finds that he had been tortured, but remembers none of it. Of course, this may not have happened—Murgen's hold on sanity is tenuous at best.
Timmy Lokan in The Silver Spike is a straighter example. Initially described as always having a joke and being generally fun-loving, he returns home to learn that his entire family had been brutally murdered, finds himself infected with evil from the Spike, left in pain for weeks until his hand is amputated, and finally beaten to death during an interrogation gone wrong. Smeds and Fish agree that, of the four conspirators, he deserved what he got the least.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: One-Eye and Goblin are thoroughly reprehensible human beings. That said, they're also wizards with enough power to be useful to the Company, but not so much power that they can't be controlled.
Bury Your Disabled: Initially averted, but later played straight. One-Eye suffers a stroke toward the end of Water Sleeps, and while it does slow him down, it's not as bad as it could have been. However, as a direct result of the stroke, he finally loses his running vendetta with Lisa Bowalk early in Soldiers Live.
Came Back Wrong: Goblin is killed trying to injure Kina, only for Blade to hear his voice calling for help four years later. No one trusts the returned wizard—and they're right.
The Captain: The Captain, initially. Croaker takes this role at the very end of The White Rose, because no one else wants it. Sleepy takes the role in spirit during Water Sleeps and then officially in Soldiers Live, after his time in Plain of Glittering Stone makes her predecessor doubt his competence. Suvrin takes over after she is killed by a trap in the Battle of Taglios.
Card Games: The life of a soldier is one of tedium punctuated by short periods of terror, and the Black Company old-timers fill that tedium with endless games of Tonk, an Afro-American version of rummy. The rules are on the Internet, and are playable with standard playing cards. Played for money, but the money's not really as much of the point as it seems.
The Chessmaster: In order of severity, Croaker, Sleepy, and Kina. Kina has been doing it for so long that she has difficulty dealing with scenarios that last hours, rather than decades.
The Chosen One: The White Rose is prophesied to return and defeat the Dominator at the appearance of a certain comet in the sky. Rebelnote Croaker's way of writing "the rebels", unable to find the real chosen one, eventually just grabs a random kid to fill the role for a morale boost. The kid dies a horrible death. The third book, The White Rose, deals with the real girl, who is a young girl found by the Black Company early in the first book, and the attempted fulfilment of the prophecy.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Quite a bit to go around, though Soulcatcher is the queen of this trope. Croaker at one point muses that every single one of their employers seem to find a reason to turn on them at some point.
Mogaba defects from the Company to join Longshadow, then defects again when Longshadow is defeated to join the Company's new primary antagonist, Soulcatcher.
Cliff Hanger: Shadow Games ends on one. It and Dreams of Steel are the only novels that take place back-to-back without a Time Skip in between (though Bleak Seasons initially looks concurrent with Dreams of Steel, it's shortly revealed to actually be taking place roughly four years later).
Combat Pragmatist: The Company's MO. They'll use whatever means necessary to win, and if they can win without ever fighting, all the better. Acknowledged in-universe; anybody who goes up against the Company develops a healthy amount of paranoia about what the Company might do next.
Comedic Sociopathy: The Company's main source of entertainment is a "feud" between two of their wizards, One-Eye and Goblin. Mostly they'll just one-up each other with crafty illusions, but rile them up enough and they'll go for blood.
Command Roster: It changes a little bit every book, but the narration always centers on the Company's Captain, his retinue, and his most trusted commandos. Justified in that Company tradition often sees the Annalist eventually become Captain, so it makes sense that the story's narrator hangs around with the brass. The justification is even stronger in Croaker's case, as his medical training makes him a valued specialist.
Crapsack World: Although the setting itself is not much worse than any other setting, in-universe it is acknowledged that the empire known as the Domination, which covered all the northern lands for several hundred years, was a terrible place to live in, and that the Dominator, its sorcerous tyrant, must not be allowed to return.
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Shed. Everyone, Croaker and Raven included, are amazed at the feats of cunning, skill, and general badassery the cowardly, self-pitying, unassuming innkeeper is capable of when pressed.
Also Narayan Singh. A scrawny fruit-selling peddler who belongs to the smallest and least respected of the three major religions in Taglios, and also the Living Saint of the Cult of the Deceivers. He is good enough to be able to snap his opponents necks with his strangling cloth.
Cryonics Failure: Not everyone imprisoned beneath the Plain of Glittering Stone lives until they can be rescued. It is implied that this is a result of Cordie Mather trying to release them without knowing the proper procedure to do so.
Cursed with Awesome: It is repeatedly mentioned that Silent, Goblin, and One-Eye have a power level orders of magnitude below that of the Taken. Which is why they haven't been enslaved by the Lady.
Cycle of Revenge: A major plot point in Soldiers Live is Croaker leading an expedition to kill Lisa in vengeance for One-Eye's death. She only killed him because he killed her master, Shapeshifter and got her stuck in the form of the forvalaka before he could teach her how to change back. That killing, in turn, was a revenge killing for murdering One-Eye's brother at the start of the first book.
Dark Action Girl: Nominally, the Daughter of Night as of Water Sleeps. In practice, she spend enough time captured, restrained, or hiding behind magic to be more of a Faux Action Girl.
Dark Lord on Life Support: The Limper is this through most of the The Silver Spike. After the climax of The White Rose left him as nothing but a disembodied head, Toadkiller Dog intimidated the shamans of the local forest to build him a new body out of wicker. "The Wicker Man" helps the Shamans tune up the "toy body," but even then he can't speak above a whisper and is aware how vulnerable he is to fire. The body is ultimately destroyed, but replaced with a finer one of enchanted clay, allowing The Limper to go full-on One-Winged Angel.
A less extreme example is The Howler. Narration early in She Is the Darkness notes him as so badly crippled that he prefers to use his magic to float while moving, rather than walk. There is also his uncontrollable shouting, which is dealt with in Soldiers Live but putting his head in what amounts to a fishbowl.
Darkest Hour: Either the end of the The White Rose, when the Company is reduced to just six men, or during the course of Water Sleeps, when the Company is undermanned and hiding from Soulcatcher, with the Command Roster entombed under the Plain of Glittering stone for the past fifteen years.
The setting is renown for strongly averting Squishy Wizard, but looking below the surface, this is because the trope is actually being deconstructed. A power-hungry individual with significant supernatural power and enough time becomes Properly Paranoid and uses his magic to make himself Nigh Invulnerable.
The series also illustrates how a world with I Know Your True Name in effect is doomed to be dominated by Evil Sorcerers. An invocation of a wizard's true name will permanently sever him from his powers, as illustrated in The White Rose. As a result, only wizards willing to ruthlessly destroy any record of their true name, including the people they knew before their rise to power, can wield significant magical strength. The only good wizard of any consequence in the series is able to rise to the heights he does because, as a result of unusual circumstances around the time of his birth and culture of his mother, he has no true name, only a nickname.
Disability Superpower: As a result of Nyueng-Bao custom, "Tobo" is actually a nickname given to him by his mother, with a real name to be determined by both parents as soon as they could. As a result of Murgen being trapped beneath the Plain of Glittering Stone for fifteen years, Tobo is already well into adulthood before this change is made. He expresses irritation over not have a real name in Soldiers Live—but doesn't realize that his lack of a true name makes him invulnerable to being de-powered like the Lady.
The Howler is particularly adept at magic pertaining to flight and levitation. This is likely a result of him being physically diminutive to begin with, and apparently severely arthritic, as it's mentioned that he prefers using magic to float over the pain of walking.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Water Sleeps chronicles the Company fighting a guerrilla war against Soulcatcher's significantly more powerful force, with most of the fighting happening either in the city or the jungle. If that doesn't remind you of the Vietnam War, the monk who immolates himself in front of the Taglian Palace will or the Nyueng Bao as expies of the Vietnamese certainly will.
The Dragon: The Lady was this to the Dominator in her backstory. She herself doesn't have a clear example- Soulcatcher is the strongest Taken, but she's also the most unstable. At various times, this role would be taken up by the Black Company and the Limper.
In the later books, Mogaba serves as The Dragon to Longshadow and later to Soulcatcher.
Dream Spying: A major plot point in The Books of the Glittering Stone involves the discovery that Smoke's comatose mind can be "ridden", allowing exploration of the world in a dream-like fashion, but leaving the rider's body unconscious. Murgen also develops a more limited version which functions when he's asleep, and requires his incorporeal body to "move" between each location physically. Both versions are notably used as a plot device to explain why third person accounts are given in a first person narrative, as it is far less restricting than having the Annalist be forced to interview everyone.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: Very few characters actually go down in a particularly grand fashion; even important ones tend to die very suddenly. Large swaths of the cast introduced during The Books of the South and The Books of the Glittering Plain are unceremoniously killed off in Soldiers Live without regard for their role in the narrative before then.
Druid: While not explicedly stated, Shapeshifter the taken shares a lot of traits in common with the typical druid. In his human form he is large (fat) and beardy. He has powers over nature (such as directing fog in the Battle of Goja Fjord), Healing Hands, and can transform into an animal (His choice of which, is a were-panther). Heck, up until he fell in love with Lisa Bowalk the duffer even smelled of nature.
Dwindling Party: The Captain dies toward the end of Shadows Linger, starting off a trend of named characters dying. By the end of The White Rose, the Black Company is composed of just six members.
Eldritch Location: As a result of Old Father Tree's presence, the Plain of Fear sports walking trees, talking rocks, coral reefs in the middle of the desert, wind-whales, flying mantas, and storms that temporarily distort reality.
The Plain of Glittering Stone is a much more malevolent example. The fortress at its center is yet worse.
The Empire: The Lady's Empire in the North, which the Black Company works for for a while.
actually happens to one of the worlds linked to the one most of the story takes place in due to a combination of the arrogance of the local overlords and the cunning of the Company.
Enemy Mine: The climaxes of The White Rose and The Silver Spike see the Empire and White Rose's rebels teaming up against a more dangerous common enemy, first the Dominator and then the Limper (or "the Clay Man" as he's sometimes referred to at this point).
Enfant Terrible: Lady and Croaker's daughter, who is Kina, Goddess of Death reborn.
Epic Fail: Almost all of Dreams of Steel and large portions of Bleak Seasons are entirely devoted to the aftermath of the botched siege of the city of Dejagore that occurs at the end of Shadow Games, wherein the Company is split into pieces and Croaker is kidnapped and presumed dead.
First Father, setting off the Self-Destruct Mechanism in the pole the Company stole, only to realize the Company left with a fake and set the real one under the portal that protected his world from being swarmed by millions of murderous shadows.
The attempt to capture Mogaba culminates in the whole team rushing into a bedroom in the dark, setting off a trap intended to ensnare a very powerful sorceress and starting a wild "shootout" that kills nearly all the commandos, Murgen, three company wizards including Howler and putting the Lady in a coma. To drive home the complete failure of the operation, Croaker comically knocks himself out during evacuation, trying to ram his flying pole through a reinforced window, which keeps slamming him against the window until someone manages to stop it.
Even Evil Has Standards: While the Company as a whole has a tendency to take morally ambiguous contracts, they still have standards: they take exception to killing women and children, even though one of their employers' lackeys doesn't have the same qualms.
During Soulcatcher's stint as the Protector, it is mentioned that she has a particular dislike of those who sexually abuse children. And like Mogaba and the other outlanders coming to the South with the Company, she tries to combat the South's deep-rooted culture of corruption and looting of one's underlings.
Murgen gets a monologue about this in Bleak Seasons. He mentions how members of the Company quickly come to terms with the violence of war, especially battlefield carnage and torture. He goes out of his way to say that these experiences let Company men face horrors, but does not make the horror lost to them. In this case, he's specifically talking about cannibalism.
Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: In the Books of the North, The Captain and the Lieutenant. In the Books of the South, the Prabrindrah-Drah and Radisha-Drah.
Evil Cripple: The Limper is this before going into full-on Dark Lord on Life Support. The Howler seems to be so good with flying carpets because he has trouble walking, in addition to his tic of constantly screaming.
Evil Overlord: Played with in Lady before she quits, who is ruthless, but genuinely tries to be the lesser of two evils.
Evil Sorcerer: Lots! The Lady, the Dominator, the Ten Who Were Taken, and the Shadowmasters all qualify.
Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Taken: Soulcatcher steals souls, Shapeshifter changes shapes, The Howler howls a lot, The Limper limps... you get the idea.
Moonbiter will bite you on the ass?
It is mentioned that they sounded more scary in their native tongue so perhaps Moonbiter was Lost in Translation
This is backed up by Bomans translating his name as "Moondog."
Based on his sigil, it's a good bet he was a Were Wolf.
Face-Heel Turn: Several in the Books of the South. By the end of Bleak Seasons, the Shadowlands are run by a single Shadowmaster and a collection of Croaker and Lady's former allies.
Fake Defector: Croaker's masterstroke against Longshadow is to convince him that Blade has switched sides. This allows the "traitor" to lead the Shadowlanders against the priest-lead armies that the Company finds politically inconvenient and then surrender to the Company at their first confrontation, removing a full quarter of the Shadowlander military from the battle at its very onset.
Fan Disservice: Lady is always referred to as being a beauty without compare. She has to strip completely naked for a rite during Dreams of Steel... while malnourished, unwashed, and ungroomed from weeks of campaigning and with a visibly distended (and presumably stretch-mark-ridden) belly from being several months pregnant.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: From the Books of the South onwards, the series takes place in a fantasy counterpart of India, complete with pseudo-Muslims and pseudo-Hindus. The latter even have the practice of suttee and their own thuggee cult (neither of which are even renamed). Not to mention the goddess Kali in the form of Kina.
While Taglian territories are Indian analogues, the Shadowlands specifically encompasses the state of Rajasthan. Stormgard/Dejagore/Jaicure is Jaipur, a bergburg of a city and the capital of Rajasthan, which shares the dry climate of Jaipur; And the gobsmackingly huge Overlook fortress whom borders the Plain of Glittering Stone has its counterpart of named Chittor, which is also gobsmackingly huge and on the southern edge of the province. Beyond geographical simalarities, even the name (and the in-universe meaning of it) of the Shadowlands bares striking resemblence to Rajasthan... No, I mean the Shadowlands' other name, Ajastan, the one that means "The Land of Many Kings" (none of which were mentioned by name, as Sleepy notes).
Filler: The Silver Spike, a spin-off story detailing what happened to Silent, Raven, and Darling, was released between Shadow Games and Dreams of Steel, the only two novels that have a Cliff Hanger ending without a Time Skip between them.
Foreshadowing: A chapter toward the end of Shadow Games is told from Lady's point of view. Guess who narrates the next book.
Likewise, Croaker mentions that he's training Murgen as an understudy before Murgen becomes Annalist. Murgen then covers that he is training Sleepy as an understudy before Sleepy takes on the role.
Genius Bruiser: The Lieutenant runs the siege of the Black Castle like he's conducting an orchestra. Just a few scenes earlier, he goes toe-to-toe with some of the castle monsters by muscling an enormous, two-handed sword that Croaker notes is the most effective weapon among them for the task at hand.
Raven shows shades of this after being rediscovered by Croaker in The White Rose, attempting (and nearly succeeding) some difficult magic that even leaves One-Eye impressed.
Genre Savvy: No one expects Goblin to be anything but a pawn of a Kina after he emerges from the Fortress with No Name. And they're right.
A God Am I: Kina began as a sorcerer of power comparable to the Dominator, but continued to grow until her ambitions stretched to the conquering of worlds beyond her own. This behavior is what eventually led to her being sealed in a can, with the history of events being corrupted into the Deceiver religion over time.
God of Evil: Kina. This being The Black Company, she is also the only deity (except the extradimensional Old Father Tree) to show any evidence of actually existing.
Golem: Shivetya. Also, the clay body of the Limper in The Silver Spike.
Guile Hero: Croaker and the original Captain are certainly no slouches, but Sleepy is the master. Lacking Croaker's size and charisma, she focuses on using misdirection, deception, and crazy preparedness to exploit her enemies, usually be having multiple plots going at once. In Water Sleeps, she mentions that she feels this is a tendency that she relies too strongly and it makes her inflexible when improvisation is required.
The Limper takes this Up to Eleven. While initially exhibiting a slight handicap as his name suggests, he keeps sustaining greater and greater injury without really slowing down. It's mentioned in the course of The Silver Spike that he is likely the single most powerful being in the North—despite being a severed head mounted onto an artificial body.
Croaker becomes a shade of this in Soldiers Live. After being injured early in the novel, he's left with reduced range of motion in his arm and a slight but permanent blur to the vision of one eye. He still manages to injure the Khadidas badly enough that it runs away in terror.
Heel-Face Revolving Door: The relationship between the Company and the Radisha in the Books of Glittering Stone is malleable, to say the least.
Heel-Face Turn: The Howler is given a choice between joining up with the Company or summary execution. He chooses the former.
Hell-Bent for Leather - Excluding the probably metal helmet, Soulcatcher is clad entirely in tight leather, from mask to boots.
Hijacked by Ganon: Subverted rather amusingly with Longshadow. Given his habit of dressing in robes and a mask and not letting anyone see his face, along with the fact that one of the other Shadowmasters, Stormshadow, turned out to be a renegade Taken, Lady and Croaker assume he's someone they've faced before, probably another Taken. Once they get the mask off, nobody recognizes him. Turns out he is an Outside-Context Villain.
Hoist by His Own Petard: The Voroshk attempt to destroy the Company by detonating one of the flying poles they believe that Company has captured. The pole that they saw was a decoy Croaker had rigged, suspecting just such a capability. The real pole had been hidden under the Voroshk Shadowgate, and the explosion disabled its ability to keep out the murderous shadows native to the other side, making a shadow invasion inevitable by nightfall.
Hub Level: The Plane of Glittering Stone; an artifact created by the gods in times long past to link sixteen worlds together.
Humans Are the Real Monsters: The vast majority of villains in series are humans, even if strongly removed by liberal amounts of sorcery (even Kina began as a human). In contrast, even the good guys aren't so good.
Croaker catches himself subverting this trope. He initially balks that the Voroshk are of an ethnicity similar to his own, when the only inhabitants he knew of on that world were the forefathers of the Nyueng-Bao. He realizes after a moment that there are many races on his own world, and it only makes sense that there would be on others, as well.
Iconic Item: The unsightly condition of One-Eye's hat is bound to come up at least once in each book.
The Annals themselves are this for the Company as a whole. Even when the Company is reduced to just six members, it's still considered important to maintain the Annals.
If We Survive This: Croaker makes one to Lady before the big battle in The White Rose, which he actually comes through on.
Another before they take Dejagore. Croaker tells Lady they're going to bang in Stormshadow/Stormbringer's bed that night. They do, to their own disbelief. Also, that's when the Daughter is conceived.
I Know Your True Name: The true name of a wizard can be used to destroy their power. Thus, many wizards go to great lengths to make sure that nobody knows it, such as killing everyone who knew them before, and leaving complex misdirections as to their origins.
The series' biggest Plot Holes revolve around why more wizards weren't Named when it would have been expedient. Possible explanations include it being implied that using one is somewhat (strangely) taboo amongst sorcerers, that preparing a ceremony for it is time-consuming, and that there usually isn't time for it when necessary, but they are all quite weak.
I'm a Humanitarian: To his horror, Murgen learns that the Nar perform human sacrifices as part of their religion. They then drink the blood and eat the flesh of their victims.
Implacable Man: The most powerful wizards are all but impossible to kill. The Dominator only died once his body was completely destroyed, Limper kept coming even when he was just an undead head controlling a golem body, and Soulcatcher survived decapitation and carried her severed head around with her in a box for fifteen years before finally forcing Croaker to sew it back on. It didn't heal well, either.
Infinity Plus One Spear: In this case, two of them: the Lance of Passion, an artifact the Company has carried from its origins in Khatovar. Also One-Eye's spear, a magical weapon that is the masterpiece and legacy of one of the Company's mages, designed to kill archmages and magical beasts, and which worked far better than advertised in the end. It ends up killing a god, albeit with a bit of explosive help.
Intoxication Ensues: Mushrooms growing on Shivetya's body have an euphoric effect. The consumers start singing or laughing for no reason, and stop being tired or hungry.
Karma Houdini: Despite having taken part in a scheme that caused the death of hundreds, having personally killed several people, as well as being a paedophile, Smeds ends up owner of a brewery, with a pile of money hidden for tough days.
Kavorka Man: Croaker, who, despite being far from handsome, winds up married to former Evil Overlord Lady, and attracting the attentions of her sister, Soulcatcher.
Kill 'em All: Though only at a few key points in the series.
La Résistance: Subverted with The Rebel, who are actually worse than what they're rebelling against. Played straight when Darling and the Company take over the rebellion.
Also played straight later with Sleepy and the rest of the Company against Soulcatcher's rule.
Large and in Charge: The series is typically light on physical description, but Croaker is described as being a big man. The Widowmaker armor makes him seem even larger and more menacing.
Silent is the most independent and competent of the Company mages, and is only ever described as "tall and dark."
In contrast Goblin, One-Eye, and The Howler are all noted to be both physically small and more comfortable in subservient roles.
Subverted by Sleepy, who is repeatedly mentioned to be competent, capable, and very short.
Last of His Kind: The Limper is able to cut a swathe through the Empire during The Silver Spike because, as the last of the Taken (well, as far as anyone in the North knows), no one has the raw power to stand up to him. Exile ultimately relies on traps and deception to deal with him.
Light Is Not Good: Overlook, and by extension, Longshadow. Murgen even compares Overlook to "some religion's idea of heaven".
Literary Agent Hypothesis: The original trilogy is supposed to be Croaker's section of the Annals of the Black Company. Given his central role, his personal appearance in the right place at the right time to observe plot-essential points, and a little conversation in the third book about how his historical writing style is different from the Northern tradition in how much he puts himself into the history (i.e. write in first person), and it seems Glen Cook is trying to raise this idea.
Later Annalists get their shots in at their predecessors whenever possible.
The Load: Gromovol is nothing but trouble, to the point that Croaker tries to return him to his family to gain their cooperation as much as to simply be rid of him.
Love Redeems: Lady, thanks to Croaker. Possibly averted; even in the last book of the series, Croaker admits that Lady did not regret anything she did as The Lady and that she still has plenty of evil left in her.
Luke Nounverber: Some Taken and Shadowmasters: Soulcatcher, Shapeshifter, Stormbringer, Moonbiter, Shadowspinner...
Magic is Evil: Achieved because of the repercussions of I Know Your True Name, wherein the only wizards who can reach the loftiest heights of power without being cut down by their foes must be willing to do some very evil things.
Mind Hive: Implied for Soulcatcher. Her many voices are supposed to each originate from a soul she has absorbed. This would in turn explain her indiosyncrasies, unstability and unpredictability, as different souls could take over at different times.
Mind Rape: Croaker considers telepathic communications from someone like Soulcatcher to be "a worse violation than rape" in the first book.
Ms. Fanservice: Once she reaches adulthood, the Daughter of Night seems to spend a lot of time naked. In fairness, this is mostly because she is so universally distrusted that anyone who captures her considers it the only way to be sure she isn't hiding a weapon on her person.
Morality Pet: Darling for Raven. Inverted in that it makes Raven overall worse, not better. As Croaker muses in Shadows Linger, Raven "concentrates" all the good in him for Darling, and so acts more evil to everyone else. At the same time, it is played straight with Croaker for the Lady. Croaker compares the two situations.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: The Dominator, Longshadow, Shapeshifter, Soulcatcher, Stormshadow, Howler, Limper, the Hanged Man... Every villain worth remembering has a suitably intimidating name.
Nigh Invulnerable: When the Company finally goes toe-to-toe with the Dominator, they have every possible advantage, including Darling's Null. They still have to dog-pile him and lose dozens of men before finally subduing him.
Not Quite Dead: half of the original Taken, although The Limper in particular simply revels in this trope. Croaker also joins the club after Dreams of Steel.
In fact, all the magic users count to some degree; the more powerful, the more this trope fits, to the point where they need to be diced up, cremated, and their ashes scattered to prevent their revival.
Obnoxious In-Laws: Murgen's mother-in-law is such a toxic creature that her own people refer to her as "the troll."
Official Couple: Varies by book, starting with Shadow Games, depending on who the analyst is. In Croaker's books, he and Lady are the Official Couple with either Murgen/Sahra or Tobo/Shukrat as the Beta Couple. In Murgen and Sleepy's books, those roles are switched.
OldSoldier: Croaker, and the rest of the Old Guard after they're resurrected from a fifteen year magical imprisonment in Water Sleeps.
Omniscient Council of Vagueness: The File of Nine, a group of warlords running a city state on the opposite side of the Glittering Stone, serves as a rather ineffectual example. The identities of the members are known only to the more senior members, each more anonymous than the last. Unfortunately, the File is so anonymous that it undermines their own ability to rule. After all, if someone refuses to comply with an order, they can't just throw a fit in the street saying "Don't you know who I am?" without revealing who they are.
Only Known by Their Nickname: Everyone who's important in this series goes by a nickname of some sort based vaguely on their character, frequently ironically. For example: the company doc is named Croaker, and its nastiest platoon leader is named Mercy. It's a rule in the Company, because everyone enlisted must leave whatever past they have behind them. Most wizards, on the other hand, use a nickname because their true name is the source of the powers.
Played very straight when Croaker must record his actual name, and has trouble remembering it.
This becomes a major plot point in The White Rose, when the Dominator, and everyone else tries to destroy Lady's powers by stating her name.
ARDATH YOU BITCH!!!!!
Stormshadow takes this Up to Eleven. She goes by Stormshadow in the South, which is itself a cover for Stormbringer, a different nickname she was known by in the North when she was one of the Ten Who Were Taken.
Tobo and the Daughter of Night take this to a different extreme in that they only have nicknames, not real names. She Is the Darkness explicitly states that "Tobo" is a nickname given to him by his mother until they can reunite with Murgen and give him a proper name. As for the Daughter, Croaker and Lady start referring to her as "Booboo" after Goblin suggests it.
Our Liches Are Different: The Ten Who Were Taken, and later the Shadowmasters. All of them are very powerful sorcerers. They are not referred to as liches in-universe, but they are described as undead many times. They lack proper phylacteries, but they are also very difficult to kill definitively. The Dominator deserves a special mention: his soul gets forced into a phylactery since there is no way to destroy it for good.
Our Werewolves Are Different: The Forvalaka - terrifyingly deadly monsters, generally described as 'undead were-leopards.' Blindingly fast and capable of healing nearly any wound in seconds, they require high order sorcery to have even a chance to defeat. Some wizards can take their forms to devastating effect, most notably Shapeshifter and his apprentice.
Physical God: Oddly enough, Old Father Tree. He was summoned in an age long forgotten to serve as the can for a now-forgotten Sealed Evil in a Can. From what The Lady remembers, his summoning required such a price that it killed thousands.
In the Books of Glittering Stone, Kina. This turns out in the Company's favor, considering that her having a physical body means that she can be physically killed, for good.
The Plan: So very many. Used by the Black Company themselves, as well as many other places. Often results in...
Gambit Pileup: The series has several — in the Books of the North the Dominator's plan slams headlong into the Lady's; in the Books of the South the Company's plans crash into Longshadow's, and everyone's plans get derailed by Soulcatcher while Kina works in the background.
Dominator somehow manages not to know the Lady's (who just happens to be his wife) name and keeps guessing it (incorrectly) throughout the first books;
Probably due to the True Name being the universal lynchpin of all wizards' powers in series, therefore all wizards go to great pains to make sure theirs is hidden, such as wiping out everyone from their town who was alive when they were born (or worse). The Lady's true name was probably long buried by the time he married her.
After The Lady loses her powers, all her Taken immediately die; however, after Dominator's soul gets sealed in the Silver Spike and it is acknowledged by characters that he can no longer project his will onto the world, the old Taken (created by Dominator) continue functioning perfectly;
Lady mentions that she specifically set up the spell controlling her Taken so that if she died or lost her powers, they would too. The Dominator apparently did not include that clause in his.
Even though Lady knows the True Names of Howler, Shapeshifter and Soulcatcher, she never uses them, even though doing so would solve literally every single Company's problem. This problem gets acknowledged once, when she is still de-powered and Goblin says that she won't ever tell him or One-Eye True Names of their enemies. After she gets her powers back... Well, she still does nothing. And gets sealed under the Glittering Plain, along with the majority of the Company for her troubles. Made worse when you realize a lot more people than just Lady knew Soulcatcher's True Name and still did not use it.
The Lady not using Soulcatcher's true name is explained much earlier in the series (they're bound by some sort of powerful sorcerous agreement to never use each other's names.) Why nobody else used it even though many major characters (including Croaker) discovered it in the process of researching the Lady's name is still not explained.
The timeline between the Battle of Charm and the invasion of Taglios doesn't quite add up. The Battle of Charm happens a year or two after the start of the series. No more than fifteen years later (and possibly as few as twelve years later), the Shadowmasters are well-established and are repeatedly said to have ruled the Shadowlands for a "generation," despite the fact that Stormbringer was present (and faked her death) at the Battle of Charm, several thousand miles to the North, well under a generation earlier.
In the Books of the South we get another, the Shadowmasters- less effective overall, both because there are only four of them and because their boss, Longshadow, is too erratic to be any kind of effective leader, so that the end result is that they're even more backstabby than the Taken. They're still a major headache, though.
Ragnarok-Proofing: Subverted and played straight in The White Rose. A lot of time is spent detailing how the defenses of the Barrow Land, designed to be permanently impregnable, were crumbling even almost a hundred years before the story proper starts (there is even a line about some of the spells have broken down, but the Eternal Guard lack any wizards of sufficient skill to restore them). In Croaker's time, it's even worse, with eleven of the twelve charges broken out. In contrast, Old Father Tree is still serving as an effective can for His much older sealed evil, and leads the Company to their eventual solution.
In Soldiers Live, the same slow decay is revealed to be happening to the Plain of Glittering Stone.
Rape as Backstory: Sleepy joined the Company at the tender age of 14 in order to escape sexual abuse at the hands of at least one uncle. Sleepy stayed with the Company after the Company's fortunes fell in the wake of the events of She Is the Darkness because the Company had become a surrogate family; it was either stay there, or return to those rapists.
Played with in the case of Arkana. She is raped after she meets the Company, but has no characterization before that incident.
Earlier in the series, this is how the Company discovers Darling, though her having been raped is rarely brought up.
Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Croaker freely admits in The Black Company that "the gods know the Black Company are no cherubim. But there are limits." This is right before Raven puts arrows into two friendlies (part of the Lady's regular army) for gang-raping a nine-year-old girl.
Really 700 Years Old: Lady and Soulcatcher both look to be in their early twenties, if not a little younger—but they were both sealed into the Barrow Lands 400 years before the story even started.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Soulcatcher, being capricious and more conventionally insane, is red to Lady's blue. It's mentioned that this makes Lady the more powerful of the two when she puts her mind to something, but on the whole it's hard to say which is more dangerous.
Blade describes Swan (red) and Cordie (blue) this way.
Religion of Evil: The cult of Kina. You know this is the case when the cult's adherents are called "deceivers" and "stranglers."
The version practiced by the Nar involves human sacrifices and cannibalism, so it's hardly an improvement.
Swan: He's the kind of guy who's got to check things for himself. ... He's a pretty good old boy. First prince I ever seen that tries to do what a prince is supposed to do.
Croaker: Rarer than frog hair, then. I'm sure.
Sadistic Choice: Kina's revenge is to use the Daughter of Night to strangle Lady, forcing Croaker to choose whether to save his wife or his daughter. He chooses Lady, but hesitates long enough that she's left in critical condition.
Samus Is a Girl: Soulcatcher, though it's hinted at before it's actually revealed, and Sleepy.
The Savage South: The main characters spend most of the saga travelling from the north (which is the standard fantasy setting) to the south (India expy) down to their place of origin at the southernmost end of the continent... where things get really weird.
Scary Impractical Armor: The Lifetaker and Widowmaker outfits. Justified in that the whole point is for the outfits to be scary and Lady has laid on the spellwork to make them protective in spite of their impracticality.
Sealed Evil in a Can: The Barrowland could be considered to be an aisle in a supermarket for all the evils trapped there.
Soulcatcher appears to be this, at the end of Soldiers Live. However, it's hinted that she may be released in the name of balance if Lady decides to become the Lady of Charm again.
This seems to be standard procedure. The Barrowlands have a larger number of sealed evils, but Old Father Tree and the Plains of Fear and Kina both fit the bill as well, and Shivetya may count as Sealed Good in a Can, or at least Sealed Neutral.
Serial Escalation: The first book has the Company pitted against well-equipped rebels. By the third, the Company is facing down The Empire and then forced into an Enemy Mine scenario with the same against The Dominator, the Bigger Bad of the series thus far. By the end of the fourth book, the Company is building a national army to clash against another national army. By the end of the series, the Company is engaged in a three-way battle with the world's most powerful sorcerer (who has both of the aforementioned nation's militaries at her side, if somewhat reluctantly) and a Physical God.
Sexless Marriage: When first becoming intimate with Croaker, Lady replies to some awkwardness by saying that she's never done this before. Much later, Soulcatcher corroborates this by angrily referring to her as the Dominator's virgin wife. Clearly, her wedding to the Dominator was one purely of political convenience, uniting the two most powerful wizards in the world under the same banner, not one of love or even attraction.
Shaggy Dog Story: A serious one encompasses the second and third story arcs. Upon assuming command, Croaker decides to take the Company south to Khatovar, the Company's original home when it was founded 400 years ago. The Books of the South chronicle Croaker's attempt to reach Khatovar, only to get sidetracked by the Shadowmasters. The Books of Glittering Stone have Croaker discover that Khatovar is actually another world, linked to his through the Plain. In Soldiers Live, he learns that Khatovar wasn't a world, it was a city within that world. And it was destroyed by the Voroshk generations ago.
Lampshaded in The Silver Spike, where a former Imperial soldier gets in a big argument with a former member of La Résistance about whether the Lady's rule was really any worse than The Kingdom that preceded it.
Lady herself claimed that for commoners their strong law enforcement was a boon, and Croaker (as a healer) noticed and mentioned the Empire's attention to the pharmacy. Of course, she also mentioned that it would be a good idea to just wipe out the whole town (for some necrolatric traditions) even if the Dominator hadn't messed with it all...
Squishy Wizard: Inverted. Low level wizards like Tom-Tom and Goblin live much longer than usual, while high level wizards like the Taken are almost impossible to kill due to their unnatural vitality. Examples include Soulcatcher, The Hanged Man, and the Limper, who all sustain injuries well beyond what should have killed them, especially the Limper. He's described as "a wreck of humanity" before the worst of his injuries are over. This is explained as sorcerers layering as many spells as they can onto themselves to cover for every contingency — with enough time and power, a sorcerer can become immortal, although not indestructible.
Spell My Name with a "The": The Limper, The Howler, The Hanged Man, The Tree, The Son of The Tree, The Dominator, The Daughter of Night, and The Khadidas.
The Starscream: The Taken are basically a Starscream Squadron. Then there's Mogaba and Narayan, who both stab their superiors in the back for their own ends. Subverted by Blade, who betrays his employers when Croaker comes back from the dead...but later it's revealed to be part of a grand military maneuver by none other than Croaker himself.
Status Quo Is God: Thoroughly averted. Very few books end with the Company in the same shape as when they started. Characters rising through the ranks, switching sides, or being Killed Off for Real are all commonplace.
Over the course of the series, the Company numbers from 6 to over 8000.
On top of all this, no single character appears in all ten books (mostly owing to The Silver Spike being what amounts to a spinoff), though a few series stalwarts (namely Croaker, One-Eye, Goblin, and the Lady) appear in all nine books in the linear story.
Strong, but Unskilled: The Limper doesn't seem to have a problem-solving strategy beyond applying brute force. This is probably why the Weak, but Skilled Company (and later, Imperial) wizards have such an easy time dealing with someone of his sorcerous caliber.
Suddenly Voiced: Ky Sahra doesn't actually have any lines in Bleak Seasons, owing mostly to her characterization of fragility. She takes a few levels in Badass by Water Sleeps, where she has more dialogue than practically anyone else.
Survivor Guilt: Croaker has issues with it. He notes it explicitly as early as The White Rose, when the Company is reduced to six men, and the dead include his best friend and sponsor, Elmo. It later goes on to be one of the central concepts of Soldiers Live. The title is a shortening of a saying; the whole thing is "Soldiers live, and wonder why."
Sweet Polly Oliver: Sleepy. The Company later finds out, but nobody cares beyond changing the pronouns.
Its stated once that Wheezer has tuberculous. in a blink and you miss it sentence. Otherwise this is played straight.
Time Skip: There are typically a few years between each novel, with the exception being that Dreams of Steel immediately follows the Cliff Hanger ending of Shadow Games. The most noticeable one is the fifteen years that pass between She is the Darkness and Water Sleeps.
Took a Level in Badass: Suvrin is introduced as a timid little fat guy leading a poorly trained group of soldiers, who quickly surrenders to the Company because he knows he doesn't have a hope for beating them. By the end of the series, he becomes the new Captain.
Darling is an earlier example. Initially found as a child who was deaf, dumb, and raped, she eventually becomes a grand general and the greatest threat to the Lady's Empire. Even after being De Powered she is still an effective tactician and soldier in her own right.
Unreliable Narrator: The tale is framed as excerpts from the annals of the Black Company, as laid down by various members. Most of the narration is by Croaker, the Company's doctor and eventual leader. In later books the pen is held by the standard bearer, Murgen, his understudy Sleepy, and Lady, the former tyrant. All of them are, by their own admission, less than totally reliable (though the last one only admits that grudgingly).
One of the first things Murgen does is poke fun at the massive amount of Plot Hole between Croaker and Lady's Annals, while giving some plausible reasons for the differences (Lady and Croaker have different distances put down between cities, and according to Lady, it's because they used different units of measurements. It's not because they can't count properly... nope.)
Sleepy seems to have a poor grasp of the timeline before the siege of Dejagore. Sleepy seems to think that Croaker was a twentysomething member of the rank-and-file of the Company who had only just become Annalist during the Company's time with the Syndic of Beryl. Croaker's own accounts in The Black Company imply (by omission of any of the uncertainty shown by Sleepy and Murgen) that he is well-established as Annalist, is in his mid-to-late thirties, is a Company specialist based on other skills (in this case, physician), and that he is an officer in everything but name. There's even a scene where the Captain reprimands Croaker for standing guard duty because any Company Brother can stand around keeping watch, but Croaker's medical skills are unique.
Used in-story, as well. Uncle Doj and Tobo have radically different versions of the history of Nyueng-Bao that agree on very little beyond their point of origin. Croaker and Lady don't find either one to be particularly authentic.
The Unreveal: In Shadow Games, the Lady asks for Croaker's real name, to be put on his Commission as a General. He mentions that it takes him some time to remember it, but carefully avoids actually writing it in the Annals.
Up to Eleven: Pretty much everything about The Limper. He is portrayed as the most vicious, most unstoppable, most driven, and most selfish of the Taken, as well as demonstrating the most raw sorcerous might. In Water Sleeps, he is referred to as malevolence personified.
Villain over for Dinner: Croaker makes tea for the Limper, who is so taken aback that he actually sits down and drinks it rather than just blasting everyone.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Goblin and One-Eye act like an old married couple. Most of the time, they squabble and play various pranks on one another, however, they always pull together when the chips are down (even building an impromptu brewery when besieged in Dejagore). Murgen and Croaker both point out that Goblin and One-Eye have stopped feuding when they want to underscore just just how bad the situation is.
In She Is the Darkness, Goblin even mentions that he misses One-Eye...but only when he's certain that no one can hear him.
The Voiceless: Silent, one of the Company's mages, is, well, silent. Although the "why" is unclear, he took a vow of silence in his youth, and only very reluctantly does he ever speak.
Voice of the Legion: Soulcatcher - but serial, not parallel. She only uses one voice at a time, but she's got a lot of them, and switches every sentence or two unless things get deadly seriously.
Weak, but Skilled: The Company mages are several orders of magnitude weaker than the weakest Evil Sorcerer they find themselves pitted against, but they are more effective at applying what skills they do have.
What the Hell, Hero?: Croaker arranges so that an entire world is invaded by more than a million killer shadows, because he doesn't like the dictators controlling it - although to be fair it is as much the result of their reckless arrogance as his bait and switch. Afterwards, he wonders why isn't asking himself this question but decides he is too old and bitter to care anymore.
This is also Murgen's response to learning that Lady has removed the Shadowlanders from outside the city he and sixty other Company men have been besieged and starving in, but has made no attempt to inform them of this fact because of a political struggle with Mogaba.
Who Wants to Live Forever?: Shivetya, the Eternal Guardian, aids the Company in their quest to kill Kina so that, his duties discharged, he can finally die.
Wife Husbandry: Subverted with Raven and Darling. He loves her and cares for her in place of the children he abandoned, but when she reaches puberty and begins to become sexually attracted to him, Raven fakes his own death and takes off.
With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: The more powerful a wizard is, the more dangerous their quirks are, usually including being power-drunk and always including a lot of paranoia (the Lady even acknowledges the latter).
The Limper provides an early example. He raises hell throughout most of the Books of the North, tries to backstab the Lady during The White Rose, and kills thousands out of pure malice during The Silver Spike. He is particularly vicious in the latter, when he is the most powerful sorcerer left on the continent and thus does not fear a reckoning.
Soulcatcher gets more and more unhinged as the story goes on. Like The Limper, she is at her worst when there are no other sorcerers to oppose her.
Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: The backstory of the killer shadows enslaved by the titular Shadowmasters is that they were created to block travel over the Plain of Glittering Stone. Each was once a human prisoner of war, tormented and changed through black magic until they came to hate all living things and want nothing more than an end to their constant pain.