Title: An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat
Author: Glen Cook
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Release Date: June 23, 2009
An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat is a collection of short fiction written by fantasy and science fiction author Glen Cook. Recently released in paperback format by Night Shade Books, An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat features ten of Cook’s fictional short stories, all of which are set in the Dread Empire, a gritty world of “larger-than-life plots, nation-shattering conflict, maddening magic, strange creatures, and raw, flawed heroes” in which a number of Cook’s full-length novels take place.
The release of An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat marks the first time that all of Cook’s Dread Empire short fiction appears in a single volume. As such, the author has written not only a lengthy introduction for the collection, but a separate introduction to each of the short stories that explain why each piece was written, when each was written, and where the stories were first published (if at all). While some short fiction collections are organized in such a way that reading from cover to cover feels disjointed or abruptly throws the reader in and out of the story with each new installment, Cook’s introductions are brief, yet poignant pieces that welcome the reader into each story and provide them with the context necessary to read the volume from cover to cover with relative ease.
An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat starts off strong with “Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat,” a well-written and compelling piece that introduces readers to the world of the Dread Empire and to Cook’s exceptional writing style. Although I had never heard of Glen Cook prior to reading An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat, I now understand why he is often credited as the godfather of modern heroic fantasy. An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat is by far the best book that I have read in a very, very long time for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Cook’s talent as a writer.
Glen Cook has a unique writing style that is both succinct and descriptive — a combination most writers are unable to achieve. Cook can convey in 25 words what might take other writers 100 words to express, but he does so without losing any of the detail necessary in great science fiction and fantasy. Despite the fact that the tales collected in An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat are short stories, each paints a rich portrait of its characters and landscape without sacrificing plot or action. In fact, Cook’s short stories are masterfully crafted to move the reader through time and space at a pace suited to such a small amount of words.
Similarly, An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat is organized in such a way that readers may forget where one story ends and another begins as characters and lands from one story will reappear without warning in another. Cook also maintains the integrity of the Dread Empire setting across stories, making the details of sorcery in one tale congruent with those in another, for example. At times, one of Cook’s stories will pick up where another left off, as in the case of “Hell’s Forge,” which continues the adventures of the characters introduced in “Ghost Stalk.” One need not read “Ghost Stalk” before “Hell’s Forge,” however, in order to follow the events of the latter; Cook is a master of dispelling the same information in different ways so that readers unfamiliar with the characters and setting will become so while those already acquainted with the Vengeful Dragon and her cursed crew will not be bored by unnecessary repetition.
Despite being the best book that I’ve read in years, An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat is not for every reader. Glen Cook’s writing is of the highest quality, and his mastery over tone, diction, imagery and vocabulary are such that readers who favor “easy” or “mindless” books probably won’t be able to make it through this collection, despite the brevity of the stories contained therein. Throughout his Dread Empire stories, Cook uses the type of war-correspondence prose akin to Max Brooks’s World War Z, although An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat is not an oral history like Brooks’s novel and is written from the perspective of a third-person omniscient narrator.
Fans of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s Dragonlance books will thoroughly enjoy An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat, and all of Cook’s other writing, as well. For those already familiar with “Filed Teeth,” “Severed Heads,” and the other stories collected in An Empire Unacquainted with Defeat, Glen Cook’s other novels and collections of short fiction are also available from Night Shade Books.
Rating: 5 / 5 Stars