Glen Cook's The Black Company is, at least to me, one of the undersung classics of fantasy fiction. It is the story of the titular Black Company, a band of mercenaries in a world no prettier than real life, and the personal story of Croaker, annalist and doctor of the Company. Before the end of the first chapter, the Company accepts a contract with Soulcatcher, lieutenant to the setting's conquering evil force and a master sorcerer in a world where magic is rare and unpredictable.
The Black Company puts the reader on the other side of the typical fantasy novel in two respects: We watch a fateful war between good and evil from the evil side, and we see it from perspective of a run-of-the-mill soldier. Croaker may be sucked into the thick of important events, but he is still just a sawbones to sellswords. The Company itself consists of near-villains. Outside of a commitment to the Company and the honor of fulfilling its contract, their morals are idiosyncratic at best. They remain soldiers in a world where the author doesn't sugarcoat the actions of conquerors... though the narrator might. Croaker has a compassion that makes the world's brutality easier for the reader to bear.
With introspective pragmatism, Croaker narrates us through his modest role in a clash between epic sorceries that all belong to the great elite and not the everyday soldier. It is refreshing to read a fantasy novel that treats them as fearsome and mysterious forces of nature and not superpowers to level up. This is my third time reading this book. If you haven't already, consider picking it up for a first.
For more on this book and other fantasy books related to war, check out the Fantasy Book of the Month podcast from Too Many Thoughts Media, available here.