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In the Company of Ogres    by A. Lee Martinez order for
In the Company of Ogres
by A. Lee Martinez
Order:  USA  Can
Tor, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Never Dead Ned is a human, who keeps rising from the grave (forty-nine times to date) and has developed a phobia for 'dying over and over again', a career downer for a soldier. So he transfers to a bookkeeping job in Brute's Legion, 'the most successful freelance army on three continents.'

All's well till Ned's gryphon boss bears news of a promotion - typically 'a one-way ticket to a tragic fate.' Ned's given command of Ogre Company, stationed at the crumbling Copper Citadel, which has the feel of a Foreign Legion outpost, though a very undisciplined one - and dies his first day on the job. As always, he's revived by the Red Woman and her vermilion raven. After digging himself out of his grave, and hearing two widely different explanations for these continuing revivals, Ned introduces himself to his new command by downing Doom stout in the citadel's most popular building, the pub.

Regina the Amazon, Gabel the orc, and Frank the ogre - the three senior officers of Ogre Company (who each believe they deserve a promotion) - have disposed of all previous commanders, but decide that Never Dead Ned is not so bad (at least two of them do, the third keeps plotting). Ned wakes up in bed with Miriam the siren, the company's scaled Morale Officer, and soon afterwards Miriam and Regina start competing (and fighting) for his attention. Ned meets the rest of Ogre Company, which includes - in addition to ogres - orcs, humans, elves, trolls, goblins, a blind oracle, a shapeshifter, a salamander, a treefolk (belonging to a strong union), and a conjuring elf.

Ned deals with an aggressive, magically animated budget, but there's much worse on his trail - overweening wizard Belok (whose incompetent persistence reminded me of Muerte in the hilarious Undercover Blues) and a horde of demons led by emperor Rucka, 'the most powerful demon in all the Ten Thousand Hells'. You see, Never Dead Ned is not the simple fellow that he seems - he has hidden and very dangerous depths and desperately needs to get in touch with his inner self, the Mad Void. You have to feel for him as he's chased by a vengeful roc, an ogre assassin, purple-skinned demons, and Rucka himself. But, depite being a hopeless commander, Ned wins his company's loyalty and aid by the fact that he 'just tried to get by in a bad situation like the rest of them.'

This is a very funny romp through the world of fantasy. Though it doesn't include the same degree of societal satire as Terry Pratchett writes, fans of Discworld will probably enjoy the comic irony of In the Company of Ogres and its ultimate antihero, Never Dead Ned.

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