Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Let me start by making one thing very clear: Joe Abercrombie has a very special gift with words. He is capable of writing beautifully vivid or dangerously horrific scenes with the same quality. I enjoyed ‘The Blade Itself’ well enough, though sadly not enough to continue reading the following two books in the trilogy (“one day” came the oft called cry from the lounge room).
Sadly, while his writing hasn’t let him down, Abercrombie’s understanding of what makes an enjoyable story apparently dissipated like fog in December heat when he turned his attention to ‘Best Served Cold’.
Here is a fundamental truth of storytelling: write a story that people can relate to.
This “fundamental truth” is why we have the Hobbits in the Lord of the Rings; the reason we have Vin in Sanderson’s Mistborn books; the reason we have characters like Ganoes Paran and Fiddler throughout the Malazan Book of the Fallen. While we – the reader – may not be 4 foot tall with hairy feet, able to manipulate metals we ingest, or struggling through a deity-filled cataclysmic series of events, there are still tangible handholds for us to grab on to.
Not so in Best Served Cold where no decision is made for any reason other than bloody-minded violent revenge.
Worst of all is that I can’t even say I disliked the book. You’ll see my rating of Best Served Cold doesn’t reflect my current furore at the author’s storytelling choices. The overarching story – which really only becomes apparent in the last few chapters of the book – is tantalising. Cosca and Friendly are sublimely written, and end up being the only characters with any redeeming qualities evidenced throughout the whole book (not including last minute changes to character).
The downward spiral of Shivers and damn-near anyone else who came nearMonzaverges on the absurd simply because it happens to everyone. No one displays any redeeming attributes, and even the aforementioned Cosca and Friendly are a drunkard coward and a homicidal maniac respectively.
Stories are made by the inclusion of characters such as these. Stories are not made by populating your entire novel with characters such as these, and none other.
Beautiful scenery, haunting history, bloody battles, all set against a backdrop of mounting political tension is marred by the sheer wealth of selfish greed for vengeance displayed in the characters. Don’t get me wrong, Abercrombie nails those qualities in each of his characters perfectly, and one need not look much further than our own local news broadcasts to see these traits paraded out on the world stage time and time again; they obviously exist, and their inclusion in works of fiction verges on the necessary. But when forced into a book with no room to escape from the relentless and dogged search for the lowest humanity has to offer, Best Served Cold leaves you wishing you’d read something else.
Joshua S Hill, 6/10
This story takes place in the world of Abercrombie’s last trilogy, The First Law. But, Best Served Cold is a story in its own right. However if you’ve read Abercrombie’s previous works you’ll find some very recognisable and pleasing details.
The main themes are revenge, determination, betrayal and morals. But not in the classical kind of way, for every theme will have both sides of the coin (the likeable or just and the ‘just awfully wrong’) and often the outcome’s refreshingly unpredictable.
In my opinion this story is enormously enjoyable, but it won’t be for everyone. Abercrombie’s style is black humour, swift violence, murder, torture and a lot of utterly brilliant ‘dark-grey’ characters. If you like military, or Heroic fantasy and you love the ‘unholy’ kind of characters, this is the kind of book you need to have read.
Next to that the story is fast, flowingly paced. The balance and transition between fast action scenes and slower conservatory ones is just utterly brilliant. Also, not much fluffy information. Third person, over the shoulder of the most important characters, who by exception don’t care about lyrical descriptions of the countryside nor mind too long on one problem.
Abercrombie has a gift to make those ‘individuals’ come out alive and make you feel you’re right in the room with them ( I could almost hear Cosca narrating to his mercenary audience).
However, this story is not an easy ride, Abercrombie’s characters are not spared any sorrow. Nor do they truly deserve it to be spared because these characters have only very little redeeming qualities and most of the time they ignore or suppress their consciousness. ‘Mercy and weakness is the same.’, to quote Monza.
The thing you can expect is the honesty of his world. It is hard, the people in it are hard and you better get used to it. Because blood will flow and none are spared.
Another reason this story is ‘a must read’ is that Abercrombie is unpredictable and you never know what will happen, even though it does feel inevitable afterwards.
However, one negative side of the this book is the lack (or less) of his previous, much used, humour. This book’s more serious, less fun than The First Law.
So, in my opinion this is a good book. I preferred his previous works, but this one is another treasure in my collection.
Cruel, original and brilliant characters. A true master.
David Stoit, 8/10
Monza is the heartless cut-throat commander general of the Thousand Swords; a lethal group of mercenaries. That is until her gainful employer Grand Duke Orso decides to murder her and her brother. Throwing Monza's body from his mountain terrace to the forest floor below before confirming that she was indeed dead proves a mistake Duke Orso will live to regret. Broken to pieces Monzcarro Murcatto surprisingly does not die and is put back together in quite good fashion by a mysterious bone thief. Once she has her wits back about her and body in semi decent working order there is only one thing that burns in Monza's mind.
Along the way to killing the seven men who were responsible for her brother’s murder and her attempted death Monza brings together an unlikely band of bloody villains. An optimistic Northman trying to be a better man, an underappreciated master poisoner, a convict named Friendly - though he seems anything but, a former torturer and the man she once betrayed to gain control of the Thousand Swords. Together they set off on a blood spattered trail to eliminate those seven men who tried to kill Monza.
In Joe Abercrombie's latest book Best Served Cold you are thrown smack dab back into the circle of the world he created. Shoulder to shoulder with some of the same characters made me smile as I could see the under currents and references alluded to from The First Law series. Though this is a complete and independent read from The First Law I think that reading both gives the reader a much more comprehensive grasp on what is not said outright.
The fight scenes in this book are worth the read alone. Graceful, intriguing, brutal, like a train wreck that you can't pull your eyes from; Joe Abercrombie has an almost poetic portrayal on all things horrific. I applaud him for going the extra step, to truly bring down hell on his characters is something so rarely seen in fantasy beyond the expected Tolkien style questing. His characters are so finely wrought that you expect them to be based on real living and breathing people – though we all should be thankful if they are not, for they are a bloody and conscious-free lot. His ability to give such different characters different voices puts him head and shoulders above most writers. Even before a name is mentioned the reader knows who is thinking or speaking.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed Best Served Cold I have to admit that I had more trouble getting through it than The First Law series. Maybe it's because the characters were so similar in motivation. Joe Abercrombie's characterisation of women starts to grate towards the last one hundred pages of his book; just as it grates when you realize that there is not one single redeemable quality in all of the characters he has employed. I am not naive enough to think that there is always a happy ending, but maybe one a little less brutal.
As much as I enjoyed Best Served Cold I gave it eight and a half out of ten stars because, while just as engaging as The First Law it lacked the humor, and even good spirited moments that gave the reader some reprieve from the further depression laying in wait for them just a few pages away.
All-in-all this was an enjoyable and smart read. The dialogue is well written and witty, the scenery and battle scenes gracefully and beautifully executed, and the characters bold, brilliant, and brutal. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for something new and different in the fantasy genre.
Preita Salyer, 7.5/10
Mike from Cardiff
An excellent read from start to finish, probably a better author for creating interesting and dark characters than Martin which is saying something.
Tom from Ohio
I would of rated this higher than ten if possible. I loved Monza, the poisoner and his assistant. This is my favorite Abercrombie book .
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