It seems like I started reading Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold eons ago, but truthfully it’s only been a month or so. The US version comes in at around 630 pages, making it a hefty tome to get through. In addition to this, I’ve just not had as much reading time as I’d like lately, and something had to give. Finally, and with relief, I finished the novel.
Best Served Cold is a ruthless tale, filled with cutthroat, unlikeable characters, including mercenaries, poisoners, killers, politicians, and a whole slew of others. From the start we know the book is going to be a bloody ride, and Abercrombie lays the violence and deceit on thick.
Monza Murcatto, the Serpent of Talins, the Butcher of Caprile, should have died when she was thrown from the tower. Instead she was broken, scarred, and maimed. When she finally regains some of her health, she sets out on a quest of revenge. Simply, she wants to kill the seven men responsible for her brother’s death and the attempt on her life. She recruits a band of employees to help her with her many tasks. Shivers, a Northman from the Union, has arrived in Styria optimistic and ready to be a better man. Castor Morveer, the self-proclaimed greatest poisoner in the Circle of the World, and his assistant, Day. Ex-prisoner Friendly, an autistic man with a thing for numbers. Vitari, a former Practical for the Inquisition. And the former head of the Thousand Swords, the famed mercenary Nicoma Cosca. Together, the motley crew travels throughout Styria seeking Monza’s vengeance.
I knew this book would be bloody. I knew it would be filled with gritty words and unpleasant scenes. But I knew it would be good, too, or so I thought. I suppose my anticipation was too high. Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy was some of the finest SFF I’ve read in a while, excellent in blending an intriguing story with a masterful mixture of words. Best Served Cold, sadly, lacked the fascinating tale.
Perhaps one of the big problems was that the characters were all unrelatable to me. Some may possess mercy and compassion, but none really show it. The cast is full of murderers, thieves, and liars, and there’s not a heroic trait among the group of them. All are either driven by their greed/need for money or their quest for vengeance. And it’s hard to root for someone for 630 pages when you don’t really like or care much about any of them.
Furthermore, I feel that the story dried up. The book is divided into subsections, each one in a different city of Styria, each one with a different person to be killed. So while the book has plenty of surprising moments, it’s also quite repetitive and predictable, too. Plot the kill and execute the plan. Check. Wash off the blood and repeat.
The book was not unenjoyable, but it was a completely different kind of read. Abercrombie is still a master wordsmith and an excellent developer of character. His choice of wording can evoke laughter (“…surprised like she’d found a turd in bed”) or introspection. Each POV character thinks differently, and Abercrombie portrays all quite well.
Another thing I enjoyed from this book was the sense of realism in the tale. Styria is dark and dangerous. The Years of Blood have been long and taxing and the reader can feel this. This realistic story still manages to maintain elements of fantasy and not seem trite.
Overall, the book had enough going in it for me to finish, but I think it definitely could have been shorter and things left out. I enjoyed many parts and there were some characters that I did like on occasion, but no one was really a hero, either. Another reason to read the book is that it relates to The First Law series, and some things happen here that will definitely affect the future of the Circle of the World. Be warned, the book has some explicit sex scenes that easily could’ve been cut, some pretty brutal violence, and some heavy cussing from time to time. If you can look past these faults and you care about what’s coming next from Abercrombie’s world, I can easily recommend that you read Best Served Cold. If you’ve not read The First Law, I would skip this one for now.