Joe Abercrombie is a British fantasy writer known for a gritty style of fantasy much like George R.R Martin the author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series whom Abercrombie cites as a major
influence on his writing. Best Served Cold is a fantasy revenge thriller that takes place after Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy and promotes some of the minor characters of the trilogy to the
focus of the story but the book can easily be read without having read the aforementioned trilogy and can work as nice introduction to Abercrombie’s work. The story begins with infamous
mercenary captain Monzcarro Murcatto also known as ’The Serpent of Talins’ and ’The Butcher of Caprile’ and her brother Benna Murcatto meeting her employer Grand Duke Orso, a ruthless man who
worries that Monzcarro is becoming too popular and fears that she plots to take his throne. So he has his most trusted servants kill Benna before Monzcarro’s eyes and then has them stab her and
throw her out the window and down a mountain, a fall which she miraculously survives and then sets out to kill the people who betrayed her.
Best Served Cold is a book full of political schemes and violence and who the good guys are depends entirely on which side you’re standing on. Monzcarro has a dark and bloody reputation which she has earned throughout several wars and her companions on her quest for vengeance include Friendly, an amoral serial killer obsessed with numbers, Castor Morveer, a master poisoner, Nicomo Cosca, a notorious alcoholic mercenary who’ll betray anyone if enough money is offered and was once Monzcarro’s boss before she betrayed him and claimed leadership of his mercenary group and Caul Shivers, a warrior from the lawless north who is trying to be ’a better man’ and other disreputable characters.
The land of Styria where the story takes places is a land known for its mercenaries and political turmoil’s which more often than not lead to war. Nobles rise and fall as they reach for power and no one can be fully trusted and behind the backdrop of war a banking organization known as Valint and Balk switch from side to side depending on who is winning at the time.
At the beginning of the story the people of Styria have known nineteen long years, known as The Years of Blood, of war as Duke Orso wages his campaign to unite the land under his rule. The entire continent has been engulfed by Orso’s campaign, cities and even farms have been burned down and thousands have died. Grand Duke Orso is a merciless man and it could be said that he is the antagonist of the story but he is not without redeeming qualities. He fights to bring stability to the land and to end the bloodshed. He truly believes that a Styria united under his rule would be a better place to live in.
The main character of the novel Monzcarro is determined to take revenge no matter what the cost and drags several people into her schemes which cause many more casualties than she had intended. She starts to feel sickened by what she has done and revenge starts to taste much bitterer than she imagined but Monzcarro decides that she has come too far to turn back and is determined to finish her bloody campaign. War is all she knows and as one of the most hated people in the land she has very few options.
In many ways Monzcarro is as ruthless and merciless as Orso, she might even be worse, but she was not always this way. Monza and her brother were once farmers but a group of bandits raided the farm and out of spite, as they were unable to find anything worth stealing, they burned the farm leaving the siblings destitute. Monza and Benna outraged by this senseless crime join a group of farmers who have suffered the same fate and they hunt down and kill the bandits. During this mission Monza discovers that she has a talent for killing and that she enjoys it, soon after she joins a mercenary group led by Nicomo Cosca and becomes as infamous as he is.
Abercrombie has a dark and twisted sense of humor which is excellently displayed with the drunkard mercenary Nicomo Cosca, a deeply cynical man who believes that there is no such thing as ’the right thing’ and who though a thoroughly morally bankrupt man is hard to not admire for his cunning and military prowess and whose speeches and philosophical musings can be quite hilarious. Personally I find Nicomo the most enjoyable character and welcome comedy relief in a gloomy novel. He does not pretend to be something he is not and gladly accepts his reputation. Although he is notoriously unreliable, more than a little sociopathic and entirely motivated by greed I find him to be among the most decent characters in the book. Nicomo is a master of warfare but avoids battles and bloodshed when possible. He has managed to win many battles through psychological tactics and unlike most of the other characters is capable of mercy and does not hold on to grudges.
Best Served Cold is an action and blood filled story where every action has a consequence. Bloodshed leads to more bloodshed and people out to settle feuds create more of them. It can be difficult to read for the squeamish as a copious amount of blood is spilled and even the ‘best’ of the characters can be difficult to sympathize with as none of them is above cold blooded murder.
In Abercrombie’s fictional world Styria is not even the bloodiest or most lawless continent. The other continents include The North, a harsh and cold barbarian land that exists in an almost perpetual state of war, The Union, an aristocratic and elitist land, where being of high birth means everything, that constantly wages war on its neighbors, the fanatically religious Gurkish Empire which enslaves the people of the nations it conquers, and for them enslavement is an act of mercy and the Old Empire, a lawless and war filled land where it is not uncommon to have between ten and twenty emperors claiming to rule the land at the same time.
Best Served Cold is a story of war and revenge that will likely appeal to fans of George R.R. Martin, Bernard Cornwell or fans of the gore filled television show Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Joe Abercrombie’s writing is brutal and gritty but very enjoyable with plenty of humour and emotion.
© Copyright 2016 Sam Smith. All rights reserved.