Monza Murcatto is the most ruthless and successful mercenary in Styria. Depending on what side of the river you stand on, she is either immensely popular or indescribably hated. Dwelling on the former, her employer, the Grand Duke Orso, has Monza and her brother killed in an impressive scene of back-stabbing betrayal. Only Monza manages to survive being beaten, cut, stabbed, and thrown from a mountain top. What remains is the classic vengeance story as she methodically seeks the death of the seven people in the room when her brother was killed with the help of a merry band of dangerous degenerates, both new and familiar.
For fans of Abercrombie’s previous work, The First Law Trilogy (review), Best Served Cold is probably just what they are looking for. Abercrombie’s dark, biting humor imbues everything. Violence is bloody, language harsh, dialogue full of grunts, the sex is cleverly not-so gratuitous, the addictions and perversions shall not be spoken of, and everybody is an evil son-of-a-bitch.
Unlike The First Law Trilogy, Abercrombie doesn’t set out to be blatantly subversive with Best Served Cold. It really is a strait-forward vengeance plot, with surprisingly few twists along the way. With that said, Abercrombie just can’t help but be a little subversive. A scene that sticks with me is one where a female mercenary, female poisoner, and female torturer interrogate a female prisoner – you can feel the testosterone (err…estrogen?) of this not-so uncommon scene reinvented.
The main issue I have with Best Served Cold likely won’t bother most who read the book – Abercrombie doesn’t offer anything new. The First Law Trilogy was a refreshing offering in the often stale genre of epic fantasy. Hoping for an equally refreshing read in Best Served Cold, I found that any novelty remaining quickly wore off. The 640 pages drag on as vengeance is repeatedly sought and achieved – I frequently found myself unmotivated to continue reading. Readers of The First Law will quickly recognize near carbon-copies of characters: Monza is the strong, dangerous woman that Ferro never realized and Shivers nearly a mirror-image of introspective barbarian Logen Ninefingers.
As I hinted at above, Abercrombie’s characterization doesn’t feel so different from The First Law, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Best Served Cold is just as character-driven. At the forefront is the curious dichotomy between Monza and Shivers. Shivers is on a personal journey to become a better man. Monza is the cold-hearted bitch of a mercenary seeking vengeance. Through the book, these two evolve in an unhealthy co-dependency – and if they have sex, watch out! While not the central protagonist, the stage is consistently stolen by the loveable, drunken rogue of a mercenary, Nicomo Cosca, always landing on his feet with flask and sword in hand and caustically cheerful comments to make.
Best Served Cold is a stand-alone book in Abercrombie’s imagined world. However, readers of The First Law will likely appreciate certain plot points more and recognize several recurring characters as it becomes clear that all things in Abercrombie’s world come back to a central feud between powerful enemies, often manipulating events with proxies. While plot is self-contained, Best Served Cold isn’t quite as stand-alone as advertised.
The more-of-same approach of Best Served Cold entertains, yet becomes tedious at times and unfortunately left me wanting more of that special something that I’m convinced Abercrombie can give. 7.5/10
Related Posts: Review of The Blade Itself, Review of Before They Are Hanged, Review of Last Argument of Kings, Review of The First Law Trilogy, Interview with Joe Abercrombie