Quite honestly, Joe Abercrombie strikes gold again here. Those who have read my previous reviews will know that I absolutely loved his original First Law trilogy, as well as A Little Hatred, the first book in his new trilogy, The Age of Madness, set in the same world. As such. it may come as a surprise that it has taken me this long to get around to reading any of his standalone novels but what won’t come as a surprise is that I loved this one!
Best Served Cold is, at its core, a tale of revenge, murder and how these affect people, with a side theme of the consequences and costs of doing the right thing. The story revolves around Monza Murcatto, famed and feared mercenary general of the Thousand Swords, as she seeks vengeance against her treacherous former employer, Grand Duke Orso of Talins. In her quest for revenge, she has gathered together a rag-tag gang that includes a rather self-obsessed poisoner, a convict with a penchant for counting everything and absolutely no social skills, a northerner seeking to better himself and a drunken mercenary famed for his unreliability.
The plot of the story is tightly focused around this one quest for revenge and jumps in almost straight away, which is a bit of a departure from Abercrombie’s previous books, especially The Blade Itself in his original trilogy, which does meander quite a bit. As a standalone book – though it is a chunky one! – this was really a point of necessity as it doesn’t have three books to tell a story that winds all over the place, it has to get it done in one. This makes Best Served Cold feel pretty damned fast-paced and so, despite nearing 600 pages, I feel like the story flew by! In fact, if I had any complaints at all about this book, it would be that the last hundred pages or so almost felt a little rushed. Almost like it had been trimmed down and so it had some pretty large time and travel jumps in comparison to the start of the book.
Of course, being a Joe Abercrombie book, we get multiple POV characters despite this more focused plot. And, of course, being a Joe Abercrombie book, these characters are fantastic! Each character in Monza’s gang gets their own chapters and they all have such distinct personalities and quirks that it truly is a pleasure to read each one. I don’t want to give away names of characters really, as there are a couple of old favourites that pop up here and that would be spoilers, but I had really gut feelings for each characters voice. The best and clearest example I can think of (that won’t spoil returns) is Morveer, who’s voice was so brilliantly done it he actually annoys me as a person (which shows how well Abercrombie wrote the character). This ability to build such immersive characters and voices in his POV characters – and, in all fairness, in non-POV characters as well – is often touted as the biggest strength of Abercrombie’s by his fans, and that is, in my opinion, totally fair. It seems to be evident in all his First Law books!
As a side note, I wanted to just point out how real Abercrombie’s descriptions feel in this book – and his other books for that matter! His way with words and writing style isn’t overly flowery or purple prose-esque, but it does a fantastic job of painting a picture, getting across the right ‘mood’ for each scene and capturing the urgency of action, as well as giving us some of his trademark black humour sprinkled throughout. Capturing this ‘realness’ is something he spoke about in a recent interview I saw him do on Youtube with Daniel Greene and so was something I was kind of on the lookout for, but I also feel is something he doesn’t necessarily get enough credit for as an author as everyone is usually gushing about his characterisation work! Myself included in that really…
Overall, I would 100% recommend this book to fantasy fans. Especially those with a taste for things a little grittier and darker (mixed with black humour). So yeah, go read it.