Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Best Served Cold

by Joe Abercrombie


"The sunrise was the colour of bad blood."

Best Served Cold begins with a wonderfully atmospheric scene, peaceful on the surface but thick with the promise of violence. It's what Joe Abercrombie's fans have come to expect. That first line signals a clear warning: put your wellies on, because before long we'll be wading in blood.

The story begins with Monza Murcatto and her brother Benna. Monza is vain, ruthless and rude. Known as the Butcher of Caprile, or the Snake of Talins, she's the most feared mercenary in the country of Styria. That is, until her paranoid patron throws her down a mountainside. Nobody likes an over-achiever.

Meanwhile Caul Shivers has arrived in Talins with plans to start afresh and become a better man. He wants to leave the fighting behind him and take up an honest trade. But it's not as easy as he had hoped. The people of Talins are wary of hulking big Northmen, and violence happens to be his only real talent.

Shivers' luck changes when he meets Monza. Scarred and embittered, she has plans to take revenge on the seven powerful men who betrayed her and her brother. And she's going to do it, no matter what the cost. Se recruits a gang of some of the most talented villains in Styria to help her carry out her ambitious plans.

Best Served Cold is a standalone novel, although it does follow the First Law trilogy and some of the characters from that series do make an appearance. New characters include Friendly, a criminal with an obsession with dice and numbers, and the intensely smug poisoners Morveer and Day. Monza's gang are supposed to be allies working towards the same goal, but they make an odd, uncomfortable team. They don't trust each other. Their personalities clash, and their spiky relationships lead to a lot of tension.

There's blood by the bucketful, of course. But a cracking pace and explosive action aren't the only things that make this fantastic. The characters all share such a bitter outlook on life, and it's their cynicism plus lashings of dark humour that make Best Served Cold so deliciously sharp.. It's the polar opposite of all that wide-eyed, sugary, heroic fantasy spewed out by poor imitators of Tolkien. This is the Bitrex of fantasy. There's a particularly good scene towards the end when the author digs his claws into one of the conventions of romantic fantasy, and twists it on its head in great style.

A lack of Sand dan Glokta is a blow to any book (I mean, imagine how much of an improvement he could make to Twilight, for instance) but the characters in this story more than make up for his absence. I love this book. It's breathtakingly, gloriously wicked.

13th April 2010

Book Details

Year: 2009

Categories: Books


  Not For The Squeamish  

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5 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Joe Abercrombie