Best Served Cold
by Joe Abercrombie
Format: Hardback, 536 pages
Cover Design: Dave Senior, Didier Graffet/Bragelonne
Release Date: June 1, 2009 (UK)
Monzcarro Murcatto, general of the mercenary army The Thousand Swords, and her brother and right-hand man, Benna, arrive at Talins to report the fall of another city to their employer, Duke Osco. The Duke, whose daughter is married to the King of the Union, has his own ambitions to become King of Styria and The Thousand Swords have already cut a swath through a portion of the continent. However, the mercenary army’s victories have made Monza extremely popular with the common people, far too popular for Osco’s taste. In a preemptive strike, Benna is murdered and Monza is thrown off a mountain to be left for dead.
Monza survives the fall, but is broken and scarred, swearing revenge against the seven who betrayed her. She recruits a varied band including her old mercenary general, a poisoner and his apprentice, a child-like killer, a former Union assassin, and a Northman trying to do good to aid her in her mission, which takes her across the breadth of Styria. As Monza’s revenge takes its toll on her and her comrades, her quest becomes subsumed by various factions, both within and without, intent on using the apex of Styria’s Years of Blood to their advantage.
The plot is a pretty straightforward revenge scenario and it plays that way for most of the book. About three-fourths of the way in, Monza’s revenge gets tied into a larger, overall struggle for control of Styria. The fate of the island continent swings back and forth between the various factions and it’s never clear how things will things end. Monza’s revenge is really a microcosm of a civilization caught in a never-ending struggle of power and blood. One thing I was surprised by was the number of characters first seen in The First Law who pop up in this book. Luckily, Abercrombie limits most of them to only supporting roles so that they don’t get in the way of the story.
And of course, the centerpieces of the novel are Abercrombie’s characters. Monza, in particular, is realistic as a woman who achieves a measure of power in a male-dominated culture. The tale is not just about her, but the entire cast as they cope with some of the darkest aspects of human nature. Some find a measure of redemption or even infamy while others descend into a dark spiral from which they may never recover. The title of the book uses part of the well-known quote for a good reason. Vengeance has a marked effect, on both those that seek it and those that are affected by it, and that it’s near impossible to do so and remain untouched.
Best Served Cold is a worthy stand-alone companion to The First Law trilogy. Abercrombie is definitely one of the best new writers of fantasy. Strongly recommended.