Joe Abercrombie is a master of his trade, and his trade is dark fantasy. He is becoming the standard bearer for gritty realistic fantasy, and Best Served Cold might well be the masterpiece that represents that sub-genre. Monza Murcatto is a renowned and very successful mercenary, or was…till she was stabbed, beaten and thrown from a mountain side by her employer. Best Served Cold tells the tale of Monza and her quest for revenge. Monza contracts a party of unsavory characters to aid her in her revenge quest. The story goes from dark to black to “a wet match in the bottom of a dark cave”. Everyone suffers, lots of people die, the trail of blood and tragedy that Monza leaves in her wake is unprecedented. Abercrombie takes what appears to be a simple tale of revenge and twists it into a sanguine journey of self discovery on the part of each character. No other author I’ve found works so hard to create likeable characters out of such nasty individuals
The book is exceedingly well written, so much so that I have really no other option but to give this book 5 stars. It really is an amazing work. Reading his work is always bitter sweet for me. I know I’m going to get an amazing story, with unique characters told in a way that only Abercrombie is able to pull off. All the wonderful writing comes with a price for the reader. The price is that it changes you a little, it’s altered my perception of what fantasy can be. Before reading Abercrombie I was blissfully unaware of how truly brutal and tragic fantasy as a medium can be. Sure there is George R.R. Martin and his love of killing off main characters, but these books are different. In Martin’s work I never had any doubt that I was observing the story from the outside. With Abercrombie he makes it a point to bring you there. I feel the character’s spirit break in the hands of the torturer. I know the person that was on page 112 is now someone else on page 113, and it makes me sad. There is no redemption, no “making it up” later…they’ve simply changed. It’s a very real and unsettling thing to experience as a reader, and it’s a feeling that’s not commonly found in fantasy. The heart of Best Served Cold is how Abercrombie strips our “heroes” down to their core and reveals with in them who they truly are.
I have a love hate relationship with Abercrombie’s books. I will most certainly continue to read them, they are just too incredible not to. I will be sure to keep something exceedingly happy to read right afterwards. Best Served Cold is technically a stand alone novel, but I would highly recommend reading The First Law Trilogy prior to this since I get the feeling of an overall “Big Picture” taking place in this world. Read this book if you are ready to have your thoughts on fantasy challenged. Do not read this book if you like your fantasy to be a pleasant escape from the harsh realities of life. -JB
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