Poison, knives, spears, swords, axes, fire, catapults, fists and more poison combine with anger, betrayal and hatred into a result that is entirely revenge. Ironically entitled but probably intended by Joe Abercrombie‘s wit, Best Served Cold is bloody red, the violence impetuous rather than planned by wisdom.
In this character driven tale, the counter-heroes and heroines are richly colourful which compensates somewhat for the fact that none can be fallen in love with by the reader. First is Monza Murcatt, feared mercenary and, amongst other names, The Butcher of Caprile. Her brother killed whilst herself stabbed and thrown down a cliff, her disfigured self is bent on killing the seven who participated and witnessed. The end justifies the means gains darker meaning as she gathers an assortment of mostly selfish killers who distrust one another; Shivers, the warrior seeking a more moral self but instead finding the deathbringer within; Cosca, a drunkard swordsmen and joker whom Monza had previously betrayed; Friendly, mass murderer and number obsessed; Morveer, master poisoner, and his apprentice Day.
With the body count rising way higher than intentions and the backstabbing characters hunted by the world’s most feared assassin whilst traversing warring nations and capitalists, there is much pace and adventure. The lack of honour keeps the plot twisting and the reader from guessing what will happen next, soon teaching that none are safe.
If it wasn’t for the author’s extremely black humour, i may even have cringed at the crude sex and ghastly torture. But Abercrombie knows how to balance.
Although found in the fantasy section, there are no goblins and fairies nor magicians and witches. With the liberty of co-mingling knights and a Mid-Eastern horde, the land of Styria may be invention but could easily be substituted for a kingdom of the Middle Ages. Maybe this will extend the readership range.
I summarize in the tradition of Best Served Cold: This is a wonderfully, depressing read…and a lot of fun!