Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Brilliant and bloody! Or brilliantly bloody.
I had been reading about this book for years. The cover grabbed my attention a few times and friends kept adding it to their bookshelf on Goodreads. I met Joe Abercrombie at a convention, had a nice chat with him (not about his book because I hadn’t read it) and took away a signed copy, vowing to actually read it. Two years later, it was still on my shelf, the wide, dark spine winking at me every time I reached for something to read.
What kept it from my hands? The size, mainly. It’s 880 pages long. It’s heavy, even in paperback. And it’s fantasy. I do like fantasy, but I have to be in the right mood to read it. Best Served Cold is dark fantasy. It’s swords without the sorcery. As the title suggests, it’s a tale of vengeance. It’s gruesomely descriptive, endlessly inventive and wickedly funny.
What convinced me to finally pick it up? It’s the October fantasy selection for my Goodreads book club. So I read it…and I’m very glad I did.
First of all, don’t let the size of this book put you off. It’s very easy to read. This is one of those books where the pages turn themselves. The character voices are all quite distinct and even if you don’t actually like any of the characters (really, none of them are very likeable) you’ll find them familiar and therefore sympathetic. I actually loved many of the characters because they were so easy to relate to,
warts faults and all.
The plot is simple. Monzcarro Murcatto swears vengeance against the seven men who killed her brother and left her for dead. Over the course of a year, she collects together the very definition of a ragtag band and doggedly pursues her goal. No matter the cost. A year is a long time, however, and vengeance is best served cold.
What I loved most about this book was the development of Monza. She’s one of the most multi-dimensional characters I have ever read. At the beginning of the book, her motivation is easy to understand, even if her character is difficult to relate to. She stays true to herself, throughout, and also remains incredibly human. War is tiring and the task of tracking down the seven men who killed her brother is exhausting. She is recovering from devastating injuries and the only thing that keeps her going is her vengeance. It burns hotly within her, passionate and grievous. When it comes to her quest (and her brother) she is not rational. (And, vengeance is best served cold.)
I also enjoyed reading all the other characters. Really, none of them are uninteresting and the relationships between them are intricate and balanced. None exist simply to play off of Monza. There are no throwaways. All have a part to play and so the conversations and interactions between each contain important elements of story. This is part of what makes Best Served Cold so easy to read. While the plot twists and turns like a snake, none of the revelations leave the reader frowning at the book or searching back through for the clue they missed. It’s all there and when revealed, so completely obvious.
Vengeance is a bloody business, especially when set against a period of war known as the Years of Blood. Abercrombie’s descriptions of death (accidental or planned, in battle or single combat) are gruesome. They work perfectly with the tone of the novel. This is not a kid’s book. Likewise, depictions of sex are just as candid. The humour between the two (and entwined within both) is fantastic. Some of the funniest characters really didn’t think they were funny, which meant they were a riot, of course.
In my opinion, the ending is perfect. There is a proper sense of finality to it. I can’t say more without giving away too many details, which is frustrating, because I could talk about this book for a lot longer. I suppose that’s why it makes a good book club selection.
So, go get a copy and read it. Brilliant and bloody, gruesome and funny. One of the best books I’ve read this year, this decade. Next time I get the chance to see Joe Abercrombie at a convention, I’ll be sure to tell him so.