It has been over a year since I last read a book by Joe Abercrombie, there are just so many books to get through. However, after finishing The First Law
trilogy he has become like an “old favorite” that I can come back to any time and be sure of a good read. His writing style is always immensely readable, witticisms abound on every page, very visual scenes of combat and of course vivid, complex and believable characters. Best Served Cold
is set in the same universe as the excellent First Law trilogy but this is a standalone volume, you don't need to be familiar with his previous books to read it. The title is from that old adage “revenge is a dish best served cold”
. Monza Murcatto, an extraordinarily gifted mercenary captain is betrayed by her employer Duke Orsa apparently due to being far too good at her job and thus becoming too popular with the Duke’s subjects. Her brother, possibly the only person in the world she really cares about is brutally murdered in front of her by the Duke’s order, and the Monza herself is almost terminally wounded and tossed out a window. So begins her monomaniacal quest for avenge the death of her brother by putting an end to the lives of the seven individuals involved, and anyone else unwise enough to get in her way.
As with the other Abercrombie novels that I have read there are plenty of villains but no outright heroes. One poor fellow starts off wanting to be a good man and end up being a crazed killer after going through an extremely traumatic experience. As usual the dialogue is always sparkling, my only reservation here is that most of the characters seem to have the same penchant for sarcasm and several of them seem to have the same manner of speaking.
While revenge is obviously the book’s major theme, it becomes apparent as I read on that anti-revenge is actually the main subtext. Revenge is not so much a dish best served cold as a dish best discarded, unserved. The avenger is seldom happier after the revenge is successfully completed. There are often moral quandaries for the characters and the readers to ponder. “Mercy and cowardice are the same”
appears to be the protagonist’s motto, except she does not really believe it.
Joe Abercrombie often describes his books as “grim dark” and it is really very apt, this is not a book for Carpenters fans and sweet grandmas. However, there is a subtle vein of optimism which only becomes discernable once you have finished the entire book. The fantasy element is rather low profile especially compared to The First Law trilogy. This helps to heighten the human drama and the realism of the violence which is quite unrelenting. If I have once complaint about this aspect of the book it is that there is so much of it that I became desensitized to it after while.
In any case Joe Abercrombie has yet to disappoint me, I wonder if he ever will.